What’s life like on the the website of the UK’s most popular news magazine? And what advice does the motoring and technology editor have for young starters in the fast lane?
Speaking to Journo Resources, The Week UK’s motoring and technology editor Cameron Tait talks ego-driven youngsters, speed-proof stories and why journalism needs a good kick up the arse…
What did you always dream of being?
The call that first drove me – and this is going to sound a little bit silly – was that I’d always wanted to be a racing driver. I was a huge admirer of Lewis Hamilton, and I had this dream of getting behind the wheel and competing. But as a teenager, I was far too old to be a racing driver.
So I turned my attention to my second love, which was music. I used to produce some electronic music, but I didn’t quite have the aggression and wasn’t in the right circles to make inroads in the industry. I also found it to be very cut throat – it wasn’t a friendly place.
I’d never really been a fan of writing in my school years, but once I got to university (Surrey) for a degree in media studies, I think I used creative writing to make up for my lack of understanding of the theory. I was writing essays, but trying to make them more creative so that I would enjoy it.
I ended up developing a real love for writing. I turned my attention to my one true passion, cars, and thought, why not put the two together and become a car journalist?
What’s in a typical day?
I can have a typical week with five typical days, and then a spanner will be thrown in the works when something comes up and I’ve got to do something differently. My usual day begins with compiling a news list, based on what I think will get readers coming back for the whole week and hopefully the month, rather than what will drive traffic for just that day.
It’s a relatively small list: four or five new stories, ones that I can make quite meaty and that will last for a long time. After that, I’ll spend my morning writing two articles of about thousand words each.
In the afternoon, I’ll do a third article, quite long form, and then two smaller updates to keep articles turning over. A typical example would be something like, how to get a driver’s licence, or how to get your car MOTd.
Once in a while, I’ll be on The Week Unwrapped podcast, so I’ll need to tailor my day around researching and recording for that.
Want an insight into the daily lives of more journalists? We’ve got you covered. Check out our interviews with Jess Brammar, Executive Editor of HuffPost UK, Megha Mohan, the BBC’s first Gender and Identity Correspondent, and Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff, Head of Editorial at gal-dem.
What would surprise people about your job?
I think there’s this idea that journalists have a gun to their heads: that you’ve got to perform in set time periods, that there’s lots of shouting and paper being thrown around… it’s not like that. It’s very much an environment where we’re told to take things a little bit slowly, to focus on work and make sure that what you’re producing is high-quality journalism.
I’m not speaking for other publications, where I hear there’s a little more focus in getting things out as quickly as possible, but that’s not the case with us. We’re here to take our time, and it’s quite a relaxing environment.
There’s sometimes a sense these days that news organisations are trying to trick people into reading articles with glamorous headlines that don’t materialise into anything. That couldn’t be further from the reality. We’re all trying to get to the actual truth of story.
What’s the best thing a beginner could do if they wanted to nick your job?
There are three areas where a beginner should really focus if they’re looking to nick my job (and I’ll fight for it!).
Firstly, if you come in to do work experience, take your time. We would rather someone come in and spend a couple of hours writing a factual story with clean copy.
We get a lot of young people coming in who, completely understandably, want to impress and show that they can churn out articles really quickly. They’ll do something in 20 minutes, and it’ll be full of errors.
Want the inside scoop on what your CV should be looking like? Here’s our deep-dive (with before and after sliders) on how you can make your application actually stand out. And here’s another, from an editor with experience of hiring people.
Listen to advice people give you, and don’t get defensive if they turn around and tell you that your copy is bad. Even after two years in a job, you can still have a bad day and deliver completely rubbish copy.
You always learn something. And although journalists are ego-driven – they think they’re the best of the best when they get a job because it’s such a competitive environment. But, the people around you really know what they’re doing. They’ve been at that publication for years, and they’re there to help you. Learn what you can, and then put your own spin on it.
— Cameron Tait (@Revs_Cam) August 30, 2019
What do you look for in a future superstar?
Be proactive – but be measured. Don’t go in and say, “Your whole business model is rubbish, I’m going to change everything.”
Show that you can contribute in your own way, and bring new ideas to the business. There’s a real focus for journalism students writing a good news story, but these days it should go beyond that.
Journalism students are never really taught how to pitch a news story, but this is where general creativity can really shine. If you’re in the newsroom with your team and you’re trying to put story forwards, just let your creativity run wild: put a little thought into the story and how you would research it. If your pitches are rejected, go away and refine them.
What about bad habits to avoid?
We see so many young people rushing, because it’s the typical newspaper way. Take your time – and look over what you’re doing. That’s the most important thing.
Another problem can be following the pack: doing your day-to-day duties, nothing more, nothing less. Try to bring something new and interesting.
When we do round-table interviews, you’ll usually find that there’ll be two seasoned journalists that will ask the questions, while the youngsters might be sat listening, and chip in one question.
But sometimes they go overboard, and ask a question about Brexit, for example, which will completely turn the tone of the interview. Be prepared to ask some tough questions, but take care to listen and learn.
Ticked the #N24 off the bucket list at the weekend. It's so crazy that I'm still kind blown, though that may be result of my 9 hour drive back home. Really can't wait for the day I get to drive the Nordschleife. pic.twitter.com/V8WKkw8bVs
— Cameron Tait (@Revs_Cam) June 24, 2019
Where is journalism in three to five years?
I think journalism needs a good kick up the arse. This is not a reflection of the environment I work in today, but environments that I have worked in. Everything seems to be exactly the same as it was about 10 years ago, with very little evolution. When evolution does come around, it takes years and years and years and sometimes it’s far too late.
In three to five years, not a lot will change – but a lot of it does need to.
And if you’re going to come into journalism now, perhaps come in with a little bit of an entrepreneurial mind, which is somewhat lacking in the publishing world. There’s no harm in being a creative, but you also need to bring in the business.