27 Sept 2014

What I learnt from getting the Scott Trust Bursary

In mid-July, I was lucky enough to get interviewed at the Guardian offices for the Scott Trust Bursary. The Scott Trust, owner of the Guardian Media Group, helps a couple of aspiring journalists with their tuition fees, maintenance and work experience: the sought-after golden ticket for a funded place on one of City's famed courses. When I got a call from the Guardian with the good news, I couldn't believe what I was hearing.

I was interviewed by Kitty Elgy (Administrator of the Scott Trust), Jonathan Hewitt (Director of City's Interactive and Newspaper Journalism courses) and Ben Hicks (Head of Grants and Research at the Guardian). They let me know who would be interviewing me beforehand - at which point it's handy to have a quick Google. 

I went into the interview having spoken to people who'd applied before, so I had a decent idea about what to expect. Being prepared, having solid experience and being confident are all key when approaching this interview. You need to avoid the clich├ęs whilst still getting across your 'passion' for journalism. Below I list a couple of bits of advice - most of which should be common-sense - if you're looking to get journalism funding in the future. 

It's all about your portfolio

Take your time to produce a great piece of work. Print A3 cuttings of your work. Stick them in a nice-looking portfolio in chronological order. Not only does it help give examples to back up your answers in the interview, but each interviewer took the time to examine my work. It was also one of the main positives featured when Kitty gave me some feedback from the interview; they specifically looked for preparedness.

Internships are also more important than your degree

Go to newspaper offices; get some bylines to your name. Your student media's a great place to start, but you need to have at least four weeks of work experience in a newsroom. If you want to get into the media, sacrificing that First in your English degree may just be the best thing to do if you spend that time instead pitching articles and getting bylines. I'd completed placements at the Guardian, the Independent and the Birmingham Mail when going into my interview, which allowed me to demonstrate my commitment to the industry and show off my work. 

Be relaxed and confident

Or, at least, as relaxed and confident as you can be in such a situation. Many employers in the media know the type of person they want to take on, and this is someone who's amiable and easy to talk to. You're going to have to interact with a lot of people in journalism, and most stories will involve interviews and approaching people, so appearing relaxed and confident is essential. When I received my feedback, Kitty said that although I appeared (understandably) a little nervous, I came across well and communicated calm and effectively. 

Do your research

These people are prepared to give you £15,000: show you deserve it. The Scott Trust has really strong principles on editorial independence and liberal reporting, which go straight to the heart of the Guardian's work. Learn about this; understand the source of these values; know who C. P. Scott is; think about how this is reflected in the newspaper's content. How does your own journalism link to this? 

Know your journalism

It goes without saying, but this is what the interview's focused on. Have a solid answer for the questions you'd expect in any journalism-related interview. Be prepared for questions on your commitment to the industry - of course, if you're considering forking out thousands of pounds on a journalism course, you're probably questioning this on a daily basis anyway. Be prepared to have cuttings and experiences which show your commitment - don't settle with simple generalisations. 

Don't cut the waffle

It seems a sure way of not getting the funding is not lasting the full 30 minutes of the interview. My interview clocked in at around 35 minutes; another Scott Trust Bursary winner, George Sandeman, had an interview lasting 45 minutes. Clearly, when I say 'don't cut the waffle', I don't mean ramble about your entire life story since that revelatory moment in junior school when you found out you wanted to be a reporter. Just that, if you've got something relevant, interesting and important to tell them, tell them - don't cut it out in the interest of being overtly concise. 

Don't be afraid to be a little risky

Be careful with this one: obviously don't go in there like a bull in a china shop. But equally, don't be coy. Be prepared to share your opinions on the media instead of sitting on the fence or agreeing with something your interviewer says because you think that will do you good. Stand up for what you believe and state your opinions: this is what makes you interesting and memorable. 

So there you have it. My advice on doing well in the Scott Trust Bursary interview. It's by no means a step-by-step guide to winning the bursary, merely one successful candidate's thoughts on how I somehow pulled it out of the bag. Be confident, present yourself and your work smartly and have a good portfolio to show and you'll have a great chance. 


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