Too proud to write for “The Daily Fail”?

When you’re looking for something, you’d be amazed how quickly your standards lower. We’re talking about jobs here as opposed to that desperate 4am scanning of the dance floor…

On Sunday Giles Coren wrote a column much like those he publishes in varying parts of The Times of a weekend: witty, touching, cleverly structured and a delight to read. Except it appeared in Femail: The Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday’s girl-friendly colour supplement. The flocks of @gilescoren fans (myself included) sycophantically tweeted their appreciation hours after ‘Oh my God, I’m turning into my father’ appeared on Mail Online.

Daily Mail

A 'typical' Daily Mail front page

However, it was clear that many of these compliments were more than a little backwards. @henweb tweeted: “Nice. @GilesCoren’s article in the Daily #FAIL is literally the first good article I’ve read in the DM for… well, ever!”. I was alerted to the piece by @samparkercouk, advising that “If you only ever visit the Daily Hate once in your life, make it for this article by @gilescoren.” Even if he wasn’t such a candid tweeter, it’s obvious why Coren took the controversial commission: it’s his job.

Daft as it sounds, it’s all too easy as a young and/or wannabe hack to imagine ourselves taking the Guardian offices by storm, rather than realising that writing for a living is as much about paying rent as it is ‘changing the world’. When I was job-hunting a fellow intern scoffed, “Gas and Power Magazine? Seriously?” It’s easily done, until you see what journo job listing sites really look like and your specifications broaden considerably.

I stopped slagging off minor publications a few years ago after realising that my first commission could well be for the fictional Anglers Weekly – any Angling-related publications out there in need of an editorial assistant, you know where I am. It’s easy to joke but such a prospect appears to be commonly overlooked by wannabes. It’s great if you have a niche subject, but don’t let it, or your job snobbery, get in the way of what might be your big break.

As Rosie Niven previously posted; B2Bs are a great way into the industry but are frequently overlooked because they’re not household names. I used to maintain, fairly ridiculously, that ‘I would rather not be a journalist than write for the Daily Mail’. Last week I interviewed for a company that provides copy for them and I’m really, really hoping I get the job. This isn’t a case of putting money before principle, but an awakening that making journalism a living comes down to who’s going to pay.

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18 Responses to Too proud to write for “The Daily Fail”?

  1. Ashley says:

    This is so true. Your local fishing magazine is easy to look down on while you’re in the safe bubble of uni, but once you start job-hunting it’s a completely different ballgame. This is coming from someone who just applied to work at Dreamy Donuts with the line ‘an opportunity as sweet as this.’

    Nice work Maverick!

  2. Joe Dyke says:

    Hmmm. There are two points here. One is about being snobby about small publications, one is about knowing where you want to go in the long run.

    I fully agree that people shouldn’t criticise small publications – so many great journalists have learnt their trades on small local papers etc. But that is not the same as the Daily Mail. It is not a ‘niche publication’ that your friends would laugh at, it is the second largest selling paper in the UK. The reason people wouldn’t want to work there is not about being forgotten, its about the reputation of the paper.

    Be pragmatic, sure, but sheer nihilism is dangerous.

  3. Pingback: Tweets that mention Too proud to write for “The Daily Fail”? « Wannabe Hacks --

  4. Sam Parker says:

    In my opinion, this is an important lesson that every successful journalist learns pretty early on. I got my break on a titty mag – still learnt a fuck load from it. Very well written this Alice by the way, would like it to have been a bit longer. Love @samparkercouk x

  5. Philip Copley says:

    As somekindofwannabejournalistwritertypeperson myself, I have no issue with writing for a small magazine/newspaper – I’m well aware that you have to cut your teeth somewhere, and hoping for a job at a national paper straight after uni is naive beyond belief.

    My problem with the Daily Mail is, as Joe correctly puts it, “the reputation of the paper” – I see it as bigoted, racist, homophobic, xenophobic, sexist….need I go on?

  6. Joseph Stashko says:

    Great post and salient points Alice. I think we need to break the perception that nationals are the be all and end all for a graduate’s career. There are tons of smaller cutting edge consumer and B2B magazines out there, with many offering greater freedom and pay.

    I wrote a similar post a fortnight or so ago:

  7. Jamie says:

    I think it depends a bit on what type of journalism you’re doing. If it’s, say, feature or comment writing, you can probably be fairly sure that if the Mail takes your piece it’ll appear pretty much true to your original. Whatever you might think of the paper (and believe me I try not to) it would be a bit daft not to take the gig in those circumstances.

    But as a wannabe news writer, I would rather not work somewhere with a deserved reputation for distorting its *news* stories – that’s why so many people dislike the Mail. I wouldn’t completely disregard pitching occasional freelance news pieces to them because they’d be my story and I’d have a measure of control over how they appeared, but as a news staffer required to produce X amount of copy a week to fit a certain agenda, I couldn’t do it.

    Basically, freelancing and staffing need to be separated, as perhaps do news and feature/comment writing.

    (good piece btw)

    • The Maverick says:

      Exactly my point Jamie – although you may have made it better. Coren is not a news writer, his piece was strictly autobiographical comment. Maybe regular readers of his work would notice the slight increase in ‘Mail-friendly’ tone, it remained his piece and his opinions.

      Although maybe I didn’t stress it enough, this piece is about freelancers taking commissions where they can in order to financially survive and it’s great that you picked up on the distinction. At the end of the day, it comes down to the words you are personally publishing: if there’s none of the “bigoted, racist, homophobic, xenophobic, sexist” insights that Philip identifies in your work – also absent in Coren’s piece and hopefully from other Mail freelancers, there’s nothing to be ashamed of, wherever it’s printed.

  8. Peter Demain says:

    So in short an exception that proves the rule?

    All the newspapers deserve masses of criticism for – as Mr. Petrie so eloquently highlighted here the other day – they do a boatload of things wrong. Constructive ideally despite rags fading in relevance as is still so abundantly discussed.

    Small specialist magazines are for many freelancers a necessity. Despite often-diminutive pay there’s always the CV bolstering side. Criticism to those more often veers to the pompous or nitpicking given the narrower focus. There are exceptions here too though!

    Let us not forget that Paul Dacre is a good egg. A good egg with a superb four-letter catchphrase!

    Pete, editor at Dirty Garnet.

  9. I agree with this post completely. Last week I gave a talk to some teenagers who want to be journalist in the future as part of scheme that I working with. One of them laughed when I began by saying that my experience began in Uganda, when I am in fact breed here partly. I asked her why she laughed, she responded by saying she would never work in Africa. I explained that at 22 as young black girl from a not so middle class background, living in South London options don’t fall in your lap. I made the choice to go to a place where the editors are award winning journalist and are very big on seeing their staff grow. Needless to say her face went blank. I think too many wanna be hacks are in a way disillusioned by the expectational 1 in 200 success stories and have somehow intoxicated themselves with the belief that it is the rule for all. Work experience is at most a month and in order to get the kind of skills that top media houses are looking for it does mean working for smaller publications and b2b. I’ll be honest and say that in my experience working in a place that some would frown upon for 3 years is paying off now, not just because I know tricks of the trade but because I am not too proud too be brought down a peg if it means getting a job. Fair enough in the beginning it is hard and as with anything it is not perfect, heard of low pay and sometimes you find yourself working in odd conditions, but boy do you learn. Maybe if I wrote this post the heading would be too proud to work in a third world country to gain experience?

  10. Matthew Brown says:

    One of my old journalism tutors – an ex-Fleet Street hack with decades of experience on the nationals behind him – once told me that a piece he’d recently written for the Daily Mail would be appearing under a different byline to his own. He didn’t want to sabotage his reputation – but obviously wasn’t too proud to take the cash.

    Small publications and obscure trade magazines can be a great way to get a break, and as The Maverick says, it would be foolish for a young journalist to be snobby about a potentially excellent opportunity. The fact you started in journalism with a commission or job on a less-than-glamourous industry title isn’t going to harm your career if you’ve got the ideas, skills and enthusiasm any future recruiters want.

  11. Dave Molloy says:

    In my earlier days I considered myself strictly broadsheet material. I was going to get a job straight out of university at a national quality daily, because I am amazing.

    That illusion was shattered, thankfully, long before graduation. A former mentor of mine, who was Editor at the college paper (now a pro designer, oddly, and not a journo) taught me the value of tabloid news presentation and mass appeal. It’s one of the most valuable lessons I ever learned.

    I completely agree with Jamie, though. If you want to get into news, you have to consider the assignments you’d get as a staffer in these papers, and what it would mean to be known as one of “those people.” I know some cracking tabloid journalists who possess a skill for crafting a story in crime reporting I can only dream of, but I also know (of) some who make a decent living destroying other people’s lives and bragging about it afterwards. I’d love to be the former and can’t ever see myself betraying my principles by becoming the latter.

  12. As an aside, Gas and Power magazine would be a fantastic route into journalism. Energy is the next looming crisis area: wars are and will be fought over it; it’s at the cutting edge of technology and as a business it’s a real challenge to understand. Anyone who would sneer at Gas and Power because they wanted to work for something more glamorous or right-on is a fool, frankly…

    • The Intern says:

      Hi Freelance Unbound – I approved this comment so I could ask you to make it again in the morning when we launch our new site – any content / comments added now are not coming over.

      Thanks very much

      The Intern.

      • Um – can’t you just copy it?

      • The Intern says:

        Unfortunately not – I could copy and paste it, but then it would come from me.

        I was just letting you know in case you wondered why it wasn’t on the post in the morning.

  13. Ah – yes. There is a way around that, but it’s a bit of a palaver. Will do…

    • The Intern says:

      Thanks very much.

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