UCL Alumni


Alumni share their expertise on the ever-changing media sector

10 February 2022

On Wednesday 24 November, a panel of four leading media professionals from the UCL alumni community shared their media industry insights with current students and recent graduates.

Screenshot of alumni sharing their insights on working in the media

With digital markets, global audiences, the proliferation of ‘fake news’, and a global pandemic to contend with, how is the media industry changing?

At an event hosted by Students' Union UCL as part of UCL Careers' Media Week, four UCL alumni from across the media sector shared their experiences and advice to inspire those looking to enter, understand and navigate the media industry.

The expert alumni panel included Phillipa Leighton-Jones (English Literature 1996) Global Editor at Large at The Trust, The Wall Street Journal Barron’s Group; Luke Smith (History 2016) Formula 1 Reporter at Autosport; Bari Stricoff (MSc Eating Disorders and Clinical Nutrition 2016), Social Media Strategist at Second Nature; and Nick Baines (Philosophy 2011), Co-Founder at Nara Communications.

Five top takeaways from the alumni panel for aspiring media professionals

1. Harness the power of UCL’s prestigious and global reputation

Discussions began with the alumni panel sharing their experiences of how their UCL degree helped them break into, and thrive in, the media sector. Phillipa, who now advises some of the world’s best-known brands on storytelling and positioning, spent her final year at UCL working as a researcher at a publishing company alongside her studies. Despite having had no previous experience of working in the sector, Phillipa said that the “UCL brand really resonated” with the company, helping her to secure her first role. “The power of the UCL brand, especially in your early career days, is really useful.”

As a UCL graduate, you will have the key skills to succeed in any career. Phillipa’s degree involved a lot of reading and writing to tight deadlines and distilling complex information down to its essence; skills which have proven invaluable throughout her career: “Coming out of university, these skills stood me with the best chances of success,” she said. 

Now Autosport’s Formula 1 reporter, Luke had a similar experience getting into journalism. The quantity of research, writing and reading involved in his History degree meant he left UCL equipped with the skills needed to be a journalist, despite not having studied a journalism degree: “When I stepped into full-time journalism, it felt very natural and like the all the skills were already there,” said Luke.

UCL is home to staff and students from all over the world whose different perspectives combine to create a rich and powerful community. Luke says that UCL’s global ethos has proven invaluable in his career working across the world as an F1 reporter: “It’s wonderful that from UCL I already had experience of meeting and working with people from across the world. Stepping into F1 and working with journalists, team members and drivers from all these different backgrounds, I found it really easy, and I felt really comfortable.”

Co-founder of Nara Communications, a PR agency that raises the profile of technology startups and scaleups in the international media, Nick’s experience in the media began at Rare FM, UCL’s student radio station. Phillipa also encouraged current students to make the most of the opportunities available at UCL and in London, having herself discovered her first role through UCL: “Use the experiences available to you within the university to then build your own brand in the outside world.”

2. Use your networks

From your peers to your teachers, you will have built a great network at UCL.  “The UCL name goes far for everyone, not just you, so keep those networks strong,” recommends Bari, who met the co-host of her podcast and co-author of her book ‘Forking Wellness’ while studying at UCL.

Don’t be afraid to ask someone for a coffee or send them an email. While this may seem basic, it can be very powerful. “People in my career still say to me ‘I remember receiving an email from you when you were 16 years old and wanted to be a journalist.’ And now I’m sharing a media room with them!” Luke said.

3. Build a culture of integrity

Trust in the media is at an all-time low: the media spans a huge breadth of outlets and is accelerating, while being targeted with misinformation. “Technology has essentially incentivized sensationalist journalism,” Nick said.

“We have to redouble our effort to educate about what the power of media really is and what true journalism really means,” Phillipa commented. As a Media professional, you must reinforce media as a provider of truth and help to build that trust. “Be rigorous with your fact-checking, have high standards and shout about the lengths you’ve gone to,” Luke advised.

4. Cut through the noise

To ensure their content stands out from the crowd, media professionals need to know their audience. Most of all, they need to know what kind of messaging and content their customers respond best to, and how. "The better we are as marketeers is how good we are at flexing content for different channels, to get the message out to as many people as we can,” Bari said.

With the rise in digital media and information overload, there has been a noticeable shift to shorter content. “There are too many places to look now so you’ve got to grab their attention quickly, and in the right places,” advised Phillipa.

5. Trust the process

Don’t worry – very few people come out of university and go straight into their dream job. Instead, think about the steps you need to take to reach your ultimate goal. For example, build your CV by working in local or trade media or by creating your own social media following. “Be dogged, be determined, be curious. Be prepared to work incredibly hard and don't be scared to just go and do it, even if it seems unglamorous at first,” advised Phillipa. Luke agreed: “I look back on my formative experiences and know it was worth the graft.”

And, finally, say ‘yes’ to the opportunities that come your way. Bari wrote her book after a publisher listened to her podcast and reached out. Nick also wrote a book after meeting someone in a bar who had an interesting story to share! Be aware of when these moments arise and grasp them where you can.

Want to hear more?

Watch the full event:

MediaCentral Widget Placeholderhttps://mediacentral.ucl.ac.uk/Player/EE5129IB