Rachael Fulton is a Glasgow-based journalist who has covered an impressive amount of ground in a short space of time. She was recently awarded an MA with distinction in Multimedia Journalism at Glasgow Caledonian University, has worked for DC Publishing Ltd and Safeworld for Women and was nominated for Amnesty International’s Student Human Rights Reporter of the Year 2012. She was appointed Community Researcher at STV Glasgow in June 2012 and became a Community Editor in September.
Building on the above intro, give us some background first of all on what you've been up to recently career-wise. What's a typical week in your life?
Rachael: I’m always keen to let students know that there’s light at the end of the tunnel when you graduate, as so many people are desperate to tell them otherwise.
I’m due to graduate from my MA this week, so I was really busy when I started STV in June and still had a portfolio and Masters essay to finish. Combine that with moving from the STV Going Out team to STV Magazine in September and it’s been rather hectic, but I’m pleased to have everything handed in and be settled in my new job.
Every week the subject matter I deal with at work ranges wildly - from the weird to the wonderful. Today I wrote about Glasgow’s Sikh community reacting to the Delhi genocide, Christmas shoeboxes being sent from Scotland to Serbia and Seasonal Affective Disorder. Another week will see me on camera, being shot in the chest at a special effects workshop or being chased by aliens through The Arches night club. I spend my time writing features about Glasgow communities and the issues that affect them, and I present and co-produce videos to go along with those features.
The job I’m in, although the stories are restricted to Glasgow, has great scope for creativity. There are always new communities to get involved in, learn about and share with the rest of the city. I work with an incredible team of young journalists who are filled with enthusiasm and great ideas, which makes a big difference too.
Whether it be internships, freelance work or fulltime employment, you've gained an impressive amount of experience over the past year in newspapers, magazines and online journalism. What do you think you've done well in terms of getting yourself out there and getting work?
Rachael: When you graduate from your undergraduate degree in the midst of an economic crisis, as I did, you realise that it takes more than just getting a degree to be successful. It doesn’t matter what your scroll says after four or five years’ slog – if you haven’t gone over and above the necessary with extra hours, voluntary work and industry experience then you won’t be able to compete with everyone else.
During my MA I practically moved into the university’s editing suite and offered all journalistic services for free to anyone who would take them. I sat at the front during guest lectures and tried to make myself as memorable as possible to potential employers (my current boss remembers me from when he spoke at my university). I spoke to everyone I could over social media, made viral videos, and entered for as many awards and competitions as possible. I did everything I could to get noticed for the right reasons, and worked really hard. I drove my classmates mad with my constant stress throughout it, but it got me here in the end.
What was it like transitioning from being a student to taking the first steps in building a journalism career?
Rachael: There was a bit of a cross over, but the main issue was handing over all my other projects and adjusting to writing for a new audience. I went from being Senior Correspondent for Safeworld - reading torture testimonies and writing about human rights abuses - to writing about Glasgow bars and restaurants. Although I was swamped with work at STV in the beginning, it felt good to have one focus and not to be distracted by creating content for so many different platforms and employers. I had a million different projects lined up for my remaining Masters months before I got the STV job and I had to pass them over so that I didn’t let anyone down. I miss university in some ways because our class were such an amazing group of people, as were the lecturers, but nothing beats knowing that you do what you love for a living. I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to say that.
Mediargh often aims to spotlight issues such as there being too many media graduates and not enough jobs. We try to encourage students and graduates to take steps towards standing out from the crowd. Do you think the issue of 'too many graduates' applies to journalism directly? In what ways do you think someone aiming for a career in journalism can get noticed ahead of their peers?
Rachael: This kind of thing really frustrates me. If you speak to people in any industry, there’ll be someone telling you there’s no jobs left. Want to be a musician? Ah, sorry – music’s full. A lawyer? No traineeships – better choose something else. The reality is that no one wants to compete with anyone else in this horrendous job market, and they would rather you were gunning for someone else’s job rather than theirs. If anything, in journalism you have the advantage of not having to be directly employed by anyone - you can be a freelancer if you are committed and tenacious enough. A few embittered journalists told my classmates and I that we had no chance in the beginning, and that we were entering a dying industry. Now the vast majority of us are in full-time employment at reputable media companies, TV and radio stations or newspapers and we’re still a week shy of graduation. So for those people who tried to saddle us with doom in the beginning, I’ll abandon all eloquence for a second just to say: na na na na na.
Social media is the ultimate way to get noticed – whether that’s through actively engaging with industry professionals, joining debates about current affairs or using it as a way to advertise your work. I put any achievement I’ve made so far down to hard work and social media. Blogging is also an invaluable tool – before I started my MA I ran a successful travel blog (now sadly neglected) that attracted an international audience. We’re the digital generation, so we are immediately at an advantage when it comes to sharing information and attracting attention to our work. Keep as up-to-date with digital media as possible, and don’t listen to people who are just waiting for everyone to get bored of the internet so that the ‘good old days’ can come back - they’re not on their way back.
Journalism and writing are obviously at the heart of your resume but you've also worked in social media roles and been involved in producing video content for the STV Glasgow website. Is this unusual or are these skills which journalists are fully expected to possess?
Rachael: In all honesty, when I first started the MA course I wanted to be a video journalist. Most international jobs were asking for video journalists and I wanted to head off into developing countries and make documentaries – which I still want to do one day. My classmate and I made a short film for International Women’s Day and we’ve also made one on stalking which will be released next year. The fantastic thing about being at STV is that I’m able to write features, which I love doing, and also get to work with incredibly talented video producers to create and present videos. I’m still very passionate about both of these areas, so it’s fantastic to have the opportunity to do both.
Without a doubt, everyone entering into journalism should get as many multimedia skills as possible. It broadens your horizons and makes you 10 million times more employable. In the near future, life will be made far more difficult for you if you can’t write a feature, edit a video, plan a social media strategy and edit a radio piece together when someone asks you to. You’re expected to do all of these things in a variety of different environments, and I cannot stress heavily enough how important it is to learn at least the basics in everything.
Is there any particular piece of advice you'd like to impart to journalism students/graduates, or any closing insight you'd like to offer?
Rachael: I think it’s important for people to not lose sight of themselves. Everyone pushes this image of a ‘good journalist’ as a thick-skinned, hard-nosed news hound but that’s not always the case – everyone has different talents, abilities and interests. As long as you know you’re working hard and doing your best that’s all that matters, whether you’re chapping on the door of the deceased’s family or editing a video feature about art. In my opinion, demanding that young journalists be ‘thick skinned’ because people are likely to be nasty to them along the way just gives future generations of bullies license to do so. You can still be empathetic and sensitive and be a good journalist – some might argue that this would make you a better one. I’m lucky my bosses are good people, but I know not everyone is as fortunate. There are loads of lovely people in the industry, so don’t let one bad person put you off.
I would also say that, in general, journalists are incredibly good at making people think they know all the answers and that they’re good at everything, but that’s not always true. Perhaps ironic that I’m saying this after dishing out so much advice and talking about my achievements, but I still feel it’s important for me to say. Beware of people who talk a really good game - you are more than likely just as intelligent or talented as they are, but they are more confident, less afraid of failure and better at selling themselves. Learn as much as you can, put yourself forward for everything and be enthusiastic.
Rachael can be found on Twitter @Rachael_Fulton.