Lancaster University held their first Assembly For Change this weekend, with prominent speakers such as MP Lisa Nandy, activist Peter Tatchell and journalist and writer Owen Jones. The Lancaster Despatch Box managed to steal a few minutes with Owen before his speech on Saturday to ask him some tips and advice for budding journalists.
When you left University how did you get into the journalism industry?
I didn’t want to be a journalist or a writer so it was not intentional. At Uni I started writing for the student paper but only towards the end because I started panicking about what I was going to put on my CV towards the end, oh no I don’t have any extracurricular activities sort of thing! What I did originally was I wanted to find ways to get messages across and I worked for a long time for Trade Unions and the Labour Party and then I had an idea for a book. It was the first book I did and I was told to narrow it down a bit, focus it more and I really wanted to talk about class. That book got rejected by every publisher going and eventually Verso took it on and it did better than expected because of the timing basically, and off the back of that I was asked to write for newspapers.
So you didn’t exactly do it in the conventional way?
No I mean I had a blog, I set up a blog and things and off the back off that Comment Is Free got in touch to ask me write a couple of pieces, it wasn’t my aim though.
Would you recommend going through the conventional methods of getting an NCTJ or sticking to grassroots methods?
Well I didn’t and I think the unpaid internship things is a real problem because only people who can live off the bank of mum and dad can get into journalism and I think that’s ridiculous. So I think setting up a blog that’s well presented, buy your own domain with your name in it, however narcissistic that is, present it with a nice banner at the top, do blog pieces 600-800 words, spell check them. That’s what people like Vagenda and Laurie Penny did, these are people who were noticed off the back of their blogs. And use twitter and social media to get them out there, anything to bypass this media system is good.
The journalism industry is really over saturated today, do you think there is room for budding journalists?
I mean people need to find niches, finding something you’re passionate about and branch out from that I guess, doing citizen journalism, having a blog where you go out in the community and give a platform to voices not heard and find things that other journalists aren’t doing, be imaginative about it.
Do you think social media and the role of online journalism is going to have a significant impact on young people in the General Election next year?
I hope so because social media is about democratising the media for me and about giving a platform to unheard voices and seeing angles that aren’t seen. It holds the mainstream media to account and picks out some of the myths and lies spread by the mainstream media, so yeah I think social media is absolutely key.
Do you have any advice for how to get more shares and views on blogs and how to get yourself noticed?
I mean obviously there is a saturation in the market, but it’s about finding things which other people aren’t doing, going into the community and things. For example a big feature on people in Lancaster on benefits and their experiences. Things which will get broader attention. There’s lots of opinions out there but people also want to hear those voices. I think positivity in journalism is really big part of it and using social media is key.
The Despatch Box managed to record most of Owen’s key note speech which can be found below. It was a stirring dialogue and we highly recommend you all take a listen.
By Lizzie Roberts and Liam Stott