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Student case study - Tom N

Tom N

How do you get to sit in the editor's chair of a glossy business magazine while you're still in your 20s?

Well, a spell back in the classroom could prove a sound investment, it seems - even for somebody who has already gained some "hands-on" industry experience.

Tom Norton, and English and law graduate, admits that he "stumbled into" magazine journalism at the age of 21 after an application to do work experience for Zoo magazine was successful.

"I've always enjoyed writing and for as long as I can remember have been an avid reader of everything from books to magazine features, website articles and newspaper stories," he says. "That said, I'd be lying if I said my application to Zoo magazine was driven by a burning desire to make something of myself in the publishing industry.

"Fortunately, at that time titles like Zoo were fairly accommodating in that they let you come and work for free for them for a while and pay your travel expenses, and I worked at their offices for a fortnight, managing to get my writing on the website and getting my mug shot in the magazine doing something embarrassing.

"While it was only a brief flirtation with writing and magazine journalism, it was enough to leave me wanting another - preferably full-time - taste. The idea of being paid to write and showcase your own creative or editorial voice for people to actually read seemed a far more appealing career route than any other I'd considered over the years."

He contacted all the titles he felt comfortable writing for and one of the few to answer his email was the "lads' mag" Maxim, then owned by Dennis Publishing. A two-week spell on their website and online magazine helped him to secure a full-time junior position there.

"Though I was on a relatively meagre sum of money for London, it's probably not hard to imagine why I loved every minute of it," he recalls. "Unfortunately, much like a number of titles in recent years, lack of advertising revenue meant the plug was pulled on the title, and after an unforgettable year, I found myself redundant.

"This left me in the somewhat difficult position of knowing precisely what I wanted to do with my career, but unfortunately stuck in a market so saturated by other experienced, like-minded folk that this didn't offer much solace at all."

Contacts Tom had made at Dennis meant he was initially kept relatively busy in a freelance capacity and taught him a valuable lesson in networking as much as humanely possible.

"Even if you find the job of your dreams at the best paper in the country, always keep in touch with people that could offer you work in some capacity further down the line. You never know when you might have to sing for your supper again," he says.

"But after about a year and a half of doing this, I was becoming increasingly disillusioned about finding a suitable writing job, feeling constantly bettered by those with more experience or perhaps - I often cynically thought - better contacts."

And that's where the idea of returning to the classroom for the LSJ's six-month postgraduate course seemed like a good idea.

"While I was fairly confident in my ability to write for a range of titles, it was during this time in the relative freelance wilderness that I decided to focus on expanding my journalistic/writing credentials.

"Though I considered my limited experience to have had taught me a little about 'the industry', in truth, I'd never thought of myself as a journalist. And while conventional newspaper publishing is incontrovertibly is in decline, I was certain that more people were reading the news than ever before.

"With that in mind, I decided I wanted to learn everything I didn't know about journalism as a whole, hone my writing/subbing/proofreading skills, and perhaps - and to me this was the most important aspect - learn from my peers in the field.

"I'm pleased to say six months down the line the course met every one of these aspirations. Fears that it would be wasted on someone who'd been 'involved' in publishing over the last two years were completely unfounded, and it proved to be not only an invaluable experience at the time, but one that I'm certain played a huge hand in securing me my current position."

The editorship in question was at Sound & Stage magazine for ITP Publishing in Dubai; a B2B title centred around the events and production industry in the Middle East.

The opportunity came at a time when it was only too easy to feel disillusioned by the oppressive round of endless job applications and rejections, he admits.

"I genuinely thought of giving up a hundred times, and grew to loathe people who just told me to 'stick at it' and something would turn up. Well, as it turns out, sometimes it does - and often in ways you can never really imagine.

"For those happy to relocate, I fully recommend looking into the Middle East. The ex-pat community is huge, and publishing here is still a burgeoning and exciting industry."

New magazine launches are frequent, which adds to the range of exciting job opportunities available, and salaries are very competitive. ITP alone has 79 titles under its publishing umbrella, including Esquire, Time Out, Grazia and OK.

He says: "It's a little out of my wheelhouse given my past publishing experience, but if the LSJ taught me anything, it's the importance of expanding your writing experience whenever and wherever possible.

"I love the organisation so far, and as daunting a prospect as it is having full ownership of a magazine, I'm enjoying it immensely."