Interview with young journalists Helia Phoenix, Priyal Sanghavi and Ann Danylkiw: Part 1 - Education

 by Martin Belam, 19 April 2010

I've been interested for some time in how people training for journalism today are being taught about digital skills, and what shape they expect the industry to be in when they finish their studies and start looking for jobs. Earlier this year I ran a series of blog posts looking at how student union newspapers were giving students a chance to practice their digital news storytelling skills, and today I want to start a second series around the theme of young journalists.

Over the last year or so I've had the chance to meet and work with some great young journalists, and three of them, Helia Phoenix, Priyal Sanghavi and Ann Danylkiw took the time out recently to do a short Q&A session for me about their studies, the jobs they've found themselves in, and their advice for people wanting to become journalists. Over the next few days I'll be posting their answers to my questions, starting with their educational backgrounds.

Martin Belam@currybet: "Can you tell us a little bit about your educational background, and why you wanted to study in the area of journalism and the media?"

Helia PhoenixHelia Phoenix: "I did an undergraduate degree in English Literature at Cardiff, with my final year on exchange to Berkeley, University of California. When I got back to the UK I was accepted on a Masters to study Creative Writing, again at Cardiff. I was always interested in working in the media, although initially I had thought I wanted to work in radio. I'd done a lot with student radio at Cardiff and really enjoyed it, but in reality it was such a difficult industry to break into - I tried volunteering at local radio stations, and so on, but the longer I worked the more it became apparent that if I didn't know anyone, there was no way I'd get a job. Also I realised that I'd enjoyed radio because I'd been working on student radio, where you can present whatever you like, produce your jingles yourself, do whatever you want. Working on a commercial radio station - or the BBC - is very different."

Priyal SanghaviPriyal Sanghavi: "I am from Mumbai. I have a BA in Economics from Mumbai and have recently completed MA International Journalism at City University. During a summer stint at the Times of India in April 2007, I decided to pursue journalism as a career. Hence I undertook further study in the field in London."

Ann DanylkiwAnn Danylkiw: "Hmm... that’s not a good question. Maybe I should tell you why I didn’t want to study journalism and media.

The first time someone suggested to me that I be a journalist was my freshman year of university at Simmons College (Boston, Mass). My freshman English professor-- rather grande old dame type-- suggested it and I laughed. I wanted to be an international lawyer at the time. But she planted the seed.

Then I traveled abroad for six months my sophomore year, had my perception of reality irrevocably altered, came back to the US and promptly had my quarter life crisis (what can I say, I’ve always been an over-achiever). I decided that I wanted to study economics instead because that would better explain things about how the world worked. But I was already almost finished with my BA and it was too late to change tracks, so I only minored in economics, deciding to do a Master’s degree in it because I thought it would make me a better lawyer-- I’m not entirely certain when that turned into a better journalist."

Helia PhoenixHelia Phoenix: "Really, too, my main love and strength is writing. So I got a job at a business to business magazine publishing company as an editorial assistant. I was there for about 18 months, and was promoted to editor during that time. I loved the work, but I also really enjoyed audio and video production, messing around with images, and so on. I didn't want a job where I'd be stuck just writing. I was offered another promotion to managing editor, but I felt like I wanted to explore other avenues first. That's why I decided I wanted to get skilled up properly as a multimedia journalist."

Ann DanylkiwAnn Danylkiw: "I mean a lot of reporters who write features for major newspapers have never studied the topics they write about. I found most of the reporting out there on places like emerging market countries and developing countries, even middle class America to be lacking. There was always a better point to be made if only the journalist could connect the dots a little more, if they had that background. So I think I actively took the decision not to study media.

But I did end up taking a few how-to courses at the Frontline Club purely for technical skills. I took the podcasting, blogging, and video courses, all very informative. Photography was already a hobby."

Martin Belam@currybet: "What was the last course you studied and where?"

Ann DanylkiwAnn Danylkiw: "Formally, the last was an MSc in Finance and Development Economics at SOAS, University of London. Informally, the Frontline Club’s day courses in how to do journalism."

Priyal SanghaviPriyal Sanghavi: "MA International Journalism City University London."

Helia PhoenixHelia Phoenix: "In 2008, I was awarded a bursary from the Scotts Trust to study web journalism at the University of Sheffield, so I left my job at the B2B publishing house and the offer of promotion to go back to studying. As I couldn't afford to put myself through a fulltime course, I had been looking at a part time, distance learning course that was run at Bournemouth University, but luckily I got the bursary, which meant I went to Sheffield to study a postgraduate diploma there, between September 2008 and May 2009.

The course was excellent, and Sheffield is a fantastic university, with great facilities. I didn't want to study in London, so I was chuffed to have got on such a great course that wasn't based there. The faculty were great. I really enjoyed it. It was a bit strange going back to university as a 'mature' (!) student - at 28 I think I was the oldest on the course. Most of the other students had come straight from their undergrads, though a few had had a year out working. Everyone was easy going and it was nice to be back in an academic environment where the focus is on study.

I think being older really helped my motivation to work hard. I got a first for my undergraduate degree in English Lit, but I never felt like I really applied myself or got as much out of the experience as I could have. Being older I threw myself into the studying more. I even quite enjoyed studying for my NCTJ law and government exams!

Having a bursary from the Scott Trust was a great honour. We had some alumni meetings, and I met some of the students that Trust has sponsored in the past, and it was really inspiring to see what jobs they were doing, and to speak to them all. We got a couple of Q&A sessions with Alan Rusbridger at Guardian HQ as well, which was good too. All in all I got a great insight into the world of journalism, really great. I'm very grateful to the Trust."


In the next part of this series, I'll be asking Helia, Ann and Priyal where they ended up working after their studies.

Keep up to date on my new blog