Case study

Features writer — Maryam Qaiser

Maryam studied Print Journalism at Nottingham Trent University. She's now an NCTJ accredited senior journalist and feature writer at the Daily Mirror

Why did you decide on this career?

I was unsure what career I wanted to pursue. It was between something in IT or media. In one of my English lessons I remember I really enjoyed creating a play script for our own soap drama. I then took GCSE media studies and knew I wanted to do something within the media industry. At the same time I had a real passion for IT. I had an interest in technology and software, hence why I took it as an A-level, where I was the only girl on the course. However, I wasn't sure I could do it as a job day in and day out. I knew I would soon get bored sitting behind a desk 9 to 5.

How did you get your job?

Through shear hard work and dedication. I started my career at two thriving regional papers in Gloucestershire, then going to another newspaper in Nottinghamshire as a health correspondent.

I worked my way up, starting at busy regional newspapers, then going to the BBC to work in digital journalism. However, newspapers are where my heart lies. I am now lucky enough to do my dream job at my dream newspaper where I have the most amazing and supportive colleagues.

The creative industries are incredibly competitive how did you stand out to employers?

It is a very competitive industry and I think it's even harder for people of ethnic minorities. I think I stood out because I had an impressive portfolio and CV, working in different roles for various publications. I also had an extensive work experience portfolio, which I started working on in Year 11 up until my first paid job after graduating. I did continuous work experience with a regional newspaper in Nottingham while I was studying for my degree. I also think your personality counts for a lot.

What's a typical day like as a features writer?

I generate news idea, read the day's papers and news websites, check social media for work purposes, check in with my team, interview people, write up my interviews, research, plan ahead and keep in touch with my contacts.

Describe your job in five words.

  • busy
  • interesting
  • practical
  • humbling
  • creative.

What qualities are important for a journalist?

  • organisation
  • meeting deadlines
  • working under pressure
  • working alone as well as in a team
  • flexibility to work long hours.

What part of your job do you enjoy the most?

Interviewing people. I absolutely love this part of my job. Everyone has a unique story to tell. Over the years, I've met thousands of people from all walks of life including former Prime Minister David Cameron, Jeremy Kyle, families struggling on benefits, war heroes, children, police officers, doctors and teachers. 
I also enjoy working with my team, who are incredibly supportive and I learn so much from them each day.

Why did you get involved with Creative Access?

When I joined the Daily Mirror, it was suggested I join Creative Access so I could get involved in their master classes and meet like-minded people. They have been very supportive and I have joined relevant Creative Access WhatsApp groups for people in similar roles, where we share our work, events, conferences and opportunities.

What are your career ambitions?

For now I'm more than happy where I am but in the future I would like to do more online, subbing/page layout and I would like to work abroad for a year, preferably with the same newspaper.

Tell us about three challenges facing journalism right now and how new recruits can help.

  • Lack of diversity in the workforce and the media. We should be encouraging people from all walks of life to work in journalism and we should see more of them in the media.
  • Social media and the rise of it. I think social media is a great tool in staying connected with people, in sharing content, and finding news stories, but it can also generate a lot of fake news and with the algorithm constantly changing. It's hard to keep track of what news is actually reaching our audience. New recruits need to use social media in moderation as well as the traditional news finding methods like contact building, going out on patch and attending council meetings - where you can pick up the very best stories.
  • Online is somewhat taking over print unfortunately. Although online is now first for many newspapers, some features and stories look much better on the printed page than on a website. Journalists need to keep on doing their brilliant and exclusive content, which works well for print to keep the industry alive. Newspapers will never die out.

What advice can you give to other aspiring features writers?

  • Make sure you know what route you want to go down - newspaper, magazine, TV or radio.
  • Do your research to see which university fits your requirements. Do a degree that is NCTJ accredited. You learn the NCTJ modules alongside your degree, which in my opinion works really well. You sit your NCTJ exams at university with the support of lecturers through your degree.
  • Choose a degree that is practical, so you can experience what a typical news day is like and do as much work experience as possible.
  • Do lots of work experience to get an insight into a typical day of a journalist and build up your portfolio and CV.

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