Networking advice from our New York hack

Alice Vincent – the Wannabe Hacks guest poster from Harlem – gives some excellent advice on network etiquette and how to act when you meet that Special One: the big-time editor.

‘Networking’ is one of those nasty verb/noun hybrids that is banded around as the key to success by those who have made it. Whether you fear it, crave it or are still unsure of what is really is networking is essential in the world of journalism.


Image courtesy of CERTs

And now more than ever, so get used to it.

For those in the latter category, networking is a means of making professional contacts through illusory informal means. Essentially, it’s talking shop. If you fear it, start putting on a brave face. If you crave it, well that’s half the trick.

I’m a pretty shameless networker: I figure this probably stems from a burning desire to write professionally, overt curiosity and – as a friend once said – “mad convo skills.” Essentially, I’m nosy, chatty and desperate to be a journo and if I have to talk my way up to the top I will.

Technically speaking, there’s no standard way in which these ‘networking’ conversations start. It might be something as natural as discussing how late the show is going to start with a writer from British Vogue from an ill-gotten seat at NYFW’s front row. It could be something as blatantly forced as asking what somebody does at a press conference. Whatever the means, the basic rules always apply.

Like a good piece of writing, don’t waste words. Get to the point, in a thoroughly natural manner (the hilarity of the whole situation is that all parties know it’s professional yet pretend otherwise). I normally name-drop the current or most relevant publication I’m writing for, the fact I’m still a rookie and casually suggest how the other person could help me out within the first two minutes. You’ll likely end up with an email address -whether it will come to anything is an entirely different matter.

Don’t get me wrong; approaching someone far more successful than yourself is pretty pulse-raising – but what’s the worst that can happen? In the last three years – since I fist started scouting around for work experience by asking pretty much everyone if they knew somebody in media (you’d be surprised how successful that is, my hairdresser knows the editor of Grazia) – nobody has been rude. Most have been charming, and some are the reason why I’m here in New York.

Networking II

Image courtesy of ShashiBellamkonda

Three weeks of living in New York and the combination of Fashion Week, going to events attended solely by the young media types and meeting a ridiculous amount of new people has given me plenty of extra networking practice. So far, it’s resulted in a housing recommendation and something that looked suspiciously like a date. Still, what is noticeable about the networking scene here is the importance of an internet presence. Follow the right people on Twitter and people will start following you. If you’ve got a regularly updated, news-relevant or amusing blog then you’re sorted – I really should update mine more.

As much as this is a city of opportunity – less than a month here has proved that cliché to be true – it’s also one in which you have to make your own luck. Nobody’s going to give you a break for standing with a moleskine in the corner, regardless of how cool you think you look.

Be cute. Be keen. Be a geek and admit you need a hand.

But do it with an air of non-aggressive confidence and give them a reason to like you. If you’re an intern, say you’re from that publication. If you’re a freelancer, make out like you’re well-published. If you haven’t done either yet, just say you’d love to. What’s the worst that can happen?


6 Responses to Networking advice from our New York hack

  1. I’m glad we commissioned this guest post because networking seems to be the one thing that I’ve found really scares some people about journalism – and any other career for that matter.

    Having started work in fashion and lifestyle journalism the amount of meet and greets, press breakfasts + designer line parties I have to attend have become quite common (check me out!) yet I still get the flutters when I’m introduced to someone else or someone new.

    I think – like Alice said – it’s the idea of not coming across like an idiot in front of people who are perhaps further in their careers than you are. Remember however that nobody is there to catch you out or show you up – it is highly likely that the person you are talking to was in your position some years or months ago.

    It is a horrible cliché but it pays to be yourself in these situations. Most people can spot a blagger or fake a mile off and if you are confident, enthusiastic but realistic then you’ll be just fine.

    A good example was last week when I met a couple of important people through a website I’m writing for. When asked how I got into the fashion / style side of things I admitted that it was a bit of an accident and that “I really don’t know as much as you probably think I do.”

    I wasn’t laughed at or scolded; instead I was given some excellent advice and a few email addresses for people to contact with regards to writing something new.

  2. Peter Demain says:

    The apparent lack of aspiring sycophantism would have warmed my heart, had I one. Issue I’ve got with this piece is that it’s written from your own perspective, is largely autobiographical, and seems to want all would-be journalists to tailor themselves to your mentality and behaviour.

    ‘Networking’ is one of those terms used to describe something which, albeit not in digital form, has always gone on in journalism and all other professions; the phenomena of knowing the right people. It’s a buzzterm like ‘Hyperlocal’ is for er…reporting local news overlooked by mainstream outlets.

    You say ‘If I have to talk my way to the top, I will’ – don’t you think you’re getting ahead of yourself? The ‘top’ of journalism is being an editor for a high circulation print publication or a very popular website with the cush salary and possible directors seat that brings.

    To envisage that at such an early stage seems grandoise to me; confidence is great, but you should acknowledge the fact that only a fraction of journos get to the ‘top’, and many aren’t bothered to as they like reporting, investigation, or a column.

    I prefer straight talk to charm; sometimes people intepret that as rude. It’s not. Better to be laconic and bold than a mellifluous Blair-esque charmer as usually the former is more sincere than the latter. If you see cajoling flattery and sucking up as an acceptable means to an end that’s your perspective – however I dislike that sort of person as behind all the politeness is the ulterior motive of self-advancement.

    Were I doing this piece I’d plead the opposite – you can’t discard aggressiveness entirely. What about Jeremy Paxman, the renowned BBC journo? His forthright, blunt attitude fulfils a demand Newsnight viewers possess. Most journalists do not share his abrasiveness; he is distinctive for it.

    As to your remark: ‘make out like you’re well-published’ – that’s very close to fabrication isn’t it? Perhaps you’d be best off in PR, as the old-fashioned ideal of journalism is to tell the truth professionally as much as possible; that includes when interacting with others in the trade. Distortion is a habit hard to break and you should spend more time doing actual journalism than hobnobbing for influence like some careerist.

    Pete, editor at Dirty Garnet.

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  4. Like Peter Demain I personally value straight-talking over flattery. But I’m not an editor, and I have to say I think the kind of networking Alice Vincent mentions is far more likely to get a would-be journalist some kind of job or commisson. To make a viable living out of journalism most people will have to play the game to some extent. Other professions are no different and as Peter said it has always happened. Paxman is able to be abrasive because he has a long career behind him and the BBC Newsnight slot. If a youngster tried the Paxman act I suspect they’d just be told to fuck off, whether the interviewee was a top politician or a member of the public.

    That isn’t to say a journalist should hold back from asking difficult and important questions. But sometimes the manner in which they are asked affects the answer that will be received.

    I think the idea of ‘networking’ has a negative connotation for many people, who may take it to mean that merely chatting to people and knowing the right crowd can get a person further than actually being talented at something. In some cases that’s undoubtedly true – I know people who’ve secured jobs that way despite their woeful lack of anything resembling news sense, writing talent, or the ability to shut up and listen to what an interviewee is saying. Who’s to say it isn’t a skill in itself, as important as any other? In many journalistic roles that same skill will get you stories. Peter Demain is right in that networking has become a buzz term. Outside of the professional career and management-speak environment, ‘networking’ is just talking to people and making sure you leave the conversation with a possibility of future conversations.

    Of course, you can be a journalist and never bother with having to embellish a CV or charm an important person. But I doubt you’d get much paid work, and if I’m not totally mistaken this website is focused on how to get into journalism as way to make a living rather than how journalists should behave in a perfect world which doesn’t exist.

  5. Peter Demain says:

    If a youngster tried the Paxman act I suspect they’d just be told to fuck off

    Indeed. Yet it isn’t literal often. Usually one is knocked back in written form, or is given a ‘thumbs down’ informally by someone without enough brain or brawn to engage one verbally or otherwise.

    It’s not all that hard to do work without pay. If you truly desire a CV you can manifest a laundry list of past works that means no deceit is required: It speaks for itself. Good journalism isn’t so much about money as it is passion; cash is indeed required for longer, harder investigations – but for local reportage the greatest cost is your time. Comforts in life are less important and may come later.

    Then there’s the ‘be yourself’ side. Sycophants by definition put on a friendly face complete with grovelling with their true motives concealed. They aren’t usually the best on offer; infact a lot of ‘good’ journalists could be dismissed as bastards. However some journo work means nice just doesn’t get the job done. If you desire an officebound existence you can be sickly sweet – out there in the real world you need balls to conduct investigations.

    Watch The Insider, a fine adaptation of the Big Tobacco 1990s exposé, also there’s ‘Tell Me No Lies’ – a manual/history of investigative journalism since World War II. Suck ups mostly don’t have guts; they mostly hope for some scribblings in the office rather than work that ideally changes the world for the better. Or places one at risk of being killed, maimed or imprisoned.

    Pete, editor at Dirty Garnet.

  6. Pingback: Guest Post – Joseph Stashko: networking (round II) « Wannabe Hacks

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