Hannah Watkin talks to young journalists about how the pandemic has affected their careers and lives.
Getting started in one’s career is tough, but getting started during a pandemic is even tougher.
As a 22-year-old who has had to kickstart my own career in journalism during the Covid-19 pandemic, I understand this all too well.
To continue researching the effect of the pandemic on young people starting their careers in Wales, I spoke to three other young individuals in Wales’ journalism sector.
Josie Le Vay was working at the Powys County Times when the pandemic struck, and found the nature of remote working challenging:
‘The loss of social interaction with colleagues wasn’t just difficult on a personal emotional level, but on a practical one too. I was used to bouncing ideas around the room and asking for help when I needed it; something we couldn’t really replicate on Zoom.’
Another challenge which hit Josie’s team was a lack of content.
‘One of our key features was having individual news pages for all of the towns we cover. We ended up having to merge a lot of the towns together as there was no longer enough news to fill the columns with, and it was a real challenge trying to find stories that weren’t related to the pandemic.’
“The uncertainty of the pandemic made me ‘pull my socks up’ and realise that I held the reins of my future.”
After two years at the paper and having qualified as a senior reporter, Josie decided it was time to move on:
‘[Seeing] our team of reporters shrinking, as well as news that our office would close, was one hell of a shock to the system. It had always been my plan to leave the paper after qualifying as a senior reporter, but Covid made the urge to leave stronger.’
Inspired by her time covering court cases for the paper, Josie moved to Manchester to study an MA in Law. Just like students across the UK, Josie found studying during Covid a strange experience.
‘I started my MA in September 2020. We were originally on campus two days a week for workshops.
As weird as they were – wearing masks and sitting on individual desks, not being allowed to face each other – I came to miss them after another lockdown resulted in moving entirely to online teaching.
I’ve struggled with my mental health after moving to a new city during lockdown. University is supposed to be a social environment but that’s just not possible during a pandemic.’
Gwen Jones, the 22-year-old founder of The Inspired Narrative, shared with me similar feelings about the pandemic’s effect on her Journalism and Publishing degree.
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‘It’s been challenging, but it’s amazing how quickly we can adapt to change.
The part I’ve found most difficult is not seeing my course-mates as frequently [as before], and missing casual conversations with tutors that were only really had during face-to-face contact.’
Although times have been tough, the pandemic has brought about some positive change for Gwen.
‘The uncertainty of the pandemic made me ‘pull my socks up’ and realise that I held the reins of my future and that it was time to start creating opportunities for the future. I started putting more time and energy into my content on Instagram and engaging with my followers.’
As a result of her increased work on her mental health blog, Gwen’s work was featured with BBC Wales and BBC Cymru Fyw.
In her work as a support worker with Bath Mind, Gwen has seen first hand the increased strain the pandemic has brought on so many minds.
‘There has definitely been an increase in service use. Finding therapists with availability has been an issue, which is concerning given the already long waiting list for NHS mental health support.’
“The speed in which everything happened was overwhelming… crying became the norm.”
Mia Holt is a young journalist who has been working successfully in the journalism sector since 2011.
‘Like so many others, Covid pretty much had an overnight impact on my life. I was made redundant and had to decide whether to stick out the pandemic in the city or use the time to re-focus where I was heading in my career.’
Prior to moving from London to Cardiff to study a Masters at the University, Mia got involved in organising virtual workshops for students there whose industry placements were cancelled by the pandemic.
‘Everything was so uncertain; publications were announcing redundancies and they were concerned there wouldn’t be any jobs for them.
We ran workshops on pitching, writing CVs and cover letters, and encouraged conversations about freelance rates so that they felt prepared for the possibility of freelancing for a little while before they could nab a 9-5.’
Mia feels the pandemic has been especially challenging for the youngest individuals in the journalism sector.
‘It’s been incredibly difficult for all of us this past year but for young people who are leaving behind education, saying goodbye to the comfort of familiar faces and entering the world of work for the first time this has been such a testing journey. I don’t think we’ve heard enough voices talking about that.’
Josie echoed Mia’s thoughts about the effect the pandemic on the youngest individuals entering the industry:
“No extra qualification is going to help young people into jobs that don’t exist.”
‘I think lockdown must have been particularly hard on those graduating in 2020. I know that the Welsh Government has put funding in place to help young people in Wales get into the job market. However, no extra qualification is going to help young people into jobs that don’t exist.’
Uncertainties caused by the pandemic took a toll on Mia’s mental health, just as they did to many others.
‘The speed in which everything happened was overwhelming. I don’t think I realised at the time how much stress I was actually under; crying became the norm. One minute I was going to work and aiming for X, Y and Z and then next thing I knew none of that existed anymore. I adapted, but I didn’t come through unscathed.’
Mia has, however, like both Gwen and Josie, been able to find positives in her own experience of the pandemic’s disruption.
‘Going through a redundancy during a pandemic was challenging, but it pushed me to go through my contacts book and start freelancing again.
I tried to see the positives and just pushed on. This industry is creative by nature; whenever something shakes it, those working within it always pivot and find a new way to come together and create.’
Mia’s words here, combined with the positive experiences that she, Josie and Gwen gained during the pandemic, reflect how despite the negative effects of the pandemic, there are still many reasons for the youngest members of Wales’ journalism sector to feel hopeful for the future.
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