Staff Writer

September 9, 2022 (Updated )

Journalism is ever-changing, and those currently pursuing a career within the industry face navigating a very different journalistic climate to those before them. We spoke to five journalists about what has changed most about the industry, and what they think the future might look like.

With more than 50 years between our youngest and oldest journalists, we covered more than half a century of the industry — and a lot of good advice was dished out.

Meet Our Journalists

Qais Hussain: A-Level Student and Freelance Journalist

Our youngest journalist, Qais Hussain, is an 18-year-old freelancer who has just finished his A-Levels. Hussain has written for publications like VICE, The Guardian, The Independent, and LADbible, and although he began his writing career more focused on opinion and political pieces, he has since found a groove in the feature and lifestyle sections. One of his favourite pieces (and our’s) explores how Islam conquered his mother’s fear of cats.

When the pandemic hit and his GCSEs were cancelled, Hussain turned to writing and “immediately fell in love with it”. What he really loves about journalism is “being able to speak to an audience and having a voice to connect with people [he] never would have otherwise”.

Journo Resources
Journo Resources

Qais Hussain (L) and Zesha Saleem (R) both write alongside their studies.

Zesha Saleem: Student Doctor and Freelance Journalist

Like Hussain, University of Liverpool medical student Zesha Saleem properly began pitching and writing articles during the pandemic. Although she had always enjoyed English at school, Saleem knew she wanted to study medicine, and so had never really considered a career in journalism — but after falling into the industry partly by chance, she now writes freelance alongside her studies.

Covering topics like politics, education, health, diversity, and culture in some of the country’s most prominent publications, from The Guardian to British Vogue, Saleem also had a column for OK! Magazine during Ramadan, where she wrote a diary about her experiences and observations of the festival. She is particularly touched when she sees her work lead to something. For instance, when she received emails from people who had used her article on vaccine hesitancy to successfully convince their relatives to get vaccinated.

Nina Nannar: Arts Editor at ITV News

Nina Nannar has been working in journalism since the late ‘80s and is the current arts editor for ITV News. Growing up, Nannar adored writing, and her letters and concert reviews were often picked up by music magazines like Sounds. Broadcast journalism, however, was something she says she had never really considered early on. Instead, Nannar had initially wanted to be either a music journalist or an actor, but her parents were promptly called into college and warned of her drama school ambitions: “You’re talking about the ‘80s and traditional Indian parents […] Journalism just wasn’t something you went into, and drama? You must be joking!”

Nannar loves that her job allows her able to meet such a wide variety of people, however, because she does it everyday, she admittedly doesn’t always fully appreciate what she’s doing. “It’s only when people come and go, ‘Oh, my God, you interviewed Lady Gaga’, [that] I go, yeah, I’m really lucky,” she says.

Beyond the celebrity interviews and annual Oscars invites, however, Nannar has found that it is the personal stories that increasingly matter. For example, she had once successfully pitched a story idea for the 60th anniversary of Indian independence and the creation of the Pakistan partition, for which she took her half-Indian, half-English nephew back to India to the village where her father was born — and to a slum in Delhi. They then walked across the border into Pakistan, at a time when that could still be done.

“It was the most astonishing journey of my life. I did three separate pieces, and I put on air voices that never got on ITV — Indian voices in India — and I was able to tell my personal story,” Nannar recalls fondly.

Journo Resources
Journo Resources

Nina Nannar (L) and Chris Goreham (R) have both enjoyed successful careers in broadcasting.

Chris Goreham: BBC Radio Norfolk Breakfast Show Presenter and Football Commentator

Growing up, Chris Goreham couldn’t get enough of watching, listening to, and reading about football. At some point, the penny dropped for him that it must be possible to pursue a career in football reporting. “After realising I was never going to be good enough to actually play the game at any sort of level, being a football reporter seemed like the next best thing,” he quips.

After writing to local radio stations as a teenager, Goreham was told the same thing repeatedly: that he lacked experience. Undeterred, he enrolled in a college media course and volunteered at Hospital Radio Norwich. Eventually, he says, “BBC Radio Norfolk relented and allowed me to help out on their Saturday Sport show voluntarily.”

For a while, Goreham’s morning routine consisted of a 5am to 8.30am sports shift, followed by a 9am college start. The early mornings were all worth it because, 20 years later, Goreham is still happily at BBC Radio Norfolk. He says, “I wouldn’t swap [my job] for anything. I feel very fortunate to do what I do. The privilege was brought home during COVID when I was one of the very few people allowed into matches played behind closed doors.”

Nick Pollard: Former Head Of Sky News & Broadcast and Media Consultant

Nick Pollard found himself embarking on a journalism career “rather by default”. When he started as a trainee in Birkenhead’s local paper in November 1968, he had just left school with what he terms “a couple of ropey A-Levels”. A friendly English teacher put him in contact with the paper, and Pollard basically never looked back.

Since then, he has had an incredibly successful career, having worked for the BBC, ITN, and Sky News. Some of the biggest stories covered in Goreham’s career include the withdrawal of Soviet combatant forces from Afghanistan, the death of Princess Diana, and the 9/11 attacks.

Journo Resources
“Don’t fall into the trap of listening to others’ versions of what ordinary people are thinking — hear it for yourself.”
Nick Pollard, former head of Sky News

So, What Really Makes a Good Journalist?

“Although it might sound corny, a natural-born curiosity and ability to question are the absolute fundamentals of journalism,” Nannar declares. “[Journalists] should see it as a quest about knowledge, and questioning, and furthering our own understanding of something […] We must remain curious.”

Pollard concurs, “We must be sceptical, but not cynical and we must always be prepared to look at evidence dispassionately.” He also warns journalists against becoming removed or detached from what the public are doing, thinking, and worrying about. “Don’t fall into the trap of listening to others’ versions of what ordinary people are thinking — hear it for yourself,” he advises.

Saleem echoes Pollard’s sentiment. “A good journalist must be somebody who listens to absolutely everything going on around them and is constantly aware of what is going on.” She goes on to add, “It’s not enough to just wait for a commission to land in your lap — it’s about taking things away from conversations with people and forming fresh new ideas from that.”

Nina Nannar speaks to the Royal Television Society about reporting during COVID-19. 

‘I Edited By Cutting Up Tape With A Razor’

Goreham says that he has found the digital revolution incredible, recalling his first experiences in radio which involved “editing by literally cutting up pieces of tape with a razor blade”. Contrast that with today’s processes, where “interviews once recorded on huge tape recorders and transported back to the studio, can now be recorded on iPhones and played out on air within seconds.”

He isn’t the only one who remembers the journalism industry as it used to be. Nannar recalls her first placement at Radio Lincolnshire, where there was only “one enormous mobile phone that sat at the front of the office, waiting to be allocated by the news editor to someone based on their story.” In the early days of Pollard’s career, when everything was totally analogue, equipment was considerably bigger, with “huge great video machines resembling two family cars stacked one on top of another.” Now, he says, “you can go live from pretty much anywhere in the world.”

Looking ahead, Hussain predicts that “we will move away from the bigger publications and more towards partisan news – potentially becoming more placed within our echo chambers.” This means reporting all facets of the truth is more important than ever. “Against a backdrop of fake news and misinformation, the real value of journalism will be in the ability to explain the nuances and depths of a story in the clearest way possible,” Goreham states.

As somebody with a keen interest in how misinformation spreads, Saleem also agrees, highlighting the importance of “keeping transparent and truthful reporting as our focus of what we do as journalists.”

Journo Resources
“Against a backdrop of fake news and misinformation, the real value of journalism will be in the ability to explain the nuances and depths of a story in the clearest way possible.”
Chris Goreham, BBC Radio Norfolk presenter

Golden Advice For Aspiring Journalists

For Hussain, the ultimate skill needed in journalists is faith in yourself and in your story. He also adds practically, “You should always be looking out for work experience — and not necessarily just at your dream publication either.” No matter what journalists may feel about specific publications, they are nevertheless going to learn valuable things about the industry and work culture.

Unafraid to admit that learning directly from the newsroom had a humbling effect on himself, Hussain says: “Until you do work experience, you won’t necessarily truly understand the inner workings of the publication.”

Advice For Journalists Just Starting Out

We’ve published a huge range of advice from journalists in our ‘Day In The Life’ series. Here are just a few highlights:

 Nimo Omer“”I think it’s a bit of a myth that you need to be on [Twitter]. It’s great for networking, it’s important for contacting editors, but I think we have put too much weight on it. It can come back to haunt you. Don’t put your self-worth into it. Your portfolio, your articles, your podcasts, your radio shows, your newspaper, are far more important than your brand.”

• Helena Horton: “No one ever goes into their dream job in journalism straight away. I found my years as a general reporter really useful because you learn the building blocks of how to write a story. Your name isn’t going to be in lights straight away, but keep going! Keep going, work hard, and try to get as much experience as possible in a variety of areas.”

Suyin Haynes:: “Always stay humble, open-minded, and willing to learn from other people because we’re never done learning. Having that curiosity and empathy for other people is so so important in this job.”

When Saleem was starting out, she was commissioned by an editor at The Times who told her, “If, as a young journalist, you want to write about something, do think about the big national topic, but [also] think about how you can give your personal take on it.” She builds on this advice, adding, “Make it easier for yourself when starting out by not chasing all the big stories straight away. Student issues, for instance, are under-reported — but publications remain interested in them.”

She suggests that budding journalists start with what they know and, slowly but surely, build a repertoire to report on all aspects. Her golden advice is to “Be patient […] and try to remember that Twitter isn’t always real life.”

Pollard encourages journalists to be confident and to believe in their own views, saying, “Although it can be easy listening to other people banging on, sounding like they know everything, in reality, you might have a better idea.”

He also leaves us with a parting reminder that it’s also important to have fun with the job. “I have had 50 years — and still going — of really great fun. I’m fascinated by and love journalism,” he declares.

Header image supplied by interviewees.
Hannah Bradfield
Hannah Bradfield

Hannah is a recent graduate from Loughborough University, where she studied a BA in English and Sport Science and an MA in Media and Cultural Analysis. Alongside her studies, Hannah was on the editorial teams of several student magazines, and in 2018, was awarded ‘Best Student Journalist, Midlands’ by SPA. She was a BBC Sport Kick Off Reporter in 2019 and in 2021, co-founded and edited a one-off 40-page print and digital magazine in celebration of International Women’s Day.