How well are women represented in digital journalism?

With Janine Gibson’s recent promotion to a senior digital position at the Financial Times and the AOP Digital Publishing Awards coming up in October, Jack Wynn investigates female representation in digital journalism and the current gender diversity climate

It’s difficult to comprehend how women remain underrepresented in the newsroom. Study after study has analysed low female representation in journalism and the results of these studies are behind the inception of organisations including Women in Journalism (WIJ), Digital Women Leaders and the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF), created to provide resources and support networks.

In 2018, the European Journalism Observatory (EJO) found that just 23% of articles in eleven European countries were written by women compared to 41% of men (the balance was made up of un-bylined / agency articles). The latest Global Media Monitoring Project results echo these findings; the number of female journalists reporting on stories was less than two out of five and predictions for the 2020 results suggest little progress will have been made.

Digital is a prime source of real estate for media brands and the upcoming AOP Digital Publishing Awards in October is an excuse for peers to come together and celebrate the ground-breaking work achieved in the industry. Are women underrepresented here, too? If so, it could well be that a career in the digital landscape generally does not appeal to the majority of female journalists.

On the flip side, historical male dominance in the newsroom is another potential factor. There’s little focus on gender staff equality in the digital space, so what do those at the forefront of digital journalism think?

Janine Gibson, digital editor at the Financial Times (FT): “Look, there are more women than there used to be and that’s great. We have a new female editor-in-chief in Roula Khalef at the FT and that’s wonderful to see.

When I first joined the online team at The Guardian to launch mediaguardian.co.uk over fifteen years ago, I went to work for Emily Bell who was the editor of the website. The managing editor, culture editor and news editor were also all female. I think digital has long been a place where women have felt able to establish themselves and enable other women into senior jobs that maybe weren’t so accessible in print.

There are now women editors and leaders around every area of the media industry, but in overall volume, there are still way too few female leaders from middle management upwards. That goes as well if not double for men and women of colour, people from working class backgrounds and triple for people who intersect underrepresented groups. Also, the media remains too homogenous.

What makes me optimistic is that a new generation of leaders will not need to be persuaded that a more diverse newsroom leads to more diverse audiences. Therefore, it’s just a question of attention and commitment.”

Zoe Dickens, digital editor at The Gentleman’s Journal: “I’ve been very lucky in my career to have had a series of amazing female managers and editors. Across the board, I think that regardless of publication or industry, women are making great headway at the top levels of digital publishing.

I’m not sure it would yet be right to say it’s female driven; this won’t happen until there are more women learning coding and taking control of the back ends of these websites as well as the front end, but I definitely think there is more gender equality in digital publishing than there is in print.

Digital-first journalists are in a fairly privileged position in that, at many publishing houses, digital teams are growing while print teams are shrinking. This means there are a lot of opportunities. However, in my experience, journalism courses have been slow to introduce their students to the range of jobs available in digital journalism. It wasn’t until I entered the industry that I even heard the job titles SEO editor, community editor or growth manager and this is where much of the expansion is taking place.

It is well documented that women are far less likely than men to apply for jobs they don’t feel fully qualified for. Therefore, at present, many of these roles are going to men and this means they are gaining digital experience, not women.”

Natalie Cornish, acting digital editor of Red: “I’m not sure digital is becoming more female driven; I think there are plenty of opportunities to progress in digital journalism for both male and female journalists. Although, in my experience, women have always been at the forefront of digital developments, especially in newsrooms and the media in general. In terms of the prominence of women in the top jobs, my current boss (the chief digital content editor of Hearst UK) is female, as are my previous four bosses.

Digital was seen as a secondary area to print for a long time (which was usually very male heavy) and for that reason, I think lots of young female journalists (like me) saw plenty of opportunities for growth and ownership in that area so moved from print to digital early on in our careers. Now ten or so years on, those women (and lots of male journalists who did the same) are in senior digital positions.

The future for women in digital journalism is incredibly exciting. We’re working in a fascinating time politically and culturally, where women’s issues are at the cutting edge and female voices from all corners are finally being given platforms to tell their stories. It’s a huge privilege to be at the forefront of that.”

Dr Alexandra Borchardt, senior research associate at Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, University of Oxford: “Digital has always been an option for women in journalism.

Unfortunately, for the most part, it’s because many of the low paid, less prestigious jobs have been in digital as opposed to secure, very well paid jobs in TV, radio, print.

Now that everyone wants to be a digital champion, lots of digital talent gets hired at traditional companies. This is a good opportunity for women. However, from what I’ve seen in the industry, compared to men, women tend to have too much training to begin with and they need to be promoted to learn on the job. It is very often assumed that digital is all about tools and tech, but the tech is easy to adopt.

The real challenges are in making changes and people management; this is where many women are really strong, and there are more women in data journalism and investigative journalism than is commonly assumed.”

Richard Reeves, managing director of the Association of Online Publishers (AOP), points to the female representation of judges for this year’s AOP Digital Publishing Awards (of the 33 judges, 17 are women) as well as the Digital Editor of the Year Award being presented to female winners in both 2018 and 2019. He says, “Whenever we host events and discussions, we always strive to have a fair representation of the industry to ensure a balanced perspective, and this approach extends to our judging panels, too.

We encourage feedback at all our events and endeavour to address and meet the concerns and needs of attendees. A big part of this is making sure all voices have an opportunity to be heard. When confirming the judges for the AOP Digital Publishing Awards, it was just as much about selecting voices of authority based on merit as it was about ensuring those voices represented a cross section of the publishing industry.”

Nina Goswami, creative diversity lead at the BBC, discusses the broadcaster’s 50:50 Project which is helping to deliver on their commitment to increase female representation across the board to better reflect the public they serve. She says: “The concept initially came from Ros Atkins, the presenter of BBC News’ Outside Source programme, and from his idea, it has grown to include over 550 teams within the BBC, all tracking and recording female representation in their content. Across news, sport, entertainment, factual, music and more, there are several thousand content-makers all contributing to this huge collective action.

We’re proud to say, it’s been really successful and is now having an impact outside of the BBC, with more than 50 organisations from the world of media and beyond signing up and adopting the project’s methodology. For BBC teams, we record representation for programmes on air, on screen and also online, so it’s certainly had a positive impact on our digital journalism output, changes that are becoming embedded in the way we produce online news content.”

The urgency for media outlets to push their forward-thinking digital strategies and adopt the latest trends to introduce new and innovative ideas has become crucial in the crowded market. But, unlike the countless number of studies analysing the number of women in journalism as a whole, analysis for digital-only is sparse and virtually non-existent.

Furthermore, it’s outdated and disappointing that in 2020, a society that’s forever discussing the need for women to be awarded the same opportunities as their counterparts, the majority of bylines in Europe are attributed to men. However, as the case studies in this article have suggested, there are some promising signs for women looking to develop their careers in the digital landscape and to continue being game changers in a progressive field.

Article originally published here

How can the mainstream media thrive in the digital age?

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to digital, and media organisations need to pinpoint what they want to achieve to standout and survive in a crowded market

Almost half of Gen Z news readers (45%; those aged between 18-24) first locate news in the morning via their smartphones. Image credit: Pixabay

The main trend among audiences is the same problem that so many industries are facing: in the age of the internet, people expect journalism to be free; they expect it to be immediate; they expect it to always be right; and they increasingly expect it to not contradict in what they believe to be true.

As technology thrives, it goes without saying that a strong digital presence is vital for any media organisation to survive in such a crowded market, and that can prove a challenge for many outlets like CNN and the BBC which built their reputations in television; as well as newspapers from the Telegraph to the Guardian that have been in circulation for much longer.

Although it’s been found that 46% of readers find print ads easier to understand (digital reached 19%), digital is where most audiences can be found. If you ask people under a certain age where they first discover their news, very few will say television and even fewer will say print. The internet has created a vacuum for much younger outlets such as BuzzFeed to thrive, but existing outlets need to compete with them if they want to survive. 

A strong digital presence is vital for any media organisation to survive in such a crowded market. Image credit: Pixabay

More traditional media brands have recognised the need to ramp up digital presence to compete. Alastair James, broadcast journalist at BBC Wales News, says the organisation understands the importance of a digital offering. “We are very aware that digital is where a large amount of our audience is and where our potential audience will visit first,” says Alastair. “Efforts are being made to reach out to people online and to get them to come back. The challenge with our digital platform will be differentiating our output to that of everyone else.” 

A substantial contributor to a successful digital pathway is the need for all journalists to be confident in their digital skills, embracing the diverse and ever-changing technologies such as the rise in augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) storytelling. As Robert Picheta, digital producer at CNN International, explains. “There is no such thing as a journalist who isn’t a digital journalist anymore. As soon as I started working, I realised how absurd that approach was because young journalists are valued almost entirely for their digital skills and if you don’t have them, you simply won’t get a job.” He continued. “There’s a generational gap that needs to be bridged, to ensure that everyone within the company is on board and able to fully adapt to where journalism is moving.”

Daniel Green, multimedia reporter at Journalism.co.uk, agrees that keeping up with digital trends as a journalist is key to providing a competitive digital offering. “Not being able to adapt to the progressive needs of audiences will be turning point to any news organisation’s survival,” says Dan. 

All media organisations should be embracing the diverse and ever-changing technologies such as the rise in augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) storytelling. Image credit: Pixabay

Some organisations have performed particularly well in trying to adapt to the shift to digital, in particular, the Washington Post. They have managed to establish a presence on a variety of different platforms such as on smart TVs and TikTok in order to capture audiences wherever they may be. While their work provides a model to follow, news organisations cannot simply use the same content from one platform to another. What works for the 10 o’clock news will not have the same effect for TikTok, for example. To be successful on those different platforms, you need to be able to speak in the language of the target audience, and diversity of newsrooms strongly comes into play. 

Furthermore, a report by The New York Times on their newsroom’s aspirations provides some insightful knowledge for other organisations to follow suit. For example, utilising multimedia techniques instead of relying on the generic 300-word story template; recruiting more journalists that are ‘experts’ in certain areas; and the paywall inclusion has helped by replacing advertising revenue with subscription fees. 

Assessing the way in which younger generations consume news is crucial to further development of digital strategies. Reuters found smartphones to be the main method for those under 35 accessing news (69%) and they also discovered that almost half of Gen Z news readers (45%; those aged between 18-24) first locate news in the morning via their smartphones. Furthermore, 19% first access news via TV and 5% via their computers. Gen Y
users (aged between 25-34) have developed similar trends, with 39% first accessing news via their smartphones; 22% switching on the TV; and 8% on the computer.

As research finds digital outlets to be increasingly changing and publishers rating smaller platforms, like Apple News, to be as important as Facebook, Francesco Zaffarano, senior social media editor at The Telegraph, says it’s important to be aware of how much digital can change. “The bottom line is that relying on platforms’ consistency and stability is a recipe for disaster,” says Francesco. “Platforms keep changing, which is also what makes them an interesting and stimulating place to experiment with new ways of doing your job.” 

The New York Times makes a conscious effort to recruit more journalists that are ‘experts’ in certain areas. Image credit: Pixabay.

Research by Pew Research Center in 2018 heavily corresponds to the importance of social media and a newsroom’s output; it’s the first source of breaking news for 64.5% of US adults via Snapchat, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Francesco describes how media organisations need to utilise social media for further growth. “If people access news via social media, we have an opportunity to analyse habits and a series of issues to tackle, concerning the way people access news; how reading news on social affects the understanding of news; and how this can shape trust.” 

The shift by audiences to digital shows no signs of diminishing. Mainstream media can further develop due to the constant need for instant news and content that feels accessible. In addition, the need for diversifying revenue streams will be crucial in the years ahead, as advertising revenue dries up due to the switch to digital. Journalists’ continuing to distribute content via social media is also imperative to the mainstream media’s growth; a 2017 study found 75% of journalists sharing content on social media platforms was necessary for content promotion. As Robert from CNN International concludes, “Digital is the future, if not the present. It will continue to dominate how companies think about their output and their audiences, and it will continue to become the first and only way most people access news.”

Part Two: I Ran Away To Canada, Only To Hit Rock Bottom

CTV’s ‘Your Morning’ was my only company when I woke up. The sound of regular co-host Anne-Marie Mediwake’s voice was my substitute for an alarm clock and, by that time, JD had already left for work to beat the subway rush hour from Dundas to Lawrence.

I’d jump out of bed, wrap up in JD’s dressing gown and walk down the three flights of stairs to the kitchen to make some cereal and creep back up in time for the ‘Life & Style’ segment. I’d then walk across the hallway – towel, clothes and toiletries in tow – to the bathroom for a shower (hoping no one else was already in there and one particular girl had left the sink plughole free of any long, curly hairs) then back to the bedroom to finish getting dressed in as many layers as I could find that fell out of the full to the brim wardrobe of mine and JD’s clothes.

By this point, the snow had worsened and temperatures plummeted. Torontonians knew how to soldier on as if it was part of everyday life but, as a Brit, I was used to everything being shut down or trains cancelled even if the slightest flutter of snow had hit the ground. While JD and many other young city professionals braved the chill in Canada Goose jackets and sturdy Hanwag hiking boots, my H&M green parka (not at all waterproof) and mud-stained Timberland boots kept me from contracting frostbite or falling arse over tit as I walked through the financial district or on Bay St.

I would sit for hours at a time in Starbucks sipping on hot chocolate and write blog posts, send messages to friends back home and even check up on how things were going at my previous job. Honestly, I found great satisfaction in finding any spelling mistakes or formatting errors on the websites I once edited as I’d heard from a former colleague that they could only get a junior to fill in after my abrupt departure. As for my family, I hadn’t had any communication with my mother since I messaged her to say I had landed safely in Toronto, my father sent one or two messages but mainly communicated through memes instead of picking up the phone, and my sister was fairly preoccupied with getting over her latest break-up and drowning her sorrows in the dives of Hertford with a mutual friend of ours.

In the afternoons, I would face the bitter cold winds by walking past Union Station, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) building and the complex for the CN Tower and Rogers Centre to a quiet café in Chinatown. Here, I plucked up the courage to apply for part-time work in order to try and reach some kind of agreement with JD; I couldn’t keep on with my lifestyle the way it was, and I needed to start working for my own sanity.

Even the number of messages from JD throughout the day had started to dwindle – no longer was he checking in every hour to see if I was still at home or out buying food and, although I started to feel more relaxed about our situation and our growing trust for one another, he was coming home from work later and later in the evenings. I knew from his overall demeanour and reaction to my initial plans in finding a job and a new place to stay that it was best to keep questions at a minimum. He would come home stressed and tired from what he would say was the ‘day from hell’ dealing with back-to-back patients, and that’s how we left it. No prodding and demanding explanations – this was my first serious relationship and I wasn’t going to let everything fall apart just yet.

Woody’s and Pegasus Bar were our regular hangouts on the weekend. The same faces that sat at the bar with their heads down in a newspaper or trying their luck at one of the fruit machines became regular acquaintances, the barmen knew our orders before we even sat down on the stools, and if we went day drinking, we would always get caught up in having to talk to the elderly gay men that stumbled out of the bar where they played all day bingo and were entertained by 19-year-old strippers desperate for some extra cash.

One Saturday, we arrived at Woody’s and bumped into another acquaintance who was propped up at the bar. Daniel was someone we met a few weekends previous at Pegasus. He claimed to be an immigration officer: tall, dark, finely groomed beard and always alone. JD handed over some cash after I’d offered to pick up the drinks while the two exchanged pleasantries and moved toward a table at the back of the bar. I walked to the table with the tray of drinks to what appeared to be a quiet showdown of over-expressive faces and hand gestures. They both stopped when they noticed me slowly approaching. I put down the tray and sat on the only available seat between the two. “Everything alright?”, I said as Daniel immediately changed the subject to what I thought of my time in Canada so far. He asked if I’d made plans to visit any other cities. “I’ve always wanted to go to Vancouver”, I replied only to get a scolding glare from JD that I noticed at the corner of my eye. There was an awkward tension around the table, and I was relieved that once he’d finished his drink, Daniel left us to hit another bar across the street.

“Let’s talk”, JD said once Daniel had disappeared out of sight. I thought this was another moment where his blood would boil and guilt-trip me into staying with him. “How would you like to come and visit my parents with me on Monday?” I was taken aback by his unexpected proposal. Very seldom would he mention his parents or anything about his childhood, and I was the same. “They are going to love you!”, he said. I reluctantly agreed, excited that a guy actually asked me to meet his parents, but bewildered by JD’s seemingly heated exchange with Daniel a few moments ago. “We’ll set off Monday morning and come back on Sunday. It will give you a chance to see the real Canada”.

JD had pre-ordered tickets to set off at 07.30 Monday morning. We jumped on a Go Bus from Union Station and headed to Uxbridge, a small town an-hour-and-a-half north of Toronto where he had grown up. The roads were pretty treacherous and progressively worse as the bus drove further away from the city. The scenery along the way reminded me of all the times I went to visit my nan from my mother’s side as a child; the countryside was near identical to that of Cambridgeshire, and the isolation away from a big town, supermarkets and pubs brought me back to when my sister and I would have to make our ‘own entertainment’ by feeding the ducks, setting up a badminton net or helping our granddad on the compost heap.

His mother, Lisa, came to meet us at a bar in the town centre where the locals were startled to come across an English person as they recognised my accent when I’d ordered a drink. A short, stumpy lady with gold chains and rings waddled her way through the door, embraced JD and extended her hand to introduce herself to me. I was introduced as his ‘new friend’: not partner, not boyfriend, just ‘new friend’.

We arrived at the house to be welcomed by a bichon frise jumping up at the driveway gate and his step-father, Rodrigo (he liked to be called Rigo for short) working out of his garage and flinging garbage into a skip. As soon as we stepped inside through a side door, I was given a pair of slippers to wear: “We never wear shoes inside the house”, Lisa said. I took off my Timberland boots, slid on the pair of white slippers and entered the hallway. “This will be your part of the house, Jack”, Lisa said as we continued down a narrow corridor to the bedroom. She held the bedroom door open for me as I struggled with my luggage, hitting a stone-crafted stand that had a collection of travel minis and two towels on top of it. Lisa cringed at the possibility of potential damage when the stand grazed the wall, but thankfully I escaped any rage as no marks were made.

I messaged JD to come and meet me in my room. I’d lost him along the way when Lisa was showing me where I would be staying; I thought JD would be with me, but I’m sure Lisa and Rigo would not approve of ‘new friends’ staying together in the same room. I unpacked my stuff, checked my phone and still no response. I left the bedroom and found my way to the living room where they were all slumped on the sofa watching Judge Judy. ‘Rigo, this is Jack. Jack, this is my step-father, Rigo’. His handshake was firm, his tone overpowering and remarked that my accent sounded ‘weird’.

On our first night, Lisa suggested we all go to a chinese restaurant a few towns away. I was under the impression that this was to make me feel welcome, however I soon realised they already made plans to meet a business partner there to discuss a second spa opening in Ottawa. Lisa ran a small beauty spa at the side of the house, and due to its ‘popularity’, was excited at the concept of expanding to a second location.

The next morning, Rigo asked for JD and I to join him in picking up some rock salt from a local supplier. Here we bumped into Rigo’s neighbours: two brothers that, once they saw us pull into the parking lot, had noticeably tried to avoid eye contact. Rigo, with his overbearing arrogance and dictatorship was someone to try and avoid at all costs. The brothers didn’t get away too easily and were subjected to a mini presentation of the new spa – picture after picture showing the new layout and surrounding grounds. I found some kind of solace in the brothers’ giving sly eye rolls to each other and breathing a sigh of relief after Rigo ordered us to get on with picking up the heavy bags of rock salt.

We returned to the house and straight away put to work in helping dispose of any junk out of the garage, clearing a mountain of boxes from the bar area and moving new equipment to the spa. I stayed there for an entire week moving heavy boxes and furniture in and out of the spa, cleaning all the equipment and even helping to clean the back rooms, and I never saw one customer walk through those doors. The spa was open, the spa assistant made herself comfortable by putting her feet up on the reception desk sipping cups of tea, but I struggled to understand how this ‘popular’ spa would be able to open a second location.

Not only did I help these strangers get their house in order, I regrettably mentioned that I had a background in writing marketing material for conferences and business networking events. As soon as they heard this, they preyed on me to write all of the content for their new brochures. “We need the content to be quite substantial: a biography, a description of all the treatments, prices, special deals. Can you manage that?” I really wanted to say, “Do it your fucking self”, but it’s not like I could say no – I was in the middle of nowhere, if they asked me to leave I’d have been dragging my suitcase for miles to the nearest bus stop and end up living back at the hostel.

That’s how I spent my evenings, writing page after page for them to not even look at the final product. No time was spent with JD; I tried sending messages for him to come down to my room late at night, but no response. When we did have a quiet moment together for me to confront him, he would always say he was asleep by a really early time, or Rigo needed a hand in the backyard. Alarm bells were ringing: something wasn’t quite right.

Sunday morning. It had probably been the longest week of my life and I knew that I only had to endure one more breakfast around the kitchen table before we set off. I excitedly made sure my stuff was already packed the night before, and as we were about to leave, Rigo wanted to have a quick word with me in private. Maybe he wanted to say thank you for all the hard work, maybe he suspected that I was more than just JD’s ‘new friend’. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous to have a one-on-one conversation with him. He lead me down the staircase to hallway. “Here, this is for you – something to remember me by”. A calculator. A fucking calculator. After the suffering of adhering to his directions, pretending to laugh at his god-awful jokes and all the work I put in to help convey the right message for their spa, my efforts only equated to a calculator.

Lisa dropped us off at the station; a warm embrace for JD and a firm handshake for me – no thank you, just a handshake. I clearly remember thinking I never want to see these people ever again. We waited for the bus back to what I call civilisation, the journey back was packed and felt like an eternity to get to the city and my comfort zone. JD was still being cagey, and we only spoke if I needed to move out the way so he could use the toilet. I read a book, he watched some bullshit comedy on his phone, and that’s how we left it. I never did ask him why he never introduced me as more than a ‘new friend’. I didn’t want to push him in divulging any uncomfortable information; I just hoped he would turn back to the affectionate boyfriend he was before we left for Uxbridge.

Over the next few days, his behaviour started to claw back to what it was when we first met. He was even making more of an effort to get home from work at a reasonable time, and I would wake up to a hot cup of coffee at the side of the bed before he left in the mornings. My life went back to how it was before: waiting around in coffee shops, making friends with the gay village regulars and venturing out to either the local Metro store near King Street or to the CF Eaton Centre, where I would browse high-end stores that I dreamt of shopping in ever since I read my first issue of GQ at age 14.

We planned to stay in one Friday evening. Nothing special: movies, pizza, watch some Netflix and then an early wakeup call as he promised to take me to the the Hockey Hall of Fame. I ordered the food and flicked through Netflix’s ‘Recently Added’ while JD was in the shower. His phone was left under a pair of jeans at the end of the bed and I could feel a vibration for a few seconds, then another as I was about to select a film to watch. I flipped the jeans on the floor with my foot and pressed the menu button. It’s hard to explain the compulsion I felt to press this button. I never thought I would be one of those people that would snoop through a partner’s phone; I always looked down at that kind of behaviour. But something at the forefront of my mind was telling me that I needed to take a look. ‘D’ must have been enamoured with me, “So what’s the plan with Jack?” Another one a few moments later, “Have you spoken to him yet?” I look back with regret and think I should have just left there and then, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. I kept the phone in my lap and waited until he entered the bedroom. “D must be very concerned that you haven’t told me something”. I held the phone still with my right hand as I watched him focus directly on its screen. He then proceeded to hide his face with a nervous embarrassment, his cheeks and temples flushed with a shade of pink and he started to ferociously dry his hair with the towel.

“You need to trust me…”

Part One: I Ran Away To Canada, Only To Hit Rock Bottom

It’s 8pm on a Monday night. I’m struggling to find one piece of writing that I am truly proud of. Deadline for distribution is tomorrow and, once again, I’m faced with featuring subpar news and feature articles catering to industries I couldn’t care less about.

Let me put everything into context: after a disastrous stint reporting for a medical trade magazine in London – working with snobby, self-important hipster wannabes and being singled out because I come from a very working class background – I landed what I thought was my ‘dream job’ as an editor with a much smaller company in my hometown of Hertford.

From the get-go, I knew the salary was low compared to working in the capital, I knew a lot would be expected of me, and I knew everything from content to advertising would rest on my shoulders – but this opportunity was a step up the ladder and would show my former colleagues I could become a success outside of their pretentious bubble.

What I didn’t envisage, however, was to be treated just as bad as I was as a junior in a senior role. Sales managers and executives would try their best to humiliate me in advertising meetings, I would be berated for making or even proposing some changes to layouts, and they would constantly complain to my publisher whenever they didn’t get their own way.

I was subjected to constant scrutiny and, after finding out that my publisher had spent my bonus money on a networking event for another media brand – not to mention her plans for moving me away from my editorial colleagues to build ‘stronger relationships with the sales teams’ – I knew it was time to remove myself from of the destructive situation.

Since a small child, I dreamt of travelling the world and maybe one day building a new life abroad. I would read brochures and thoroughly search the internet looking at companies offering work abroad schemes such as BUNAC and Real Gap Experience. From doing this research, I knew Canada was a viable option for job prospects and the visa application was much simpler, and quicker, compared to the US or Australia.

By sheer luck, I managed to obtain my two-year International Experience Canada (IEC) visa within a relative short amount of time. It was a gateway to a brand new lifestyle; a chance to rethink my career path and, for the first time in my life, to really start thinking about myself and myself only. My relationship with much of my family is strained at best, and this was a good way of getting back at my guilt-tripping mother for making me stay at home during university, for working two jobs during my studies, paying for her car repairs and spending most of my hard-earned savings to cover the rent; as well as her addiction to buying new home furnishings and her insistence on only smoking the very best cigarettes.

To get ahead, I thought changing my location on Tinder would be a good idea to make new friends before I arrived in Toronto. I wasn’t used to all the matches I was receiving, but one guy really did stand out from the rest. ‘JD’ was a blonde, handsome junior doctor that physically wasn’t anyone I was used to matching with – admittedly a rather shallow advantage. We exchanged messages for a good few weeks in the lead up to my arrival in Toronto, and we planned to meet that weekend.

After checking into my hostel located in Toronto’s famous Church and Wellesley gay village, I hit the town with a girl I was sharing a dorm with called Emma, a journalism student visiting solo from Amsterdam. Our shared choice of degree was a real conversation starter, leading onto another shared interest in men as we sat in a drag bar with pints of Molson and downing tequila shots.

The next morning, Emma joined me for breakfast in the hostel kitchen. Besides nursing a sore head, I felt anxious and excited to be meeting JD that evening after what had felt like months and months of messaging. Emma was a great friend in calming my nerves, and even helped me to choose an outfit for my date. I knew I had to be back at the hostel by a reasonable time as I had to catch a bus the next morning to Brantford, where I’d committed to volunteering at a health food shop for eight weeks. But, as naive as I am, I’d imagined myself and JD reconnecting after the eight weeks, potentially building a relationship and even moving in together.

I saw JD at the corner of my eye walking up to me where we planned to meet outside a sports bar in Toronto’s CF Eaton Centre. He was shorter than I’d imagined, but still just as striking in person. He immediately went in for the hug (something I’d not encountered that much with guys in the UK) and lead me into the bar. Previous first dates consisted of asking the exact same questions already covered during the initial Tinder chats, but with JD it felt as if I were talking to a boyfriend I had been with for years: no awkward silences, no mediocre conversation and no sexual suggestiveness shown by much of the London set I found myself dating. A kiss on the cheek was how we ended the evening and he promised to drive to Hamilton (a town halfway between Toronto and Brantford) to meet for dinner during the week.

I’d made it to the bus station at around 6.30am on Sunday morning after dragging my suitcase through the thick mounds of snow, clutching a Tim Hortons with both hands and parka fully zipped in an attempt to beat off the bitter cold. My Lonely Planet guide kept me company for the two-hour bus journey to Brantford, and I was greeted to the small town by a group of revellers surrounding a lady collapsed on the floor, who was vigorously shaking and coughing up blood.

After listening to a bus driver call an ambulance, I proceeded to walk through the town where herds of homeless people occupied shop doorways with dogs and babies, but generously helped me find the health food shop as the manager had failed to send over any directions. I arrived to be greeted by a German girl who spoke broken English, who looked as if she hadn’t showered in days and sported a t-shirt with noticeable dark stains down the front. She left me to my own devices in the hallway as I waited for the co-owner, Justine, to show me around the living quarters. The kitchen was littered with empty cans, bottles, and even cigarette packets scattered on the floor and the one bedroom, housing six volunteers, was split into two bunk beds. The temperature was -10 degrees, and all I was provided with to keep me warm at night was one blanket and a pillow. More volunteers arrived back at the living quarters, failing to introduce themselves to me as they all hibernated to their bunks, miserable and snacking on what appeared to be dry cornflakes as they awaited their next shifts.

Without hesitation, and without saying goodbye to anyone, I grabbed my suitcase and escaped. I gathered my bearings to get myself back to the town centre, set up shop in the local Tim Hortons and searched high and low to find a cheap bed for the night. The only offering was a rundown motel off the highway, an hour’s walk through the heavy snow. That evening, I messaged JD to explain what had happened, anxious about what he would think, and feeling terrified about how I would find a job and a place to live.

I felt comforted by JD’s concern. He offered to drive all the way to Brantford that night to pick me up and take me back to the city, and offered for me to stay at his place until I figured out what I was going to do. I was appreciative of the lifeline but, exhausted from the rush of leaving the shop and finding the rundown motel, we agreed that I would get a bus back the next day and for me to meet him after he had finished work.

I made it back to Toronto, catching an early bus just so I could get out of Brantford as quickly as possible. I still had about six hours left until I could meet JD, which lead to using my ticket for the CN Tower I had purchased online before leaving the UK. I spent the remainder of the day anxiously waiting around in coffee shops, searching for rooms to rent on Kijiji and applying for any jobs I could to pass the time. We agreed to meet at a coffee house by St. Lawrence Market and, after being greeted with a huge hug, he grabbed my suitcase and lead the way to his house.

He shared a house with a group of students and young professionals a stone’s throw away from the Ryerson University campus, who were all very welcoming as I walked through the front door looking dishevelled and stressed from the past two days. JD assured me that I could stay with him for as long as I needed and, looking back, seemed grateful to have me around to keep him company. Although he lived with six other people, he regularly mentioned that he felt lonely as everyone else was too busy to hang out and he missed his family and friends back home in Uxbridge, Ontario.

He set off early in the morning for work, I tiptoed down the stairs trying not to wake anyone up and fixed myself some breakfast. After watching some TV, I then walked the 20 minutes to the CF Eaton Centre to hand out CVs, stopping by restaurants and coffee houses to hand out more CVs and trying to get someone to understand my English accent – the same routine went on for a week. Luckily, the little savings I had left was boosted by my last wage packet to keep me going.

One evening, he insisted on taking me out to Woody’s, a famous gay bar in the village where the TV show ‘Queer as Folk’ was filmed. Here, I decided to approach the subjects of paying some rent for the time I’d spent there, finding a job and looking for a new place to stay. The house he lived in was lovely, I loved being around him and, for once, I felt as if I was being looked after – but I wasn’t entirely comfortable. I never depended upon anyone before, I’ve always worked and found a huge sense of pride in fully supporting myself without the ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’ compared to a lot of my friends. Even though I would offer to pay for drinks whenever we ventured into the village, he would always beat me to the card machines.

I couldn’t work out why he was being so nice and supportive. Never had a guy looked after me financially, insisted on paying for dates, or even brought me a cup of coffee in bed before setting off for work. I still didn’t really know JD; living in such a confined space for over a week was a good training ground, but everything was moving incredibly fast.

Once I mentioned about arranging a viewing to look at a shared apartment on the other side of the village, he began to question why I would decide to leave after everything that he had done for me. I was perceived to be ungrateful, as if I just used him for a roof over my head and the opportunity to experience Toronto without a restricting budget – like many of the young travellers I shared a dorm with back at the hostel. I explained that I was craving my independence back, I needed to work and to also experience things on my own. I still wanted to keep on seeing JD; I thought by his attentiveness and nurturing nature that he was one of the rare ‘good guys’, but his immediate reaction to me making plans was startling and unexpected.

I reached out for his hand for him to leave the table and run into the men’s room. While he was away, I mentally prepared myself to be thrown out of the house and was searching through the Booking.com app to see if I could book a bed back at the hostel. After 10 minutes, he returned with another round of drinks, took my hand and pleaded for me to stay with him ‘a little while longer’. His cheeks were flushed and his forehead glistened with sweat. I knew I’d made him mad, and I was worried that by provoking JD more and sticking to my guns would send him over the edge. I reluctantly agreed to stay, but this decision one would ultimately change my life….

From Petrol Station Assistant To Powerhouse Editor

Acting content director and features editor of Cosmopolitan UK, Rosie Mullender, shares some of her top tips and personal experiences on ‘making it’ in the tough world of magazine journalism.

Chatting over the phone to a background noise of telephones ringing and the utters of a
busy editorial office, I asked Rosie for the one piece of advice she can give to a budding journalist who is etching for a high-powered career in magazines: “If you’re hard-working, willing to learn, can write, and will turn your hand to any job enthusiastically, then you’re halfway there. Being keen to write big stories is a plus, too – I’m afraid writing a blog about your shoe collection isn’t going to help you make it.”

After wrapping up the weekly features meeting, Rosie was ready to discuss her journey
through this competitive industry. As the acting content director for Cosmo UK, Rosie’s passion for a career with words contributed to her way to the top despite not acquiring a degree in journalism. Straight from graduating with a degree in English, Rosie’s initial dream was to become a novelist before making the transition to a post-grad qualification in publishing, and recalls a guest speaker as a big inspiration: “One day we had a lecture from someone who worked in magazines, talking about what qualities you needed to be a journalist, and it really struck a chord. I loved magazines, so I decided to try to get into the industry.”

This, however, did not prepare Rosie to landing her first paid reporter job that proved
more difficult than originally anticipated. As the awkward first stage of the interview passed and our conversation flowed, Rosie enlightened me on how she had to take a job at a chocolate factory before ending up at a petrol station for three years getting by, with little encouragement from friends from her small town upbringing in Essex telling her she would never make it as a journalist triggered self-motivation to prove them wrong. Alongside working at the petrol station, Rosie embarked on endless amounts of unpaid work experience to build-up her CV, with placements at Maxim, Loaded, Empire and Heat before landing her first position as a £9,000 a year features writer at South West News Service in Bristol.

From this period of her life, Rosie became aware of the competitiveness of the industry: “I never studied journalism and I don’t know anyone who took longer to get their foot in the door, so I was certainly aware of it then!” Describing the interning process as ‘a bit like learning to drive’, Rosie explained how productive the internships were in developing and teaching new skills before securing her first-paid job: “You learn a huge amount, but when you get a job you realise how little you really know. Anyone with genuine enthusiasm and talent can stand out and get themselves known if they meet the right people – everyone knows everyone else, and word gets round.”

Before her dream career at Cosmo, Rosie was the deputy features editor at Look Magazine, as well as the commissioning editor for Cosmo before being promoted. After
seeing to the few ‘ding’ sounds coming from her iPhone, Rosie defined the long-awaited process of working at small weekly magazines prior to getting her foot in the door at Cosmo: “I worked my way up through weekly true-life magazines until I applied for a commissioning editor role here. I didn’t get an interview, but was asked if I’d like to try for the writer’s role, which I then got.”

Rosie’s love of magazines as a teenager was her inspiration to work at a glossy title,
but getting the right amount of experience to add to her CV – whether it be blogging or working at the student newspaper – was crucial to getting noticed: “Work experience is your chance to shine, so don’t waste it.” Rosie says: “And if you manage to get a job interview, it’s crucial to give the right impression.”

Before landing a work experience placement or internship, dress code is key to making
a good first impression. As Cosmo is a glossy fashion and lifestyle publication, many would believe that following a high-fashion dress code is essential to fit in with the other members of staff, however Rosie expressed the true impression on what a potential intern wears to an interview and for the duration: “Of course you can’t dress inappropriately. That will be frowned upon. But journalism isn’t as strict as, say, banking. I personally wouldn’t judge an intern on what they wear. It might be weird if they wore a suit, I suppose – but it might be different at magazines where they solely focus on fashion.”

Getting your CV out there and noticed can become a struggle, but having the right
attitude that editors look for in new talent will prove fundamental in putting yourself in the lead from the competition. Rosie’s advice for students embarking on work experience placements: “Be keen. Try your hand at anything. Don’t be a snob when it comes to where you work. Be friendly. Don’t fear vox-pops. Don’t try to be Carrie Bradshaw, because there are a million wannabe Carries out there, but you need solid journalism skills, too. And don’t think anything is beneath you when you’re doing work experience. The people we call back are the ones who treat every job, large or small, equally.”

And after many years of perseverance, Rosie’s proudest achievement in her journalism career: “I always loved Cosmo, and dreamt of writing for a glossy magazine. There’s only one Cosmo features editor in the UK, and I’m it! That’s pretty amazing.”