Freelance Journalist

July 11, 2019 (Updated )

She started off studying Medicine, but in an unexpected twist of events Liz Bates now works as The Yorkshire Post’s Westminster Correspondent.

Based in the Parliamentary Lobby, Liz chats to Journo Resources about everything from working in the real-life Hogwarts to the need to network your way into the industry.

Here’s what her average day looks like. If there even is such a thing in politics…

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My day starts at…

At 10 or 11 o’clock in the morning [I’ll] get in and the first thing I do is have a quick glance over the news websites, usually BBC, Guardian, the Times, just to see what the big stories are that have broken overnight.

Maybe before that, I’ll read a news email, usually Jack Blanchard’s Politico email. These are the best things to read in the morning to find out everything that happened the night before, and everything that’s coming up that day.

So, when I ring my newsdesk at 10.30-11am, I pretend that I know everything that’s going on in politics, but really I’ve just read Jack’s email.

I’ll think about my diary and what I’m doing that day, and then I put together a news list which I send over to the newsdesk. That’s then our plan for the day ahead.

Liz Bates
Liz Bates at the Student Publication Association’s National Conference. (Image Credit: Ollie Cole / Journo Resources)

What you might not know about my job…

My entire news team is in Leeds, and then I have an office in Westminster. It could not be more Hogwarts – it’s such a funny little place to work. I absolutely love it, but it is like working in a dilapidated old castle.

I go back to Leeds once a month; it’s much more important for me to be in Westminster when there are breaking stories and it’s just Brexit all the time at the moment. That’s what they hired me for.

I talk to my political editor and my news editor every day, and apart from that, don’t really see them. I mainly work on my own, which is fine by me. I go back to do administrative stuff, or if there’s a recess I might go up there to do a day on the newsdesk, but it’s mainly just to touch base.

My typical day involves…

I spend my mornings wandering around, looking for MPs to talk to. I go to Members’ Lobby, which is just outside the Chamber in the House of Commons, where MPs wander in and out. If you go and hang around near there, sometimes they’ll talk to you and give you pieces of information.

Want to follow in Liz’ footsteps? We spoke to Natasha Clark, Digital Westminster Correspondent at The Sun, about how to get your first shoe through the door.

I also schedule coffees with MPs or with MPs’ staff, and I just try to get the gossip, find out what they think is going on, and see if I can get any on the record quotes – I’m thinking about my stories for the day and how I’m going to write them, and piecing it all together. If there’s an event, I might go and cover that for the paper.

Then it gets to 3 o’clock and that’s when shit hits the fan. Then it’s like “Oh my god, we’ve got to write a newspaper”, as if we all forgot in the morning. That’s when we have to start getting our stories on to the page, making sure they fit, pulling all those quotes together, thinking about what’s going on the next day. From about 3-6pm, time just passes me by completely when I’m writing. At the moment, I’ll write the splash, and then one page in the newspaper of political coverage, which me and my political editor put together between us.

We can work until 10.30pm at night, mainly because of Brexit stuff. If something is going on until 8-9pm, I can end up writing until about 10. So it’s a late start, and I can sometimes come in at 1-2pm if I think I’m going to be working really late.

Liz Bates on BBC Newsnight. (Image Credit: Twitter)

After work…

As a lobby or Westminster journalist, your social life becomes enmeshed with your work life a lot of the time. You go to Strangers Bar, which is where all the MPs go. Especially on nights of big votes, you want to talk to MPs about their thoughts on what’s just happened, and you want to talk to the other journalists as well. It’s not as much of a drinking culture as it used to be though.

A lot of the time I’ll eat my dinner in Parliament, then go to the bar, and then go home at 10-11pm. It is very full on, and if you didn’t enjoy it and didn’t absolutely love politics, then it would be horrendous. But if you’re a political nerd, which I am, and so is everyone who works in the lobby, then it’s great fun.

I always thought I’d be…

A Doctor. I went to uni and studied Medicine for a little bit, which my parents were very pleased with and then not very pleased when I dropped it. I ended up doing Economics and then I went into economic research.

Then I realised in my mid-twenties that I wanted to be a journalist and ended up with my first journalism job when I was 27. So I was very late to the industry compared to a lot of people who work in it.

Liz Bates talking to delegates at #SPANC19. (Image Credit: Ollie Cole / Journo Resources)

I got the job because…

After my undergraduate degree, I went and did an MA in Political Journalism at City. That’s how I got my first job, through somebody on that course. I went to work for Politics Home, a political news website.

Then I ended up in a better job at Politics Home as a Parliamentary Editor, and then I went and worked for the Labour Party during the general election and during the EU referendum. I worked for the Shadow Housing Minister, doing press and housing policy. Then I went back to Politics Home, and finally ended up at the Yorkshire Post.

If people wanted to follow in my footsteps, I’d say…

You have to be prepared to network. I’m from Rotherham, I went to a comprehensive school, I moved down to London and I didn’t know a single person. I couldn’t ask any friends or family for help.

Doing my MA was really helpful because I met journalists, the first time I’d ever met journalists. Then you have to say to them, “Can I take you for coffee, talk to you, pick your brains? Are there any jobs going? Can you give me the email addresses of anybody who you think would hire me at the moment?”

It’s not very natural for me to do that, but you have to be prepared to do it. That’s how I got my first job. I really didn’t learn anything on my MA that helped me at all in my job, apart from getting that network of people who eventually got me the job.

You really need to have a portfolio. The thing that people will look at if they’re thinking about hiring you is links to your work. They want to know you can write a news story, or a feature, or an interview, or you’ve been on a podcast. That’s really it; qualifications and stuff are quite far down the list for me. It’s getting your bylines and experience in a newsroom which is absolutely invaluable.

Not started your portfolio yet? Don’t worry, we’ve got your back. Here’s our one page guide to knocking it out of the park.

If you can get shorthand and media law, people really rate them highly in the industry and they’re very useful. Look out for schemes as well. The Second Source mentorship scheme is great.

It means that you have somebody who is an established journalist and you can say to them, “What do you think of this job? Can you look over my CV?” You have that person who can support you and guide you through what seems like quite an opaque process of getting into the industry.

Liz Bates talking to students about getting into politics. (Image Credit: Ollie Cole / Journo Resources)

The thing that surprises me most about my job is…

That it still feels very old fashioned. There’s a lot of old white men; I’m not against old white men, they’re great and I’ve got a lot of time for them, but it feels like a bit of an old boys’ club sometimes. The lobby itself feels a bit old fashioned because a lot of the jobs don’t get advertised; it’s about who you know. It feels like a secret club sometimes. A lot of the time you’re just trying to make it up as you go along. Nobody ever says to you, “This is how you go and get a story.”

It feels like it’s probably not changed that much since Dickens was doing it. When you go and work in Parliament every day it feels like you’re part of history, but it feels like it could do with updating itself. The lobby needs to be more diverse. If you don’t have people from different ethnic and social backgrounds, you end up very narrowly focused in terms of the things you report on. If our political press is to be truly great and world-leading, it needs to be diverse.

If I was starting again…

You have to not be too scared to self-promote. If you think you’ve written something good, you have to Tweet about it. Don’t be scared to put yourself forward; if there’s a big story going on, you be the one who puts your hand up and says, “I want to report on this.”

It’s a world full of very confident people. I’m not a particularly confident person, so it’s taken me years to get to that point where I believe I can do it. I wish I’d just faked it at the beginning. I wish I’d just thrown myself into it.

Featured Image: Ollie Cole for Journo Resources