Name: Jennifer Sterne University: University of Manchester Subject Studied: English Literature Current Job Title: Head of Media Company: Manchester Media Group
What made you decide to pursue a career in journalism?
Being involved with The Mancunian (the University of Manchester’s student newspaper). The first stall that I came to during Freshers week when I started first year was The Mancunian. They asked me if I quite liked writing, and I gave it a go and wrote a few articles and just got really, really interested in it. It became the dominant part of my university career. I spent more time in student media than I probably did on my degree. I just fell in love with it and knew that that was the career that I wanted to pursue.
Can you tell me about some of the work experiences that you've had in journalism to date?
After doing my first year in student media, I got an opportunity to do an internship at The London Magazine, which is the UK's oldest literature review magazine. I worked there as an intern for two weeks. They happened to lose their assistant editor, who basically puts the bi-monthly magazine together. She left and they didn't know what to do. They had no one to make the magazine for that month and so I put my hand up and said that I knew how to use computer design software, which I only knew because I'd been involved in student media. So I became the assistant editor of the magazine. I ended up doing that for two summers, after both my second and third year.
I was also the brand ambassador for the i newspaper on campus and became a student reporter for The Independent, as part of that. I wrote about different things happening at University, as well as opinion articles about student life. Out of that I got some work experience at the i newspaper and got a few things in print. None of that would have been possible without all the work and experience that I got through student media.
How valuable were those experiences and what did you gain from them?
They were both valuable. With The London Magazine, it was quite a small team of people who put it together. Because it was quite an established magazine, I learned so much about how to put together a magazine and how to advertise it. Every little aspect of it I had to learn because there was me, as the assistant editor, and then there was the marketing assistant. It was up to us to make sure that the magazine was put together, that it got out and that people wanted to read it. We also made sure that it looked good, and that the content was edited correctly. Every little bit of putting together a publication I had to learn very quickly.
With the i, especially with the student reporting side of it, it definitely gave me more of an awareness of how to find stories that were interesting. Firstly, stories that national newspapers think are interesting stories, and secondly, stories that students themselves are going to want to read. It gave me a better awareness of how to write for a certain audience. Writing for a national newspaper showed me how to pitch articles and how to engage with the editors at different newspapers.
Did you find it difficult juggling work experience whilst doing your degree?
It was a juggling act and it was quite hard but I knew that I had to commit myself a bit more to making sure that I got all of that experience, while also ensuring that I got a good degree, because I didn't want to waste the degree that I was paying for. In the same respect, I don't think any of those job opportunities would have been available to me had I not gone to university, because I wouldn't have had the opportunity to work in student media. Many of the opportunities that I had wouldn't have happened unless I'd been a university student.
It goes to show that the University experience is so much more than simply getting a degree.
I definitely think that. Lots of people say to me, "was there any point in you doing an English Literature degree when you want to be a journalist now - why didn't you do a journalism degree?". The reason why I chose English Literature in the first place was because I didn't know what I wanted to do when I first went to university so I wanted to keep it open. I knew that having a degree in itself opens so many doors. Having so many opportunities available to you at University widens your horizons in so many different ways. You learn so much more and you learn how to be more independent and confident in your own abilities. I think that that was one of the biggest things that university did for me, as I was very shy before I came to university. Learning that I could write things that people wanted to read and that they respected my opinion gave me so much more confidence, as well as the ability to talk to people that I wouldn't have spoken to before. It was really important to go to university to achieve those things.
You’re currently the Editor of the Mancunian. Can you tell me about a story that you're particularly proud of?
One of my favourite stories was from the beginning of this year, at the students Welcome Fair. There was a cardboard cut-out at the Conservative Future stand of Margaret Thatcher. It got beheaded. I'd sent my deputy editor to go on a walk around and see if she could find any stories. She came back with these amazing statements from the Conservative Future stand telling us that some Marxist students had come and ripped off the head of Margaret Thatcher, and run off with it. We ended up tracking down those Marxist students and got statements from them. We also got a statement from the Marxist society who said they condemned the beheading of the former Prime Minister, cardboard or otherwise. It was a fantastic story and it was a team effort. We could have just seen that and taken a picture or tweeted it, but we realised that there was more to that story. Some of the statements that we got were hilarious. It ended up getting national media attention and was a great start to the year. It was brilliantly entertaining - only in student news would you get a story like that!
I understand that you’re a coordinator of the Women in Media Conference. What is it about, and what made you and others decide to set it up?
We set it up in 2016 when I was in my third year of university. It was me and a few other girls from within the Manchester Media Group who realised that while there were loads of girls getting involved in student media, at the top senior levels within student media, there were less women getting involved. In contributing to meetings, less women were putting their ideas forward. We suddenly realised that if we didn’t do something about it at a student media level, then at a national level it was never going to change. It's a massive issue at the moment as there are more women than men doing journalism courses across the UK, but as soon as you reach senior levels, there's more men. So there seems to be some sort of a barrier preventing women who do go in to journalism from reaching the top levels. We decided to find a really famous female journalist who'd been successful in her career, and ask her to talk to us. Hopefully it would help a few students realise that if this woman can reach those heights, then so can they. It soon escalated and suddenly we were inundated with speakers saying they'd love to come. So we turned it in to a conference. Our first one was held at a much smaller venue, but was still a fantastic weekend. We had women from all over the country, speaking to around 50 or so delegates. It was really inspiring and we thought, we can't stop here, we need to do this next year.
I got the role as head of student media, and also attended the joint NUS and Amnesty International Student Media Summit last August. I approached Amnesty and asked if they'd like to be involved. They said yes, which I was really thrilled about. Their involvement meant that we were able to make the conference even bigger than it had been the year before. We were able to get a bigger venue, loads more speakers, and actually tripled the amount of delegates that attended. We wanted to make sure that we were going to be able to help people from all over the country, in student media, and show them that there are opportunities there for them. It's so important. We could sit here and complain that at the top level things aren't really changing, but unless we start changing things form the beginning, things will stay the same. We knew we also needed to show male students too, because they need to realise the sorts of issues that women face. The less they know about those issues, the less chance there is of things changing. The point of it all was to open people's eyes to the fact that there are issues there, but most importantly, you'll definitely be able to overcome them. You shouldn't view any of the things that you perceive to be in your way as unmovable. There are so many women who have done it, so you can do it as well.
What were some of the successes and challenges that came with organising and running the conference?
In terms of successes, we had a much bigger team this year. After running it the year before, we were much more aware of the obstacles that we would face, and how to overcome them. The year before it was all brought together very last minute. This year we had two other co-chairs who ran it with me who were just incredible. Having that team behind me made it possible because I couldn't have done any of it on my own.
With challenges, we had some speakers who dropped out quite last minute. Because of the sheer amount of speakers that we'd invited, it was bound to happen, so we just prepared for that and had back-up things planned. There were also a few tech challenges, but I think it ran quite smoothly. Everyone seemed to come away with it feeling that most, if not all, of the speakers had been able to impart something to take away, and that they'd learned stuff from the conference that they didn't know before.
Finally, what advice would you pass on to others looking to become journalists?
Get in contact with as many journalists as you possibly can. Everyone says that journalism is a career that's very much about who you know, but that doesn't mean that it should stop you. Make those contacts. Find those people that that can help you. Do things like going to the Women in Media conference that will enable you to make contacts that can help you later down the line. You could even ask to shadow someone. Throw yourself in to every opportunity that arises. Some of them may not pay off as much as others, but other times, it might be that one opportunity that gets your foot through the door. When I said yes to The London Magazine and put my hand up as the assistant editor, I was terrified of doing that, because I didn't have any experience of putting together a magazine, let alone the oldest literature magazine in the UK. I was so terrified but I threw myself into the opportunity because I knew that if I turned it down, I'd regret it. So don't turn down any opportunities. Connect with people because it's definitely a career where the more connections you have and the more people you can talk to, the better qualified you're going to be. And write, a lot! Don't stop writing and coming up with ideas. You're going to have some pieces that might not be your best work, but just keep doing it because it's always going to pay off in the end.
You can follow Jennifer on twitter: @JennySterne