Entertainment journalists tell PressPad their top tips for breaking into the industry
Entertainment journalism is an in-demand specialism, appealing to many young journalists. PressPad’s Ayomikun Adekaiyero talked to a few journalists in the field about their journey into the industry.
Ever since I decided to become a journalist, I have been trying to work out what kind of journalist I want to be. Apart from reporting the general news, there are so many other specialisms journalists can go into. There are even journalists now who report on TikTok (Sophia Smith-Galer)! This year, I decided that entertainment might be the niche I’d like to go into but I haven’t had much insight into what that specialism is like while studying on my university degree. Over the last couple of weeks, PressPad has given me the chance to interview entertainment journalists to find out what their work is like and what skills are needed to be good at it.
What I learnt is that this niche requires a lot of hustle. None of the people I spoke to had a direct route to their current roles. Garland’s journey started “largely by accident”. For her BA Creative Writing and English Lit course, she could get extra credit for a module about publishing. She started emailing music blogs and independent music magazines asking to review albums and gigs and went on from there. It was only when Twitter became popular did publications start noticing Garland’s work which led to Noisey, VICE’s music vertical, offering her a job. She’s been at Vice ever since.
While Snowball loved entertainment from age 15, after university she started getting jobs in politics and general news before pursuing her dream. She made a good point when she told me that managing your expectations is important. She says that she had to always look adjacent to where she wanted to be because not everyone has the luxury of working for their favourite publication straight away.
What is it like working in entertainment journalism?
Snowball says: “What I love about what I do and the industry as it is, is that everything is so different. One day I could be producing videos for Yahoo or we could be producing straight radio.” This year, she got to cover the Brit awards for the first time. While it was an amazing experience it was a lot of hard work too, she says. “You’ll be talking to JLS one minute then Stormzy the next and you’re having to think about it but it’s just so much fun and it’s really events like that test you as a journalist on your feet. That was a big stand out moment for me.”
Garland feels that culture is the most valuable educational medium because it’s the most accessible. She tells me: “Music, TV, film – it informs, reflects and dissects our lived experiences of the world, so on the best days there is literally nothing I’d rather be doing than trying to put into words what a particular album or reality TV show says about modern life.”
However, it is hard work to reach that stage especially if you’re not a straight white man. Flint had to make sure her work is outside of traditional criticism because those opportunities would normally be given to others who can’t cover entertainment from a diversity angle. She often thinks: “How can I use my identity to write about something that other people might have missed?” Garland also points out that there are increasingly fewer publications dedicated specifically to music journalism. She says “Sadly, the space for good journalism and culture writing is shrinking in favour of reactive content and bigoted commentary. It sucks, but something will have to give eventually.
Top tips for getting into entertainment journalism
Garland’s top tip as an editor for Vice is: “Read, read read. Write, write, write.” She adds that writing is a ‘use it or lose it’ skill. She and Flint also stress how much you do not need a degree to improve your writing.
Garland says: “If you’re just starting and you’re from a non-traditional background, know that you don’t need an editor to validate an idea and you don’t need a publication to publish it. Make a free website and start firing stuff out into the world yourself. Not only will it make you a better writer, but it will also give you a visible portfolio of work to show editors when you do pitch them.”
In an oversaturated industry, Flint’s best advice is to “get up early to get a jump on the day”. She adds that you will be competing with a lot of other people so it is better to get started in the morning than having to play catch up. Plus you should always be willing to take constructive criticism for your work, she adds.
One important thing you must have is a passion for entertainment. Snowball says “Have a constant, really strong awareness of what’s going on. Get in the habit of knowing the top headlines every day. Scroll through Twitter and see. You’ve got to have that understanding.” Entertainment needs to be something you live and breathe, she advises.
I also attended a celebrity journalism masterclass led by Donna Ferguson and Nick McGrath which gave me further insight into celebrity journalism and freelancing. They made clear that anyone can get into celebrity journalism and it’s just a matter of making contacts with PRs and pitching to the sections of newspapers and magazines where celebrities are regularly featured.
One standout piece of advice that stuck with me from this masterclass was not to give up. Both of them talked of examples of times they were rejected multiple times before eventually landing a commission.
Ferguson says: “Rejection is part of freelance journalism. Feel the fear of rejection and do it anyway because you’ll definitely not get a commission if you don’t pitch.”
If you are undecided on whether entertainment journalism is for you, I hope this helps your decision and reminds you that there is a great variety of what you can do.