Kingston University has a notable list of specific programmes of study for Post Grad students to choose from, many of them involving writing and creative thinking. Lauren Weymouth, a Magazine Journalism MA student, sought out a practical, focused course that would implement the writing and reading skills she had acquired during her undergrad years while also fitting her for a niche career path, one that is ever booming and shifting to fit the changing media driven world. Lauren candidly discusses her time as a Magazine Journalism student at KU with Amber Koski.
Amber Koski: During your time at KU, you had the opportunity to produce a magazine with the other Mag. Journalism students. This tangible, end product has a certain affect and sentimentality to a job well done (something the Creative Writing grads only get once their dissertation projects are printed and bound). How have community projects like Mouth aided in your understanding of the publishing workplace?
Lauren Weymouth: Mouth gave me experience that I don’t think even a year at an established consumer magazine could have done. The knowledge that I gained whilst working for the magazine was paramount to my understanding of how to be not only a successful journalist, but also an indispensable team player. Essentially, we had to build a brand. We created a magazine from scratch and worked to establish its place within the current market. Compared to other years where MA students have produced a student magazine, we produced a local food magazine for Kingston— something that has never been done before. Because of this, it was even more essential that we did as much as we could to market and network the magazine within and beyond the community. For each issue, we were allocated a different position in the team. This gave us an opportunity to sample all elements of production, i.e. design, editing, social media etc. all while continually pitching our feature ideas and writing the successful articles. The whole process was intense, and, at times, overwhelming. But, it was all of these aspects of the project that provided us – and I say us because I know that everyone will agree with me – with an understanding of the publishing workplace that was much more hands on than we could have hoped for.
AK: What was the most valuable aspect of your course?
LW: It was the production of Mouth magazine, without a doubt. I don’t think I could possibly boast about it anymore than I have done already! But it was certainly the most beneficial aspect of the course to us all (apologies to the other tutors who are currently marking my work – your modules were great too, of course!)
AK: How did the mentors inspire you? How did they help you improve? Did your work ethics change as a result of this MA (i.e. late nights working on Mouth, deadlines, press days)?
LW: The mentors were all inspirational in different ways. Each of their modules taught us something completely different and it was their specific knowledge and experience that helped teach us about the industry. They all come from different Journalistic backgrounds, so we never felt preached upon or misguided in anyway, just inspired into the subgenres of Journalism. As a group, the lecturers are a fantastic team and, to a certain extent, that inspired us too, especially for productions like Mouth and The Kingston Courier (The MA Journalism online publication). Watching the tutors, of different ages and Journalistic backgrounds come together, proved to us that we could do the same for our publications. Teamwork was engrained in us from the start and it made the late nights before press day much more enjoyable—nothing to do with the free pizza and beer, of course.
AK: Do you already feel you are ahead of other interns who may have not done such an industry specific MA?
LW: I’d love to say yes. Before I started job hunting, I thought, ‘this is going to be easy – we’ve got way more knowledge of the industry than most graduates. Employee’s will love us.’ But, apparently, as with any profession, it’s all about experience. Fortunately, this year has given us a good opportunity to gain a lot of experience, but it’s still difficult. Unless you’ve got two years worth of solid experience – which is impossible if you’ve not left education yet – then companies don’t want to know you. What the MA does give you, however, is the chance to say: ‘hey, I don’t have two years worth of experience in the industry, I didn’t leave school at sixteen and I didn’t land my previous job because my father was the founder of the company. But, what I do have is a masters of arts in the industry I’m applying for. And I worked bloody hard to earn it’. And that itself should show a form of dedication admirable to employers. Well, at least I hope.
AK: Name a few jobs/ career choices you feel you could have a better chance of getting now that you have earned a practical and specific MA in Magazine Journalism.
LW: A few examples (excluding the basic journalistic roles) would be PR, Advertising, Copywriting, Marketing and Publishing. I’m sure there are plenty more, too. It’s certainly not a restrictive degree. Journalism is the core of media and so essentially, what Journalism is teaching you, is how to communicate. It’s teaching you how to tell a story, how to research, to network, to market, to publicise and to promote. And all of those things take a certain amount of fortitude. Communication is crucial to any career and so are its subsidiaries. With a Journalism degree, I think you’re able to offer a broad set of skills that cover any position within the media. Of course it doesn’t promise that you can be a Russian correspondent or a television presenter, but it definitely teaches you the basic skills of any role involving written and verbal communication.
AK: Do you think this sort of degree is being offered due to the decline in more traditional print journalism (newspapers)? Why? Are people reading more magazines than newspapers today? Have you noticed news-heavy papers shifting to magazine format to keep/ gain readers (like The Economist)?
LW: Ah, the ‘digital VS print’ question. I knew there’d be one! I don’t think there’s a decline in print journalism at all; I think there’s just been an increase in digital journalism. There’s still as much print journalism available as there ever has been, if not more, we’re just being offered so much more digitally now so circulation figures have seen a slight decrease. I don’t think courses like Magazine Journalism are being introduced as a way to safeguard or promote print journalism, I think they’re there because there is still a huge market out there for print magazines. And there always will be. There are thousands of magazines available beyond the consumer newsstand and they’re all in constant demand. There’s a risk that print newspapers will slowly diminish as digital news sources expand and become accessible everywhere – such as the underground where the Metro and the Evening Standard have a huge readership – but magazines will always be desired for the coffee table. Magazines aren’t as disposable as newspapers, but I don’t think newspapers have shifted towards this format in order to gain more readers, I think they’ve shifted more towards online in order to do so. Magazines like The Economist are very genre specific and have an exclusive demographic. I think they just found a gap in the magazine market and stole it. And that’s what most publications are trying to do now, filling the gaps and constantly expanding the industry. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m very pro-print!
Be on the look out for Lauren in later Words, Pauses, Noises conversations about the creative industry and the minefield of job-hunting for recent Post Grads.