Phil Tottman - Reporter @ Incisive Media


Phil's career has seen many a turn, from running pubs to sleeping rough. He has a degree in Broadcast Journalism and completed placements for the likes of Zoo, Heat and Empire. He is currently a reporter with Incisive Media.
 
You graduated from the University of West of London with a BA in Broadcast Journalism in 2013. While at University, you worked full time and wrote freelance - including pieces for Zoo Magazine. What was it like transitioning from being a student to taking the first steps in building your career?
 
Phil: I tried to squeeze in as many internships and placements as I could while I was at uni - not only for something to put on an otherwise barren CV, but also to get a taste of what it would be like to work in a media-based environment.
 
Bear in mind that before going into higher education I had a career in pub management, so I wasn't oblivious to the world of full-time working and the stresses and strains that go along with it. Nevertheless, I can say that I was most definitely not fully prepared when I started my first "proper" job. It sort of felt like I had trained to cross a desert, only to have to climb a mountain instead.
 
One of the main challenges was remembering that I didn't have lecturers or teachers around any more to offer a helping hand, or give generous leeway with mistakes and missed deadlines. You have a job to do and it has to be done, otherwise you wouldn't have content and you would lose your audience... and possibly even your job.
 
Another major reality check for me was the realisation that I could no longer simply fantasise about my dreams and ambitions of becoming the next Rupert Murdoch or something of the sort. I actually had to put my training into practice and (considering jobs were flying off the shelf quicker than I could write my name on an application) grab the first position that came my way - even if it wasn't what I was hoping for... at all!
 
In this case, the job was located quite a distance from where I was living at the time, and involved writing about a subject I had zero knowledge of!
 
I quickly found out that blagging can only get you so far before someone realises that you might not know what you are talking about - whenever I could, extensive research was a necessity, and it will continue to be so.  
 
Plus, during this time I was evicted from my flat resulting in me sleeping in my car near the office (so I could get to work on time) for a few months over Christmas. This begged the question as to whether I should stick it out for the sake of my career and gaining priceless experience, or re-evaluate my options.
 
That was a pretty dark time - but I chose the car and the career, which i think is paying off now. I wouldn't recommend it though!
 
You became involved with one of NewBay Media's publications as a writer in 2013, eventually taking on the Acting Editor post for the publisher. What did you learn during that time?
 
Phil: The main thing I learned is that you can never learn enough and if you do make a mistake - even a little one - someone will point it out. Proof reading, fact checking, note taking, accurate quoting - all these kinds of things are as important to a journalist as water is to a fish.
 
In all honesty, I fell into the Acting Editor position purely by chance - a "right place right time" scenario. But in my opinion it was too early! I jumped at the chance to be a boss of sorts - call the shots for myself and not have (as many) people breathing down my neck.  
 
However, even though it can seem tough and sometimes endless to be the lackey or newbie, I realised that the time you spend listening in on other people's conversations while making the teas, or being in a position where you can ask questions (even stupid ones) and watch how other more experienced people operate around you is golden. The longer you spend as a junior, the better.
 
I also learned that I was terrible at networking. I suffer from anxiety, especially in unfamiliar social situations, making the art of small talk or even just going up to someone and saying "hi" a daunting task.
 
But after many awkward conversations and clammy handshakes, it became a little easier. I refined my networking tactic to candidly wandering up to someone, saying "Hi, I'm Phil from (wherever), do you have a business card? Here's mine. Nice meeting you."
 
Then rushing out to avoid an anxiety-induced panic attack, and doing it all over again.
 
You now work as a reporter with Incisive Media - a London-based business media publisher working both in print and online. What does a typical day look like for you?
 
Phil: CRN is a fantastic publication (not to be too biased). In an age where interviews can be done via email or even social media and news is endlessly regurgitated from press releases, it was refreshing and fascinating to join a team that has really stuck to core journalistic methods. Like picking up the phone, viciously hunting for stories and generating original 'new' news.  
 
A normal day would begin trawling through emails to seek out relevant news, or surveying the internet for anything that has happened overnight - then following up with anything that could be used for the site or magazine.
 
We always strive to spin stories in a fresh way by calling the relevant companies or people and scrutinising them for all they're worth. This would result in anything from simply a more in-depth version of a particular story, to a whole new angle or even (on occasion) discovering something completely new, and possibly breaking news.
 
Features are also a big part of the publication, so coming up with ideas for longer pieces based on current issues in the market (IT, tech) is an ongoing task.
 
And of course, keeping all our social media platforms active, as well as engaging with the audience, is an essential part of the job.
 
Thinking back to your University days between 2010 and 2013, what advice would you give to your younger, student self, or to anyone else looking to build a career in journalism?
 
Phil: The first thing I would advise my younger self to do is work. Harder. On. My. Grammar! In my experience, you are expected to be an expert - and I wasn't (much better now though).
 
I would also advise not to be so proud. Understandably, when you write an article a little bit of yourself goes into it, like writing a song or painting a picture - but if someone (namely, your boss) chastises you for what they think is a shoddy bit of work, just do what they say with a smile on your face and promise them it won't happen again. And don't let it happen again...
 
With that in mind - the world of journalism is a cut-throat place, and you will come across some cut-throat people (as well as some truly amazing people). They will shoot you down with every chance they get. But if you can, don't let it crush your spirit, or deter you from pursuing what will hopefully be a challenging and exciting career.

You can follow Phil on Twitter: @phil_t707