On Thursday 1st March, Careers Network were joined by English Literature and History alumna Riyah Collins who now works as a journalist with BBC News Online covering the Midlands. Riyah discussed her career and journalism in a talk and Q&A session aimed at anyone interested in journalism and media and demonstrated the endless possibilities that an arts degree can offer.

Riyah’s Career

Firstly, Riyah discussed the path of her career so far. During her time at The University of Birmingham, Riyah regularly contributed to Redbrick and The Tab, eventually going on to become editor of The Tab in her final year. Following her graduation in 2016, Riyah began work in a news agency which mainly involved selling stories to national press, however she soon realised that her skill set was better suited to writing and when an opportunity arose with the BBC as part of the University of Birmingham’s Cultural Intern Scheme – she jumped at the chance. The Cultural Intern Scheme offers real opportunities to gain high quality work experience at leading cultural organisations in the West Midlands. Whilst Riyah’s role at the BBC was initially very events-based, being able to work within the news department meant that she could form crucial connections with the writing staff which eventually led to her being offered a 2 month contract as a writer which has since been extended.

Riyah’s Top Tips:

  • Don’t underestimate the importance of writing. An arts-based degree will already put you in a great position as a writer but the more you can read and write the better – it will really help you to develop your own writing style.
  • Don’t wait for the perfect job. As with most careers, the perfect job opportunity won’t arise straight away and may not even exist at all. Any experience is good experience and will act as a small stepping stone in eventually reaching your final goal.
  • Don’t be afraid to criticise. If there are topics that you believe need to be changed or adapted or addressed then speak out. News organizations are constantly looking for ways to appeal to a young, fresh audience and you will have a unique perspective on this – so use it!
  • Research media law. Media laws can be tricky to get your head around and the sooner you start to understand them the easier it will be. Being able to demonstrate an awarenessof the laws and even implementing them into your own personal portfolio is a sure way to impress any future employer.

After her talk, students were given the chance to ask some questions, here are some handy bits of advice from the Q&A session:

Do I need to do a Masters in journalism in order to be successful?

‘Everyone’s journey into the profession is different. Whilst I personally chose to gain hands-on journalistic experience, I can also appreciate why some people may benefit from undertaking a Masters. However, I think it is important to address that it is not essential – the most important thing is experience. If you have a Masters without any work experience, an employer won’t look twice at you.’

Do you have any advice for student journalists?

‘Make the most of being able to write for free and use it as a chance to really polish your writing style. Once you graduate and don’t have the security of a student loan, so you’ll have to write things you don’t particularly want to write about just to pay the bills. Use your time at uni to write about things you want to write about.’

Do I need to move to London to be a successful journalist?

‘Absolutely not – Birmingham is quickly becoming one of the best newspatches in the country and a great place to work if you don’t fancy London life. There is always something going on and there are some really great companies such as BBC Three moving to Birmingham in the next few years – it’s a really great place to be a journalist.’

Do you have any tips for getting work experience in journalism?

‘Work experience in journalism is hard-to-come by. I would suggest contacting your favorite journalist via social media and enquiring about the possibility of shadowing them. It’s a great way to see first-hand the way that journalism works on a practical scale and will help you to make those crucial contacts.’

If you’re interested learning more about journalism, take a look at our insight guide to journalism to get tips on getting experience and your first graduate job in this field,  and make sure to keep an eye of Careers Connect for the latest jobs, graduate schemes and internships including the Cultural Intern Scheme.

– Written by Alice Gordon, CAL SET member