In Alumni, Career in Journalism, Top Story

WJ Bio Pic

 

Will Jones has a passion for travel. This took him from studying for his NCTJ at Brighton Journalist Works to a stellar rise to editor-in-chief at gapyear.com.

Where have you worked since finishing your NCTJ at Brighton Journalist Works?

On the day I received my results I bought a one way ticket to Australia with the aim of travelling for a year or so, stopping to work when I ran out of money and writing about my experiences as much as I could.

Before leaving I set up a travel blog and over the next year became a full-time travel blogger, continuing to hone my writing skills as I travelled through Australia, South East Asia, Nepal and India.

Towards the end of my trip (I think I was in Vietnam) I saw an advert for a staff writer for what was then a start-up travel website called mydestination.com based in London.

I applied, was interviewed the day after returning to the UK and to my astonishment and delight got the job. I worked there for two-and-half years, and was promoted to assistant editor about halfway through my tenure.

I then joined backpacking website gapyear.com as a content and social media specialist and have been here for two and a half years.

I have been promoted twice, firstly to content and social media manager and then to my current position as editor-in-chief.

What does an average day look like for you?

If I am in the office (which I mostly am), I will start the day clearing emails, then have a quick meeting with my team where we recap on the previous day and lay out our general tasks for the coming day.

We will discuss any breaking travel news, and if we decide to cover it we will discuss angles and the best way to promote on various social media platforms.

I will usually spend at least some of the day editing new articles sent in by our freelancers on the road, and if I have time I will also get some writing done.

Other than that, I just generally make sure the website is running smoothly and work on whatever projects we have in the pipeline.

If I am on assignment days are defined by being anything but average ― whether I am white water rafting in Slovenia; doing a Segway tour in Barcelona; wandering around ancient sites in Istanbul; completing a canoe marathon in the Swedish lake district; exploring gargantuan caves in Vietnam or being abysmal at blackjack in Vegas.

White water rafting on the Soča River, Slovenia. Image by Damien Smith on Flickr, licenced by Creative Commons

White water rafting on the Soča River, Slovenia.

What is the strangest thing that has happened to you while working on a story?

It is not really that strange but I went in a hot air balloon in the Catalonian countryside and in the process discovered a spectacularly intense fear of heights.

If there is an ideal place to make such a discovery I can personally attest that place is not in a picnic hamper suspended 2,000ft above the ground.

My agitation developed into a panic attack and the pilot had to take me back to earth much to the annoyance of my fellow passengers, a Japanese couple on their honeymoon.

Inexplicably, a few months later I agreed to go on the London Eye to present a video about the capital.

Although the experience was not quite as dramatic, it was difficult to use footage of me curled up in a ball in the middle of an empty capsule being watched by a couple of slightly bewildered PR girls.

I feel there might be a lesson somewhere in here.

What are your favourite stories you have worked on?

So many to choose from, but I think my favourite was an interview with a North Korean defector.

I saw him mentioned in a local newspaper and it turned out he was living a few minutes from what was then my office in New Malden, which is known for its large community of Korean expats.

I contacted him and he agreed to speak to me. It was just so fascinating (and heartbreaking) to hear him talk about his extraordinary life, about his time as a soldier in the North Korean Army, how he risked everything to escape across the border into China, how he lived on the streets for a year, escaped from a border prison in Cambodia and how he eventually made his way to the UK and now works as a human rights campaigner.

What work are you particularly proud of?

Two pieces spring to mind, one because of its huge reach and the other for the sheer effort, time and love that went into it.

The first is a story I broke about a student in Holland who used her Facebook page to create the illusion she was travelling – essentially, she faked a gap year.

It only took twenty minutes to write but by the end of the day it had gone viral.

Over the next 24 hours it was shared more than a million times and brought many millions of people to our site.

According to our analytics was viewed by at least one hundred people from every single country on the planet, including North Korea. It was a good day.

The second is a humongous piece of long form content (about 15,000 words) called A Brief Visual History of Travel.

It took uncountable hours to research and write and then design but was a labour of love and I am so proud of it.

It begins by charting the journeys of our primitive ancestors, who wandered out of Africa 70,000 years ago and colonised the world, and ends with our most recent explorations into space.

Mesopotamian boat image used in the Brief Visutal History of Travel feature. Image by Marie-Lan Nguyen licenced by Creative Commons from WikiMedia

Mesopotamian boat image used in the Brief Visutal History of Travel

In the last few months I have also penned articles for travel giants Lonely Planet and Rough Guides, and on the basis of a blog post I wrote for Time Out have been offered a slot as a columnist in the magazine which I am super excited about.

What is your happiest memory at Brighton Journalist Works?

The course was great, I loved those three months.

I think if I had to choose a highlight it would be Pete Taylor singing I’m So Excited – our group nights out always seemed to end up with obscenely drunken karaoke.

What skills did you learn on the course that you still use today?

I try to keep my writing tight, avoid ambiguity and choose my words carefully.

Because most of the things I write are feature-based I am probably a bit rusty on more traditional news writing, but I enjoy that freedom and it was a conscious decision to work in the area of journalism that I do.

Early on in the course, Pete gave us an essay by Orwell to read – Politics and the English Language.

It is a magnificent comment on writing and an essential read for anyone at any level in this industry.

I try to re-read it once every six months or so.

I also remember (I think this was Pete again) the story about the fish-sellers sign and try to apply that lesson to my writing.

What advice would you give to aspiring journalists?

Before I got my foot on the first rung I used to feel hopelessly daunted about entering this industry.

When I came into contact with working journalists I would feel faintly star struck.

People told me over and over again that it was absurdly competitive and very poorly paid and that to pursue a career in travel journalism in particular was edging on the fanciful.

Well, this may have been the case twenty years ago and probably still is the case with traditional newspaper journalism (I wouldn’t know), but with the birth of the Internet the opportunities for employment have exploded.

The entire journalism spectrum has widened enormously.There have never been more jobs out there and such a variety. Sure, there is competition – where isn’t there? – but it is not the Olympic Games.

So my first piece of advice is to not be discouraged by the naysayers.

Have confidence in yourself: the very fact that you’ve been accepted on this course means you have the potential to go all the way.

This is not to say you do not have to work extremely hard and, as in any industry, find ways to make yourself stand out.

Start a blog, make it about your niche, your interest. Image by Kevin King on Piabay. Licenced by Creative Commons

Start a blog, make it about your niche, your interest.

The most obvious way to do this now is to set up your own blog. Anyone can do this and there is no excuse not to have one.

Digital content is here and it is here to stay. When I am hiring, the first thing I do is check to see if the candidate has a blog or website.

Take the pressure off by regarding it as a hobby. Try to take enjoyment in building it and filling it with posts.

If you find you are not enjoying it you may want to consider a different career path.

Forget about traffic for now, just get the thing off the ground. The best blogs are ones which have a clear focus and stick to it.

Interested in fashion, travel, food, sport, cats? Whatever your passion is you can blog about it.

Please do not call your blog My Random Musings. Similarly with social media, it is not enough to just say on your CV “social media savvy”. You need to demonstrate this. Set up a Twitter account, a public Facebook page, a Google+ profile, and be active.

Lastly, probably contrary to what you have been told, sometimes it is okay to write for free, even after you are qualified.

It helps establish relationships with editors who may want to make sure you are good enough before committing to paid commissions.

It is the relationship that holds the real value and sometimes to create one you have to invest some time.

But it is an investment and you will see a return.

Once you have proved yourself you will find it much easier to score paid commissions.

I have been working and rising in this industry for more than five years and sometimes I still write for free.

In fact, I am writing for free right now!

I wrote the Time Out blog post mentioned above free of charge and as a direct result have now been offered paid work as a columnist, and get to boast about it on my CV.

All for a couple of hours of my time. Trust me, it balances out in the end.

Will studied for his NCTJ on a fast-track course with Brighton Journalist Works. 

If you found this useful please share it.
Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on RedditDigg thisShare on StumbleUponBuffer this pagePrint this pageEmail this to someone
Recommended Posts

Leave a Comment

Contact Us

We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.

Not readable? Change text.

Start typing and press Enter to search