Your Career in Journalism

Becca McAuley Graduated from the University of Exeter BA International Relations, 2018. She’s currently Sub-editor at the Daily Mail.  

Becca McAuley, University of Exeter Graduate and current Sub-editor at the Daily Mail

After I graduated from Exeter I did a MA in Newspaper Journalism at City, University of London. While I was there I did some work experiences at places like The Times, The Telegraph and PA where I learnt more about the different types of journalism which helped me to decide what sort of career I wanted. I applied successfully for the Trainee Sub-Editor Scheme at the Daily Mail and did a placement at Metro as part of my training before starting properly at the Mail.

“There’s a great satisfaction in writing a good headline or caption, and it’s even better when the story you’ve subbed is picked up on the TV or radio when the papers are being reviewed.”

Before doing my MA I didn’t really know what sub-editing was or even that it existed as a job in its own right, but it’s exactly what I’ve always enjoyed most about journalism. I absolutely love being on the front line of getting the paper out each day – the sub-editors are some of the last journalists who read the stories that go into the paper before it is printed. I love the variety of stories I get to read and edit and it’s so cool seeing the paper coming together over a couple of hours. There’s also a great satisfaction in writing a good headline or caption, and it’s even better when the story you’ve subbed is picked up on the TV or radio when the papers are being reviewed. On a typical day I come into the office in the afternoon and read that day’s paper so I know the context if there are any follow-ups to come. In any one shift I could go from subbing a story on Prince Harry to one about a big row at the heart of government – the variation keeps it interesting. Once all the stories have been subbed and the paper has been checked and printed we go again for the second and third edition, when updates to stories and new stories are added.

“In my third year I was co-editor of The Witness, the University’s politics journal, which is where I started to realise my love of sub-editing – before I even realised that was what it was. I was also a member of Xpression, the radio station, which I made news reports for and where I contributed to the Friday evening news hour.”

My favourite thing about my BA at Exeter was the variety of modules I could choose from, which meant I could make my degree exactly what I wanted it to be. I’ve always been really interested in the Middle East so I took advantage of being able to study modules from outside my discipline and took modules from the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies – Jonathan Githens-Mazer’s modules on Muslims in Britain and Nationalisms in the Middle East were definitely some of my favourites and the fact these were often smaller classes was hugely beneficial in allowing the class to discuss and debate the topics and learn from each other. The modules offered by the Strategy and Security Institute were brilliant too and it was amazing to be taught by experts from the field – people with experience at the top levels of decision-making including Dr David Blagden and Dr Sergio Catignani. I also really enjoyed studying Contemporary Public Debate in an Age of Anti-Politics, which definitely gave me food for thought at a time I was figuring out how to become a journalist and what sort of journalist I wanted to be.  In my third year I was co-editor of The Witness, the University’s politics journal, which is where I started to realise my love of sub-editing – before I even realised that was what it was. I was also a member of Xpression, the radio station, which I made news reports for and where I contributed to the Friday evening news hour.

“For anyone wanting to get into journalism generally, the best thing you can do is get experience and make this experience varied. Write for the student paper or the magazines, have a blog, get work experience at local and national publications.”

My experience in student journalism at Exeter was invaluable – it gave me the skills I needed to be able to do a Masters while also convincing me that journalism was definitely the path I wanted to go down. The fact that my academic interests are also my journalistic interests meant everything I learnt in lectures taught me something that I could take with me in my career.

For anyone wanting to get into journalism generally, the best thing you can do is get experience and make this experience varied. Write for the student paper or the magazines, have a blog, get work experience at local and national publications. This will not only show your commitment but will help you to learn about different types of journalism and will give you an idea of what area you’d like to go into. For sub-editing the best advice I can give is read widely – this will help you to understand the different styles different newspapers or magazines have. Also don’t close yourself off to any types of news – as a sub-editor you can go from subbing a story about Love Island one minute to one about a big policy announcement the next so having at least some knowledge of lots of areas is vital.

I absolutely love sub-editing and in the future I’d like to expand my skill set to include commissioning. I would also be interested in one day working for a publication that focuses more in-depth on politics and policy decisions. I wouldn’t rule out a return to writing about politics in some form, though I definitely want more experience as a sub-editor first and I’m excited to see what the next few years hold.