Kim Kardashian is just another battle in the cyber war over women’s bodies

14 Nov

The naked pictures may not have broken the internet, but they have proven a point about the extent to which the female body has become a digital commodity

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Kim Kardashian’s hyper-sexualised naked body is this week’s internet ballyhoo. Her greased behind, paraded by Paper Magazine as the photoshoot to ‘break the internet’, has been glistening in every dark corner of cyberspace. Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, WordPress- you name it- internet users have been unable to turn a corner without being visually confronted by Kim K in the raw.

As with all nude internet sensations, the photos have sparked a furore of polarising debates. Aside from Kim’s robot fans who have applauded her with automatic adoration, humans with brains have raised a variety of issues with the photos, from the representation of her naked body: completely hairless and oiled up, the backlash against her being a sexualised mother, the way in which a female body in and of itself can create superstardom, and the racial undertones to the images.

Some may well defend the photos as female empowerment- ‘women are entitled to do what they want’, or as just another unsurprising day in the internet world- ‘women get naked on the internet all the time, what’s the big deal?’

Fair play. Just last week, Kiera Knightley got her breasts out for a photo-shoot and comedian Tig Notaro performed an entire set, topless. Sadly, as an internet user of the 21st century, the persistent appearance of women’s bodies in the media has rendered me desensitised to seeing them at regular intervals throughout my day, whether I like it or not.

But the difference between Kiera and Kim is that they’re standing at opposite ends of the internet battlefield. While Kiera posed topless on the condition that she wasn’t photo-shopped, making a point about the great variety of women’s natural body shapes, Kim went nude to break the internet. Bravo. As ever, she wasn’t trying to convey anything inspiring or profound. At most, the photos are a continuation of Jean-Paul Goude’s trademark ‘art’ that sexualises the black female body. At least, they’re a sensational attempt to generate an infamous media reputation. Gossip= clicks, and clicks = money.

The photos are standing in a long line of recent internet battles over women’s bodies. The leaked nude photo scandal brought issues of authorisation and consent under the spotlight. Calvin Klein’s size 10 model begged the question, ‘Which size is plus size?’, and Victoria’s Secret’s ‘Perfect Body’ campaign sparked a torrent of bullets against the promotion of one limiting archetype of the female body. Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 15.26.52

Whether each of these debates have been settled in a positive or negative light- or not at all- the sheer frequency and ferocity with which women’s bodies are being verbally attacked, defended and dissected on the internet demonstrates the disheartening reality that the internet has fast become a battleground for the female form. Women’s bodies are being pushed back and forth in internet spats, as lifeless pawns to be claimed or defended like territory. They’re hostage to cyberspace whether the women behind the bodies like it or not.

I might be a dreamer, but I look forward to the dawn of web utopia: the day that women’s naked bodies aren’t plastered so freely all over the internet. But if they are, the best possible public response will be one of complete and utter indifference. That’s the day we’ll know that women’s bodies have ceased to become the hotly contested benchmark against which we measure the value of women themselves.

In this sense, Kim’s photos are nothing new, just another battle amid a war that’s already raging.

What continues to bother me about the photos is that they edge closer to achieving their lurid goal of ‘breaking the internet’ every time they get talked about- praise or no praise.

So please, can we stop liking, sharing and talking about Kim Kardashian’s body and use the internet for something a little more worth our time? Quick, somebody grab an iPhone and pass me the ice bucket.

Edgy Leeds: has the phenomenon come full circle?

4 Nov Screenshot_2014-09-26-11-47-47-1

Comparing student fashion fads from South Carolina to Leeds: do all edgy nonconformists now look the same?

Since returning from my study abroad adventure in South Carolina and delving into a whirlwind schedule of final-year studies at Leeds, I’ve started to appreciate certain aspects of British university culture in a new light.

While the edgy Leeds phenomenon is nothing new to me, coming back to campus after a year away has made the grungy, vintage, second-hand look seem even more distinct than ever.

For anyone who hasn’t stumbled across what it means to be edgy in Leeds, all you have to do is (look out the window) or Google ‘edgy Leeds’ to get the gist. There you’ll find numerous news articles by The Tab and The Gryphon mulling over the trend, and the Twitter accounts of ‘edgy girl’ and ‘edgy boy Leeds’, tweeting utter gems like:
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The nucleus lying at the core of the stereotype is a student dressing exclusively in vintage, second-hand clothing, wearing hand-made jewellery, (preferably accumulated from gap year travels) travel pants from India, oversized jumpers, Nike Air Max, stuff with holes in, (both deliberate and accidental), oversized scrunchies, chokers, and championing a refined taste for house music and borderline club nights the rest of us mainstream cattle haven’t a hope of knowing about.

The edgy look couldn’t offer a sharper contrast to the nature of college fads back in Columbia, South Carolina. Fashion trends in the Palmetto state are much more safe, careful, clean-cut and often preppy- as perfectly exemplified by the existence of a Ralph Lauren shop in the University of South Carolina’s student union, a sharp contrast against LUU’s in-house charity shop.

To any valiant South Carolinian hipsters out there: I know you exist, but you must know that to the observances of a foreign visitor, the majority outnumbers you remarkably.

As my year abroad progressed, I realised it wasn’t that the majority of students in South Carolina were simply unafraid of conformity, but that wearing similar items of clothing from the campus sports shop was a deliberate statement of solidarity: a pledge of loyalty to their beloved football team, their university, and their community.
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DSC00832If dressing alike in Garnet and Black is a statement of solidarity in South Carolina, dressing ‘edgy’ in Leeds is West Yorkshire’s irresistible fashion spin-off.

Except- and it’s a drastic exception- the edgy fashion phenomenon appears to make a statement of nonconformity, individuality and distinction rather than unanimity and team spirit, like our friends across the Atlantic.

The ultimate irony of the edgy fad is that so many people have jumped on the bandwagon that some are daring to tout it as ‘mainstream’. The effortless, alternative look that once began as a coveted trend only for those who knew its dark secrets, is coming full circle to create a sea of students treading through campus in swathes of chokers and a sea of oversized denim jackets. DSC00407

Surely, then- merely by innocent implication- mustn’t mainstream folk like me, who have been ignorant of the edgy fad from the outset, now be considered as truly edgy, wrapped in our block colour New Look cardigans and carrying our trusty River Island Handbags?

Edginess has quickly become an inescapable, polarising identity model. If I happen to like a vintage jumper or go to Flux, all of a sudden I’m accused of trying to imitate the over-saturated fad, whereas maybe, I rather plainly just like that jumper and I’d prefer to join my friends at Flux rather than sit at home on the sofa, agonising over the latent implications of my lifestyle choices amid a headache of conflated edgy-mainstream confusion.

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In the diverse society we live in, there are millions of ways to stand out from the crowd. Perhaps the edgy look does have individualistic intentions, but from the outside, it looks as if the outcome has created exactly the conventional, popular and common clothing phenomenon it set out to escape. The edgy innovators that began the trend, now scratching their half-shaved heads in despair, are probably better off moving to Columbia, South Carolina- a hipster’s utopia- where the fashion majority and minority remain strictly separate.

Top 5 moments my study abroad year made me a stronger person

26 Oct
There are times in life that push you beyond your comfort zone. Those are moments that cross a line you’ve never stepped over before, the ones that break new and unfamiliar ground. While at the time you might feel overwhelmed, confused or that you’ll never see the light at the end of the tunnel, eventually you’ll cross the Rubicon and look over your shoulder at all the hurdles you’ve overcome. DSC02884

It’s those defining moments in life that have made me a richer, stronger and more accomplished individual and I’ve never gone through more of them than during my study abroad year in South Carolina.

Here are the top five moments that my study abroad year made me a stronger person:

Day one: saying goodbye

Saying goodbye to my boyfriend, my family and my friends before I departed for South Carolina was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Not only was I nervous about the prospect of flying to the USA alone and having to make a completely new life for myself, but I was terrified by the possibility that my trans-Atlantic absence would cause my cherished relationships to grow apart. DSC00040

If that momentous plunge into the unknown wasn’t enough to make my knees buckle at the airport, arriving in Columbia without any of my suitcases added an unwelcome logistical nightmare to my long-haul emotional exhaustion.

Battling against the worst case of the flu I’ve ever had

Two days before my new friends and I were set to depart for a weekend trip to Asheville, North Carolina, I woke up with a debilitating case of the flu. It turned out to be the worst case I’ve ever had to date—my body ached, my eyes were stinging, my head was searing and then ice cold and I was waking up shuddering and covered in sweat in the middle of the night.

The only time I left the flat was to traipse through South Carolina’s first batch of snowfall in decades to visit the doctors. When I got there, I had to stick a swab up my nostrils and pay $50 for Tamiflu, which turned out to make me vomit. Needless to say, I never made it to Asheville.

Post-Christmas homesickness

While I didn’t experience much homesickness during my first semester, when I returned to South Carolina after a brief Christmas in England, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I was looking at my American surroundings with a British cultural appetite, just wishing I could curl up in a pub drinking mulled wine and eating mince pies with my loved ones at home.

No matter how incredible South Carolina was, I was still yearning for British home comforts and familiarity.

Contracting gastroenteritis in the Arizona desert

At the end of my study abroad year I decided to take a group tour through California, Arizona and Nevada with a group of 12 people I’d never met. By day three I contracted gastroenteritis, a common bug that causes the stomach and intestines to become inflamed. Anyone who has battled through it will have spent at least 24 hours projectile vomiting and running to the bathroom to cope with severe diarrhoea. DSC02787

Lucky for me, I contracted the notorious bug in the middle of a six-hour drive through the Arizona desert. No gas stations, no bathrooms, just a single road ahead surrounded by distant mountains and dust devils dancing along the horizon. We spent the afternoon stopping and starting the minivan as I launched myself out of the door to vomit on yet another helpless Joshua tree.

Having my laptop stolen in LA

When I returned to LA on the last day of my trip around the West Coast, raring to Skype home and tell my family and friends about all of my trekking tales, I came back to our hotel to discover that my laptop had been stolen.

While my new friends spent their last evening together exploring Hollywood and indulging in all-American food at the Hard Rock Café, I spent my night getting crime reference numbers at the LAPD station and calling home to try and find my laptop receipt.
While looking back down the road can be a painful trip down memory lane, revisiting these moments fills me with an immense sense of pride and gratitude. If it weren’t for my year in the States, I wouldn’t have learned that, despite everything, I have the inner strength and resolve to carry on when life gets tough.

These are the defining moments I talk about in job interviews. When an employer says “tell me about a time in your life when you had to use initiative,” I now have a bank of memories and experiences to draw from to demonstrate my energy, resilience and independence.

Above all else—isn’t that what studying abroad is all about?IMG-20140814-WA0021

This article has also been published by The News Hub and Verge Magazine

A note to the detractors of women’s sports

13 Oct

Having played competitive netball for most of my adolescent life, I’ve never doubted my freedom to enjoy team sports, regardless of whether they’re perceived to be ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’. But as Emma Watson reminded us in her opening #heforshe speech to the UN, some women often feel as though they shouldn’t play particular sports as they fear it will make them too muscly.

Some of my happiest memories growing up come from the netball court

Some of my happiest memories growing up come from the netball court

It’s disheartening yet unsurprising that such archaic views exist when people in positions of responsibility continue to perpetuate them in the media. Sports Minister Helen Grant suggested that the way to get more women into sports is through feminine activities like cheerleading and ballet, which make women look “absolutely radiant”.

John Inverdale wrenched the spotlight away from Marion Bartoli in July 2013 when she won the Wimbledon Women’s Singles Final, commenting on BBC Radio that the inspirational tennis player, who had just reached the pinnacle of her career, was ‘never going to be a looker’.

British artistic gymnast Beth Tweddle became the victim of online abuse in January when she participated in a Twitter Q&A session as part of promoting women’s sports, only to be met with derogatory insults such as ‘Are all sportswomen lesbians?’

Why is it that women are repeatedly reminded that their sporting endeavours are married to their appearance and their femininity?

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Playing the mixed-sex sport Korfball for Leeds university

Despite the fact that there are a multitude of female sporting idols making ground-breaking achievements in women’s sports, like England winning the Women’s Rugby World Cup or the fact that women won three quarters of the medals in the Sochi Olympics, old-fashioned views that competition and physical strength belong in a male arena continue to rear their ugly head.

Playing sports means different things to different people. Some relish the opportunity to make friends and invest in a team goal. Others take the opportunity to set themselves personal targets and see how far they can push their mental grit and physical strength. Most enjoy the powerful endorphin rush that’s released during strenuous exercise, which brings them back to the netball court, football pitch or athletics track- even after the most bitter of defeats.

To the detractors of women’s sports: stop robbing women of these worthwhile enjoyments and replacing them with your bigoted ideas about what it means to be a woman. You never know, when sportswomen are at the peak of their game, sweating buckets, in the zone, determined to win- that’s the moment they’ll be feeling ‘absolutely radiant’.

How to save money when you head back to university

27 Sep

For many students, returning to university in September can prove quite a shock after a whole Summer of home comforts and help from Mum and Dad.

Listing site wrappler.com quizzed parents whose children were about to leave for university, asking them what items they bought and for what price. The study found that mums and dads spend an average of £1215.54 on equipping their teenagers for heading away from home on items such as a new laptop, bedding and new cookware.

So with the bank of Mum and Dad thoroughly exhausted, when the student loans come in, you’ll want to make sure you spend those precious pennies as wisely as possible before resorting to your overdraft too early in the new term. Here are some useful ways to save money early in semester one:

Food and drink

 If you’re planning on getting a take-away with your new housemates, check out hungryhouse’s latest deal. They’re offering every single student in the UK 25% discount on a takeaway order. Enter your name and university email address into their Feeding Freshers Portal any time before 5th October and they will send you your discount code.

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For your Fresher’s week pre-drinks, head to Tescos as they’re offering multi-packs of beer, lager and cider at 2 for £20. Sorted!

If you love student cooking, but aren’t quite ready for Great British Bake-Off yet and you fancy the chance to win £1000 worth of groceries, check out Bacofoil’s new competition. Screen Shot 2014-09-27 at 08.58.19

All you have to do is upload a picture of your signature home-cooked student meal to Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #BacofoilStudentCook before 31st December to be in with a chance of attending the final cook-off and winning the grand prize. Entries will be judged by presentation skills and creativity of the dish.

Finally, check out Heinz’s new range of delicious beans and pulses. They’re different from the usual student staple of ordinary baked beans, with a variety of new flavours and chunkier textures to help make your meals more varied. But they still take minimal preparation time- great for when you’re working on a deadline. I added the Tuscan beans to a sausage hotpot and it was just what I needed after a long day studying in the confines of the cold library! Screenshot_2014-09-16-10-03-25-1

Home supplies

Instead of heading to your student union’s shop for overpriced stationary every time your pens run out, why not bulk-buy essential items at the start of the year? I got mega-packs of pens, tea towels, scourers and more from Viking at seriously competitive prices- and I’m stocked up and ready to go for the year ahead.

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Freebies and discounts

Walking through campus during Fresher’s week can sometimes feel like an information overload. All you wanted to do was meet your friends for lunch, but instead you’re being harangued to join the choir, sign up to the Marxist society or become a student ambassador. Screenshot_2014-09-26-21-16-42-1

Not to mention the inadvertent game of dodgeball you have to play while swerving all the leaflets being thrusted in your personal space.

While I’ve politely nodded and subsequently thrown many of these leaflets into the recycling bin, some of them have been worth keeping. I’ve had vouchers for free drinks at The Library Pub, Leeds, numerous helpings of free Dominoes pizza, a buy one get one free voucher for the Hyde Park Picturehouse and 30% off my total bill at The Handmade Burger Company. So think twice before you say no to campus leaflets…

Transport

Screen Shot 2014-09-27 at 09.11.15If you’re living out of town this year and are weighing up whether to pay hundreds of pounds for an annual bus pass, do some research into university bike hire. The University of Leeds offers bike rental for £35 a semester, which is practically theft when you consider that the average single bus ticket costs £2.20. Cycling to uni is a great way not only to save money, but to stay fit and active during the year.

For weekends travelling home and visiting friends at their universities, don’t forget to renew your 16-25 student railcard, which costs £30 for one year or £70 for three, giving you a third off all rail journeys in the UK.

                                                  Entertainment 

46819_10151365110379836_1561084860_nWant to try something new to bond with your flatmates? Most universities run Give It A Go sessions for their clubs and societies, so that students can dip their toe in the water without buying full memberships. For example, why not try Vertical Fitness’s Give It A Go pole-dancing and acrobatic circus skills session, for just £2? Or try a new sport by visiting the free Korfball Give It A Go on the 15th October.

If you’d like to get out of town for a day or two, The University of Leeds also runs regular day and weekend trips around the beautiful surrounding countryside and the Yorkshire Dales National Park, and most trips are under £20. There’s no excuse not to dive in!

  Shopping

While many students will rely on their student cards for a 10% discount in many high street shops, it’s worth considering getting an additional NUS card for £12, as it comes with a variety of extra discounts, like 25% off at National Express and 10% off The Co-Operative Food.

Once the student loans come in and you’re raring to go on a shopping trip, consider checking out the wide variety of charity shops, thrift shops and vintage clothing shops around town. I’ve started to venture into these recently and have found some really distinctive pieces for affordable price tags.

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American college cardi, £14, Pop Boutique

10 ways to decorate your student digs on a budget

15 Sep

It’s that time of year again. You’re ordering your course books, stocking up on baked beans and squeezing boxes into the car before descending upon your beloved student towns and cities. It might be the first time you’re flying the nest or the last time you’ll be making that familiar journey down the motorway. Whatever the case- most student digs could use a little TLC to go from downright shabby to shabby chic.

Here are ten ways to get creative and decorate your student digs on a budget: without losing your all-important deposits.

Photo hangings

Most students stick a collage of their favourite photos on the wall with blue-tack or selotape. But this can get frustrating when photos fall on your face in the middle of the night, or when your landlord charges you at the end of the year for peeling off bits of the wallpaper. Making photo hangings is a cheap and unique way to display photos of your loved ones without the extra fuss.

You will need:

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Ribbon (I got mine from Samuel Taylor’s fabric shop in Leeds, 3 for £1)

Paint (I used a Dulux tester pot in Coral Flair from Wilkinson’s, £1.55)

Wooden clothes pegs (Mine were 90p from Wilkinson’s)

Push pins (300 for 75p at Wilko’s)

All-purpose strong glue (I got mine from Leeds University Union- great to have around the house for the rest of the year)

Directions:

Lay out scrap paper or newspaper on a flat surface and paint the clothes pegs. 
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Stand them on their end and leave them to dry for a couple of hours.

Glue the dry clothes pegs to the ribbon, leaving enough space for a photo in between each peg.

Pin the string of pegs to the wall in your bedroom, lounge or kitchen and start pinning your favourite photos, tickets and memorabilia to your gorgeous new wall hangings.

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Plus- if you have any clothes pegs left over you can glue them to cork boards or stick them on the fridge with blue tack.

Grab some home bargains at Wilkinson’s

While I was shopping in Wilko’s for the photo hanging materials, I stumbled across some other unmissable bargains. Check out this mantel clock that was on sale for £2, and these photo frames for £1 each:

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Jam-jar tea lights

Tie any leftover ribbon from the photo hangings around some used jam-jars, and then place a tea light in each one to make some vintage-style lanterns. You can find multi-packs of tea lights in Primark for £1. Gorgeous!

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Load your sofas with throws and cushions

To make your student lounge feel like a cosy den, make sure each housemate brings along a couple of throws and old cushions and load them onto your sofas. It saves you staring at stains on the sofas all year and is a great way to create a homely feel for movie nights throughout the year. Primark have a great ‘British cushions’ range starting at £4.

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Bunting

This is the home touch to make Mary Berry proud. Bunting is a great way to give your home that quintessentially British-vintage-garden-party feel without splashing out on Cath Kidston accessories. You can make your own with fabric from haberdashery shops or buy some from Amazon or Tescos.

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Flags and fairy lights

When I arrived at my new student pad I needed to find a way to cover up my bedroom walls which were dotted with chips and blue-tack stains from the previous tenants (They should have made photo hangings…) I mounted some flags from my study abroad year on my wall and hooked some fairy lights over the push pins at the top. I got my flags from various markets in America, but you can find hundreds of flags from your favourite countries on eBay and Amazon, or from Sports Direct if you don’t want to pay for postage.

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Pop into Paperchase for quirky finds

Many of my decorations in my new student house are from Paperchase. It’s not usually the cheapest stationary shop, but there are some items worth checking out. I’ve used their vintage London tube map wrapping paper as a poster, and some of their postcards as wall decorations.

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Personalised letters

I found these sweet decorative letters In Leeds University Union’s CATS shop. They’re great to stick on walls and fridges, or to put in birthday cards as initials for doors and belongings. If you don’t want to pay 20p for each letter, make them yourself with cardboard or leftover bunting material.

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Wine bottle candles

I admired these wine bottle candles while on holiday in Crete last summer. Just place a taper candle of your desired colour and fragrance into the top of a used wine bottle (or coke bottle, spirit bottle or any used glass bottles you’re bound to have lying around the house…) and let the wax drip down the sides for a cool layering effect. Add some more when you fancy another colour! Cheap taper candles are available from Wilko’s.

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Bean tin plant-pots

The next time you’re inhaling a hungover helping of beans on toast in the morning, boil the kettle and leave the tin to soak in hot soapy water. When the water has cooled down, scrub the label from the tin and dry. You can use the tin as a plant pot, or if you have any paint left over from the photo hangings, paint the tin your desired colour first.

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5 transferable skills that will boost your career in journalism

5 Sep

Thinking about a career in journalism? You might already have what it takes

When you apply for a position in journalism, there are a number of career-specific requirements that employers will be looking for. A diverse portfolio of articles, experience working in a newsroom and shorthand proficiency are some of the essentials that make for a killer CV.

But if you’re moving into journalism from another career path, don’t despair. Here are five transferable skills you might already have that could help boost your CV to the top of the pile:

Communication skills

This truly is the pièce de résistance. The clincher. The bottom line that any interviewer will want to know: how well can you communicate what you want to say?

The first requirement under this umbrella term is verbal and conversational skills. Screen Shot 2014-06-13 at 11.21.25

When you find a story that you desperately want to get published, you’ll need to be able to articulate your ideas to your editor and explain them coherently. Then, when you’re working on that story, conducting interviews and making contacts, you’re going to have to be clear, concise- and preferably, slightly charming- in order to get the information you need as quickly as possible and leave a lasting impression with those you interact with.

Remember- it is always better to ring people for information or interviews- don’t hide behind emails as your main communication channel.

It also helps if you can communicate a degree of emotional intelligence. You’re bound to be working on stories that surround sensitive topics, and it helps if you convey sensitivity and understanding when interviewing people and writing your final piece.

That brings me to the second requirement, which is writing skills. Writing is at the core of journalism, whether you’re looking at a role in digital or print, and there’s no way around the old-school necessity of high-quality fluency, grammar and punctuation.

Touch-typing

As a third of UK bosses say they won’t hire someone unless they can touch type, and 42% of people type with just one or two fingers, being able to touch-type is an invaluable skill you’ll want to flaunt on your application. 

The Telegraph offices, London

The Telegraph offices, London

Journalists are often typing, whether it’s researching stories, typing up interviews or frantically bashing the keys on deadline day, so speeding up your typing time will make you a more efficient candidate.

If you’re still prodding the keyboard with your index fingers, check out Microsoft’s latest #TypingMatters campaign that is offering free touch-typing software downloads, so that you can become more employable from the comfort of your own home.

Data Analysis

Did you notice how knowledgeable I sounded with those typing statistics? Quoting clear and accurate data in news reports is a great way to use solid evidence to support any claim.

As a journalist you’ll receive endless amounts of press releases containing various facts and figures, and it helps if you know how best to use them in order to validate what you’re trying to say.

Multi-media proficiency

In the digital age, not only is it essential to master emails, images, Word, Power-point, Excel and all the other traditional tech programs, but now you’re going to have to show an aptitude for videos, gifs, sound clips, listicles, clickbait, Youtube, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and so on.  viewpointsheader

But employers don’t just want to see a list of all the programs and media outlets you can use. They want you to show that you know when it’s best to use different forms of media for each given situation, and to be able to explain how a certain type of media will best enhance your particular story.  

Research skills

Often, what makes a news story so interesting to read is the fact that it’s an exclusive. An undiscovered treasure that you got to before anyone else. In order to find a truly unique story you’ll need top-notch research skills to unearth information sources and the persistence to keep pursuing your story, even when key contacts fall silent. 

If you’re having a slow news day and want to impress your editor with a story of your own, try using www.topsy.com to search and analyse the social web, or to find out what’s trending near you.

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