Getting into the charity sector as a journalist – Five things I’ve learnt

Trina Wallace
Trina Wallace

Trina Wallace is a freelance charity copywriter and journalist, and an Exeter alum. 

Excitement. Fear. Curiosity. Apprehension. These were just some of the feelings I had when I graduated from Exeter University in 2001 with a degree in English studies. My university years were fantastic. I made new friends, gained amazing memories and learnt so much about life. After graduation, I wondered what lay ahead.

I knew I wanted to be a journalist, but how would I get there – and what would I write about? More than 15 years on, I work as a freelance journalist and copywriter in the charity sector, which I love. Here are some of the things I’ve learnt in my career since I graduated.

Vocational training is fun and makes you stand out. When you’ve finished three or four years of undergraduate study, you might not be up for more education. But if you want to be a journalist, I really recommend doing further training. Journalism is a craft and getting a good grounding in solid journalistic news and feature writing principles is crucial.

I did a postgraduate diploma in magazine journalism at Cardiff University, a great course. The training is more practical than academic, so I felt like I was moving forward. If I need help with work these days, I always look for people who have a journalism qualification.

“There are challenges but being your own boss means you get to choose who you work with and when, and you can fit your job around your life rather than the other way around.”

Work out what you don’t want to write about. I did some shifts at a popular woman’s weekly which involved interviewing people and telling their ‘real life’ stories. For me, that felt uncomfortable. Vulnerable people were paid to tell their heart-wrenching stories and I didn’t think they were supported enough before or after sharing them.

This experience helped me to figure out that I wanted to work in the charity sector. I enjoy interviewing and helping people tell their stories to make change happen. So in the charity sector, I specialise in interviewing the people charities support.

Charities need staff who come from outside the sector. It’s lovely working in the charity sector where people really care about what they do. Often, staff move from one charity to another which is brilliant as it means expertise is shared in the sector. But I do think charities benefit from employing staff with experience of the commercial sector because they have a different perspective. Journalists can bring that eye for finding a story to charities which helps them to reach more people.

Being your own boss is possible. I have worked as a features writer for business and lifestyle magazines and as an editor for a copywriting agency. At the agency, I was also an account manager for charity clients. It taught me about business as well as writing and helped me to return to the idea I’d had when I was younger about being my own boss. I always admired the freedom my dad had being self-employed, ­yet careers advisers never mentioned the option of being your own boss. But it really is an option and journalism is a perfect freelance career. There are challenges but being your own boss means you get to choose who you work with and when, and you can fit your job around your life rather than the other way around.

Journalism is evolving and journalists need to too. Many printed newspapers and magazines have closed which is sad. Now, more people are reading content online. So journalists have to keep their training up to date so they know about everything from search engine optimisation to creating videos. It’s a move to creating content, not just words. If you want to go into journalism, I’d bear this in mind when you’re considering work placements, training and jobs.

Find out more about me on my website www.trinawallace.com

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