Charlotte Grieve, freelancer and writer for The Citizen website

Charlotte Grieve says it doesn’t matter how long you have been in the industry, there are always challenges. Photo Ainsleigh Oates
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“There’s so many different places a story can come from, but not all stories go somewhere.” Freelancer and writer for The Citizen Charlotte Grieve talks to Ainsleigh Oates about finding her feet in such a competitive industry.

Why did you get into print and what is your experience with freelancing?

I started doing print work at this small community paper in Sydney, and that was really fun. I absolutely loved it, it was understaffed, underfunded and so derelict; the paint was chipping off the walls, the whole thing was hilarious. I guess my passion for print started there.

All throughout my Masters I was pitching stories that I wrote for assignments to publications; I have had a couple published in The Age, SBS and one in The Guardian, so I was using assignments as a chance to freelance because I had the teachers to help me work on it.

What are your career goals/aspirations?

The original plan, because I did International Relations, was that I would do the journalism course and I would become a foreign correspondent… until I realised how incredibly difficult that is and that all the foreign correspondents are very senior journalists. I now know I need to stay in Australia to get some real experience. However, the more work I’ve done in Australia the more I’ve realised there are some really good stories here, so my feet are less itchy to go and be a journalist somewhere else because we do have a lot of stuff going on here that needs to be reported on.

What are the highlights and challenges of your job?

Working in a small publication, it’s difficult to get people to want to talk to you. Everyone’s obviously really busy and has got a million other journalists contacting them, so getting them to sit down and chat for any period of time is quite difficult. It requires a lot of following up, borderline harassing people.

Researching as well, you’re constantly putting yourself in a situation where you don’t know much about a topic you’re writing a story about. The other day I was interviewing this guy about biomass and I only knew such a tiny little bit about biomass and how it works; you’re constantly throwing yourself in the deep end.

Even so, it’s a really good feeling when you write a story and you’re proud of it and you can say, yes that was exactly how I wanted it to go, and you get good feedback from the people you interviewed and throughout the process.

Do you have any tips or suggestions for people wanting to get into journalism?

Just to do as much work experience as possible, and treat every assignment like it’s something that can be published. Try and pitch it to as many different publications as possible. Rejection is something that [journalists] have to get used to. The more that you’re sending your stories out, the more your name is becoming recognisable to editors and you can get a feel of what people want and don’t want. Also, if you’re pitching make sure you know the publication that you’re pitching to, don’t just go in blind with a story because there’s obviously a lot of different tones and styles that a publication is looking for.

What would you say your style of writing is, and where has it come from?

I’m still definitely working on it, every article I write is trying to work on that style and find it. But it would mostly be informed by two mentors that I have had: Jo Chandler, my editor now, and Andrew Dodd who I was in Jordan with. Jordan was a study tour between UTS and Swinburne. Eight students went over for two weeks, we had a partnership with SBS and had to pitch ideas to them for stories. It was an amazing, amazing experience, definitely one of the most informative points in my journalism studies.

It was a really intense two weeks of writing out articles quite quickly and Andrew sat with me quite a lot and we’d go through stories pretty meticulously. He would give me advice like ‘use less words, get straight to the point’, and I think that ‘less is more’ style is what I’ve tried to keep going with throughout my work.

Is it sometimes hard to find things to write about?

This is definitely an issue, especially when you move cities and you don’t really have the contact base, and I’ve been trying to build up a contact base for however long I’ve been here. A lot of my stories come from reading the news or speaking to people; there are so many different places stories can come from but not all stories go somewhere, and that’s something that I’ve had to become more comfortable with, just dropping a story if it’s not working.

I’m still very much learning, I’m at the very beginning of my journalistic career, so I’m still finding my feet, finding my direction, poise and style, all that sort of stuff. At the moment I’m just in sponge mode, trying to just absorb as much as possible.