Top 10 tips for working in the media

Peter Wedderburn with dog
1. Never say no

Journalists, producers and researchers are all under as much pressure as vets in practice: while it may be more convenient for you to take time to do research and to reflect, they often need an immediate answer. So always say yes, and always be ready to prioritise the media assignment over other deadlines in your life. This is often not convenient, and it's one of the biggest pressures and challenges of doing media work. If you say ‘no, not just now’, they will go elsewhere and you won't hear from them again.

2. Practice makes perfect

Whether it's writing, radio work, television work or social media, the more you do, the better you get. Malcolm Gladwell's ‘10,000 hour rule’ applies: it takes this many hours of practice until you are proficient. Set yourself targets and deadlines for writing projects so that you put the time in, whether it's for a local free newspaper column or a project in a creative writing class. Offer your services to a low-key radio station (e.g., local community radio or an internet radio station). The more you do, the better you'll get.

3. Enjoy what you do

To be successful, you need to enjoy working in the media. You have to love the challenge of coming up with 1000 words on a new topic every week to meet your deadline. You need to be excited about being asked random questions about anything pet-related on live radio or television. You must enjoy engaging with pet owners who send you messages on social media. If this type of work sounds like something that wouldn't be fun for you, then don't do it.

4. Have patient partners – at work and at home

Your media work must take priority over other demands on your time, which means that your day job and your family are lower on your list of priorities than you would probably like them to be. Are you prepared to make this sacrifice, and equally importantly, are your work colleagues and your family?

5. Set earning goals and stick to them

It's easy to get work in the media for no fee, but this isn't sustainable in the long term. While some free work is needed for experience and to develop a profile, you also need to earn enough to make it worth your while. This aspect of media work has become more challenging than ever in the past decade, with the decline in print media and the rise of the internet. Your first question when asked to do media work – whether writing or otherwise – should be ‘Do you have a budget?’ If there is no budget, you need to reflect on the value to yourself of the experience and challenge. Longer term, as you develop experience and reputation, you should set an earning target (e.g., the same daily fee as a veterinary locum), dividing your working day into segments and working out the hourly rate that you need to achieve to reach your goal.

6. Pay attention to your appearance

As a profession, it's easy for vets not to worry too much about how they look, as long as they are dressed professionally. Appearances matter in the media, so make sure that you dress neatly (even if you are casually dressed), and that your clothes (and fingernails) are clean.

7. Meet deadlines and be on time for appointments

If you agree to a writing deadline, don't be late: editors like writers to do as they promise, and they are more likely to come back to you with more work if you are on schedule. For other media work, like radio and television, time is critical: you cannot afford to be even five minutes later than instructed.

8. Stick to word counts

It's easy to ramble on, filling up page space with words, but it isn't what editors want. Write your piece, then trim it down to the number of words that was requested. It can be upsetting to bin your carefully chosen prose, but it can also be an enjoyable game: can you fashion the text to that exact word count while still saying everything you want to say?

9. Do CPD on media topics

Just as you need to go to lectures to learn about clinical veterinary topics, you also need to learn about working in the media. From how to use social media, to how to avoid defamation when writing about people, to how to engage the latest search engine optimisation methods on the internet, if you don't put time aside to learn about it, you won't be up to date.

10. Feel the fear and do it anyway

The public exposure involved in media work can be scary. What if you are asked a question you can't answer? What if the interviewer decides to go hard on you, pressing you on difficult points? What if you dry up, so that you just can't think of anything to say? It's normal to feel nervous about the uncertainty involved in live media work, but the other side of it is that it's exhilarating and enjoyable when it goes well.

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