On the evening of Friday, November 17th, The Sundial Press hosted Eléna Pougin, journalist and editorial manager of Maison Messika, to share her experience and advice with current Sciences Po students. Pougin is herself a former Sciences Po student from the Reims campus who got a master’s degree in communications.
Throughout the conference, titled “Building a career in journalism or communications: what I wish I had known,” Pougin shared several key points of advice.
First, if it’s money you’re after, it is not wise to pursue a career in journalism. Journalistic work, even in big media outlets, does not pay well. In fact, for most of her experiences in journalism, Pougin did not get paid a cent. In her words, “If you want to get rich, don’t do journalism.” (You might as well stop reading now if this describes you.)
Second, despite her long and impressive catalogue of journalistic experience, Pougin insisted that such a long CV is not necessary. She claimed that she would have likely had the same result if she had done only three of her many experiences in journalism. In other words, focus on quality, not quantity. All you need is one job to break into the world of journalism, even if it’s a seemingly insignificant one. Just one experience will open the door for further ones, and this can start a chain reaction.
Similarly, unlike many other careers that Sciences Pistes tend to consider, you do not need to have an established network or lots of connections to work in journalism or communications. Many people enter the field without any network. Moreover, according to Pougin, a network is more easily built by working for independent and smaller media outlets rather than large groups or brands. This is because in small-scale media you will work more closely with people and build stronger relationships, giving you far more contacts. However, if it’s a more stable position you’re seeking, she maintains that working for larger groups is the way to go because your income won’t depend on your ability to quickly come up with a good pitch for an article.
Further, Pougin advises not to waste your time applying to a job posting. Rather, you should reach out to people directly. These include people who inspire you or people who could potentially lead you to the people who inspire you. The key is to find the relevant people in order to get the job you want. This requires investigating, contacting many people, and lots of persistence. Instead of spending time writing a really long cover letter, Pougin suggests just pitching an idea to someone in journalism. In addition, she suggests getting yourself a mentor (or several). A mentor will be able to answer your inquiries about the field, give you pertinent advice, and eventually help you get internships. However, don’t seek out a mentor with the intent of using them to get an internship; instead, be subtle and show genuine interest in their work and advice.
Perhaps one of the most interesting points revealed by Pougin is that you don’t need a journalism degree to work in the field. Although it may be useful in some ways and is recommended if you want to get a journalism job on TV or radio, many people in the field of journalism do not have a journalism degree, and having one does not mean you will be paid more than those who do not have one. In other words, if you do any other master’s degree at Sciences Po, you will be just as well off.
To conclude her presentation, Pougin explained why she made the transition away from journalism to communications. Her reasons included better pay, greater opportunities for creativity, and a more welcoming environment. According to Pougin, journalists tend to write what they are paid to write (rather than their own opinions), and thus there is not much room for creativity. Additionally, its highly competitive nature makes journalism a rather merciless field in her view.
Before the end of the conference, I asked Pougin what she thinks the most important asset or quality is for an aspiring journalist to have. She insisted on having a “just go and get it” mentality. This includes investigating topics that interest you, approaching people who could be useful contacts for you, and continuing to reach out to people even if they ignore your efforts at establishing contact (and they will). The key is to not give up.