Rose Johnstone, Time Out Melbourne editor

Rose Johnstone
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"Going into things you’re unsure of and just saying, ‘I’m gonna try’ are the best kinds of experiences." Time Out Melbourne editor, Rose Johnstone, talks to Scott Renton about her approach to journalism and work on the lifestyle and culture magazine.

What inspired you to become a journalist?

It’s lame, but ever since I was little I wanted to be a journalist. When I was really little I created the ‘Johnstone News’ and gave it to my family, so I was already really interested as a kid. One of the reasons I’m still attracted is because it’s fast-paced, it’s timely and you get to add to the public conversation.

How did you start out?

I did a Bachelor of Media and Communications at Melbourne University. I realised I wanted to be a journalist. So I did a Masters of Editing, Publishing and Creative Writing. To get some experience I did a lot of writing for Farrago, Melbourne University’s student magazine, and got an internship at Time Out. Eventually they had room to employ me. I did that for a year then the editor at the time left and they promoted me.

Have you ever found something difficult to write, morally or ethically?

I’m quite an animal rights person. Time Out does a lot of food journalism. Usually I’m fine with it but some restaurants are very meat-oriented. The only thing I really put my foot down on is covering the racing season. Personally, I’m against all that. But I don’t think Time Out readers are especially into racing.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve written?

As an intern I got asked to do a piece on dorky activities in Melbourne. The editor asked me to go ‘larping’, which is live action role playing. That stuff with medieval armour and sword fights in the park. It was actually really fun.

The best thing about working at Time Out?

The excitement of covering lots of amazing things. It’s always changing and moving. Melbourne’s arts landscape is so exciting at the moment, so it’s a privilege to be a part of that.

 The world of journalism can be pretty stressful and demanding. How do you chill out?

It can be hard, but I always make sure that on the weekends I don’t make plans during the day. If things come along, I sort of have to be more stringent about saying no to stuff. I feel like I haven’t quite perfected chilling out aside from having too many wines and cigarettes! My housemates are super chill, though, so the house is calming.

What traits does a person need to be a good editor?

Very good organisational skills. The ability to be decisive and trust your own judgement is important, too. That was hard at first, because as a staff writer you ask someone if you’re unsure of anything. Once you’re the editor you just have to make your own call. You need a really good ability to see what is really going to resonate with readers, and how you’re going to sell that to people. That’s a skill which definitely improves over time.

As an editor, do you still get to go along to events, or are you usually too busy?

When I was lifestyle editor I would go out a lot. Now during the day I don’t really get to leave. I’m mostly reading other peoples work, commissioning articles from freelancers and managing a weekly email newsletter. I try and only say yes to things that I really want to do or are essential. I get invites to things like random fashion openings, blogger dinners and stuff like that, which I generally have to say no to.

How should students go about breaking into the industry?

Internships and unpaid work experience is a really good thing, but there’s a point where you do have to put a price on yourself. Don’t be afraid to approach publications with pitches. If you think you have an idea then go for it! It’s all about building your portfolio. There are more students than there are jobs right now. Taking on less glamorous jobs, casting your net wider and accepting you might need to bide your time is important. I keep this really good quote in mind that reads something like ‘being a journalist is about the art of becoming an instant expert’.

What’s been your favourite story?

I wrote a piece on supernatural stuff in Melbourne. I met a ghost hunter and learned about searching for paranormal people. He had recordings of ghosts and all this crazy stuff. Going into things you’re unsure of and just saying, ‘I’m gonna try’ are the best kinds of experiences.