‘That David’s a lovely man,’my friend Alix said knowingly, ‘and Jon is really charming – you wouldn’t think it when you see him on telly.’She had been at the The British Press Awards the night before and her new pals David and Jon were none other than Cameron and Snow.
As her fellow coursemates gulped back their wine, egging each other on to start conversations, Alix had been working the floor, networking her socks off. She managed to get contacts the rest of us could only dream of, oozing charisma even in the face of such media giants.
The first rule of journalism, as I’m sure you’ve been told often enough, is that contacts are essential, and like it or not, networking is the best way to fill up that little black book. Fate dictates that some people are just better at this than others, but if you approach it in the right way, even the most unprofessional students can sharpen their schmoozing skills.
Jonathan Isaby is editor of the Telegraph’s Three Line Whip column and former deputy editor of The Spy. He is reluctant to use the term ‘networking’because of its negative connotations, but Isaby has 2,279 (and counting) friends on Facebook and loves getting to know people.
He says that research is your most valuable weapon when attending high-profile parties: ‘It’s always best to find out who is going to be at an event beforehand so that you can prepare possible lines of questioning in advance – or at the very least familiarise yourself with who you’re likely to meet. The last resort when confronted with an unfamiliar celebrity is to ask a simple ‘so what are you up to at the moment?’ But you’re always going to get a better response if you can begin by making a positive reference to something you know they’ve done recently.”
The common concern of students I speak to is the fact that they are ‘just’a student: Quotes aren’t so forthcoming for a ‘student’paper and a newly qualified journalist’s answer to the question ‘what are you up to?’is unlikely to entice people into conversation.
But Isaby says this shouldn’t put you off: ‘Confidence will come naturally with experience, but remember that as far as they’re concerned you are just another journalist after some quotes. The more knowledge you have about them or their subject, the more confidence you will exude.”
Schmooze and Booze is a regular networking event set up by 23-year-old sub-editor Helen Lewis in August 2006. Lewis created the event in an attempt to provide an informal setting for young journalists and media professionals to network and make useful contacts.
‘The worst thing you can do is appear to be using people,’says Lewis. ‘It’s so obvious when you’re on the receiving end of a ‘charm offensive’, where someone pumps you for information or contacts.”
Once you have someone’s contact details, the next step is actually bringing yourself to call them, but according to Lewis, having the courage to make the first move is the hardest part.
‘Journalism is a trade where employers value persistence and personality, so don’t be afraid to be a little bit cheeky – for example, emailing an established journalist for quotes on a student project, or tapping up someone you meet at a party for help getting work experience.”
So cast aside those preconceptions and concerns about being too pushy – remember you’re dealing with journalists, and they expect it. Being ‘a little bit cheeky’might well be what they’re looking for.