Early Careers: Naomi Southwell

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Naomi Southwell graduated last year, having studied History at Somerville College. She is now working as a freelance journalist for various media outlets, including the Intelligence Brief, and is a Contributing Editor for The Fem League. Naomi shared some of her thoughts on getting involved with media with the OUMS this week.


Were you involved in student media organisations whilst at the University?

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I started as a Music Writer for The Oxford Student and somehow became Co-Editor-in-Chief. Student journalism gave me some amazing opportunities that have definitely helped me in my career so far. For instance, I interviewed the Vice Chancellor Louise Richardson and this has never failed to impress. The practical training I received while at The OxStu, including learning how to use software such as InDesign and WordPress and undergoing Media Law training has also been invaluable.

I also created and edited a zine (an independent magazine) for my college’s Arts Week. I pitched the initial idea and worked out a way to finance it. The finished product was a publication full of great journalism and creative writing that I’d designed and made from scratch - I even learned how to use a risograph printer, which is a great tool for producing high-quality publications on a shoestring budget.

If you’re interested in writing there are plenty of opportunities besides writing for a student newspaper. Write articles and blog posts for student blogs and magazines or start your own. Ask to cover events for the societies and sports you’re involved in. Write copy for your college’s website. Do anything and everything that involves telling stories.

Have you received any training or done any media qualifications you have found useful?

Aside from the training I had whilst at The OxStu, I haven’t had any further formal training. I’ve attended a number of workshops and events, including freelancing and data journalism workshops and I’ve found them to be really useful. These events are happening all the time – I’d definitely recommend going to them.

What are you working on at the moment?

I am currently working as a freelance Contributing Editor for a media startup called The Fem League. I also work as a freelance writer, covering careers and finance. Since I’m being real, I also work part-time at a supermarket as I am currently trying to save for either a Master’s or renting my own place. I still currently live with my parents in Manchester, for financial and health reasons, which helps me save a lot more than if I was having to pay rent, but I’m determined to pay for my Master’s myself.

What is the most exciting thing you have worked on?

The Fem League’s first issue, ‘Seasons’ is out now- check it out here. I was involved in creating the concept for the issue and seeing that come to fruition, as well as covering the sensational work and people we’ve featured has been incredibly satisfying.

How did you move into professional journalism? 

I saw a contributor position for The Fem League advertised on Oxford Careers Connect. I applied for that position and was later asked to be the Contributing Editor. I work with the Editor on the concepts for The Fem League’s online issues and edit all of the online content, as well as writing content. My initial email impressed my Editor and led to a subsequent phone interview and job offer, so don’t underestimate the power of a good email.

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I’ve also found freelance work through word-of-mouth. Make sure everyone you know knows you can write: they will work with someone, who knows someone, who needs something writing and you have a job right there.

Have you faced any challenges and, if so, how have you overcome them?

I’ve found working freelance to be a massive learning curve. Learning how to effectively manage my time has been painful but necessary, you need to figure out a method that works for you. I use a bullet journal to plan the tasks I need to get done and then I use Toggl, a time tracking app, to record the time I spend working on various tasks. I can then accurately bill clients for the work I’ve done throughout the month as well as tracking it myself.

What are your short-term goals?

I’m still figuring out whether I want to do a Masters in Journalism or study something else. I’m also looking to develop my skills in content creation, which for me includes photography, video production, and broadcasting. I want to be able to tell interesting stories, which are not currently being told through as many mediums as possible. I also have a personal project I’m working on that’s related to this.

Any parting words of wisdom?

My number one piece of advice is this: regardless of the area of media you want to work in, you need to start calling yourself a journalist. You’re not a student journalist or an aspiring journalist - you’re a journalist.

For more practical advice, I can’t recommend Journo Resources enough. Their comprehensive list of graduate journalism schemes is epic. They also have practical guides to freelancing, including the rates you need to charge and how to pitch your ideas.

Finally, don’t be ashamed of having a side hustle, whether that is working in retail, in a bar or something completely different. My income can vary a lot but having a side hustle means I can focus on freelance work that I really enjoy and work on my own personal projects.