This week Griffith journalism graduate Tara Cunningham starts her new job at The Daily Telegraph in London. We caught up with her before her big move to find out how studying at postgraduate level helped her change careers so she could pursue her passion for journalism.
Name: Tara Cunningham
Year of graduation: 2014
Home Town / Country: Cootehill, Co. Cavan
Tell Us About Yourself …
I am 27 years old from Cootehill, Co. Cavan. Ten years ago I moved to Dublin to study Commerce in UCD, subsequent to which I undertook an MSc in Finance from the Michael Smurfit School of Business, UCD. Following a four-year period working in banking, as a graduate in Bank of Ireland and a Capital Markets Risk Analyst in Ulster Bank, I decided it was the right time to pursue my passion. Juxtaposing my love of business/finance and writing I decided to embark on a MA in Journalism and Media Communications at Griffith College and thankfully, I have been working in the industry since then.
What are you doing now?
I’m in the process of moving to London, as I’m joining The Daily Telegraph as a Business Reporter for six months from the first week of May.
Prior to that, I was freelancing for over a year across four media companies in Ireland. As a freelance researcher in Newstalk I worked across an array of programmes but most notably Lunchtime and Breakfast Business. In RTÉ, I joined the business desk in the newsroom as a multi-media journalist on a freelance basis. As a media analyst I worked with Olytico, a social media monitoring and analysis company founded by Stephen O’Leary, a lecturer and graduate of Griffith College, and I was involved in a project with Business and Finance.
What is it like to work in the media industry in Ireland?
It’s tough to carve out a career in the media industry in Ireland. I had no connections in the industry when I began my master’s course, so perseverance was the key. I knocked on numerous doors seeking work experience. Unlike other industries, you have to be willing to do a couple of months work for free. I was fortunate in that following some work experience I began freelancing. However, once you’re in the door, the opportunities to coalesce with eminent journalists are plentiful and serve to enrich your professional development. My advice is to talk to everyone, and always ask for feedback – it’s the only way you will improve and stand out in this industry.
What do you foresee as the main challenges for journalists over the next 5 – 10 years?
I think digital technology and the immediacy and brevity of social media platforms have changed the face of journalism. You are no longer writing a piece for tomorrow’s newspaper, you’re writing for now. Given the shift towards digital technology, journalists will have to be skilled at penning news stories across all platforms. Adapting to a permanent life as a freelancer could be a real challenge for journalists in the future as the permanency is increasingly difficult to find within media organisations.
Do you feel there are many job opportunities in the sector at the moment?
No I think given the nature of the industry most are aware that opportunities within the sector are few. However, I think perseverance, ambition and hard work pay off. Having spent a year freelancing, I decided to look on an international platform – you have to be willing to move to where the opportunities are if you’re serious about a career in journalism.
Image: Tara Cunningham with award-winning UK journalist and news broadcaster Jon Snow at the Newstalk offices
Has your postgraduate MA qualification from Griffith College helped you in your career?
Most definitely. Before undertaking the MA I loved writing. Like many I had a blog and was trying to publish some articles. However, the skillset I acquired during the MA honed my writing skills, and equipped me to work across a myriad of platforms including radio, digital etc. As part of the MA, Griff FM, the college radio station, runs live for a week every year, and the experience you gain about the real-time pressures of being part of a live radio programme are invaluable and most certainly helped me when I joined Newstalk as a freelancer.
Why did you choose Griffith?
When applying it was the course that appealed to me – it seemed to have the right mix of academic teaching and practical work to equip me with a balanced skillset in the real world of journalism.
What did you like most about Griffith?
It always felt like the lecturers were readying us for real life work as a journalist. The calibre of journalists lecturing in Griffith is exceptional, from the true academics to lecturers who currently work in the industry. Both my sports journalism and radio journalism lecturers work in the industry and as such can offer a real insight into the industry for those about to embark on a career in journalism. Also of importance is that when you leave Griffith, the faculty staff remains in touch – you’re not just a number. The lecturers are interested to see how their students’ progress, so there’s real support on a one-to-one basis.
Did you feel prepared when you arrived and/or what surprised you?
Yes I felt prepared, because given the nature of the industry I knew I would be entering following my masters, I wanted to be 100% focused from day one.
What was the highlight of your course?
There were a few highlights for me. I thoroughly enjoyed the week on Griff FM radio. Together with a group from my class, we ran a breakfast show live on air (quite successfully) for a week. We sourced our own guests from the political arena (including government ministers) to the entertainment sphere. I was also extremely proud of my dissertation. I thoroughly enjoyed the research that I undertook and the finished product, all 20,000 words of it!
What’s the most useful thing you learnt / experienced whilst studying at Griffith?
There were lots - how to work the radio studio, use Cool Edit, post stories online, file for a deadline, make my own magazine, how to stick to a word count… every day I was learning practical skills needed in the industry, which is great because when you start working you are ready to go.
Can you tell us a little about your dissertation subject and how you chose it?
I penned my dissertation on ‘Irish Youth: Are they a demographic misrepresented by the media?’ Personally, I felt the media often juxtaposed anti-social behaviour and young people so I explored the existence of misrepresentation in the coverage of young people by the Irish media.
During a four-week period, I conducted a content analysis on four newspapers, namely, The Irish Daily Mirror, The Irish Sun, The Irish Independent and The Irish Times. Any news articles during this time period that referenced young people were documented, and the results were analysed at a later stage to highlight how young people are represented by the media.
Areas such as headlines, lexical choice, sentiment, photography and so on, were considered during the course of the content analysis. My results outlined that the majority of news articles presented young people in a negative manner, while 59% of articles related to violence/criminal activity. A gender divide emerged also, and the differentiation between wording utilised by tabloids and broadsheets became apparent.
Would you recommend the course, the college and city to other students?
Most definitely. If you’re interested in journalism and media it is a really engaging course, the college has a great support system in the shape of the faculty and Dublin is a great city to live in.
Best bits of student life at Griffith …
I returned to college as a mature student, so I wasn’t exactly there for the parties!
Best thing about Dublin ...
Sandymount strand (by far the best place for a run in Dublin and a little escapism).
Is there anything you wish someone had told you at the time you applied?
Attempt to get some work experience in the industry during the year.
What are your main tips for new Griffith journalism and media postgraduate students?
Embrace every assignment given to you, think like a journalist from day 1 - read every newspaper available, listen to great radio stations. Identify your niche in the industry, and attempt to hone it while at Griffith. Also, remember the door at Griffith’s journalism faculty is always open – and seek advice from lecturers when necessary.
Is there anything else you can think of that is good to know about studying a course at Griffith’s Faculty of Journalism and Media?
It’s a really practical course – it is a course that shapes students into journalists. From live radio programmes, TV documentaries, radio documentaries, and news days, to interviewing everyone from sports stars to prominent political figures, the MA offers you an opportunity to build a portfolio of work before you even enter the industry, and I think that helps one stand apart from others when you begin in the industry.
What are your plans for the future?
I would love to continue my progression as a journalist within the realm of business, and become an established business reporter – with hopes of one day rising through the ranks to business editor. I also want to undertake a PhD and lecture journalism students in the future.
Do you have any tips for postgrad students currently writing their dissertations?
Choose a topic that you are truly interested in, as given the time you need to dedicate to it being passionate about your topic is very important. Personally, I believe if you’re really engaged with your chosen topic, you’ll ultimately produce a better-finished product.
Also, don’t focus on the word count; 20,000 words may seem like a daunting target, but it’s manageable, take it chapter by chapter. Make a timetable for completing your dissertation and try your best to stick to it – it avoids the last minute rush. Get another set of eyes to proof read it.
Interview by Lydia Casey