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How I became a freelance journalist and producer

Hana Carter, 27, is a freelance journalist working at The Sun, Talk Radio and BBC Three Counties.

I work for The Sun as a reporter and as a producer for Talk Radio and BBC Three Counties Radio, I also write features for Metro and sometimes write under a pseudonym. It’s really varied. I’m somebody who needs that variety.

I have been doing journalism for about six years, but as time went on I preferred the freelance approach. I’ve been freelance for about two years.

An interest in media

When I was younger I wanted to go into film or do something creative. I didn’t go to university as I wanted to learn on the job and discover exactly what I wanted to do.

I did a bit of running for an independent film company a couple of days a week and also volunteered at a radio station. When I was about 20 I went on to CSC Media Group. They owned music channels and kids TV channels. I thought this could be my way in. But the company got taken over and massive job cuts followed. I was gutted.

Breaking into the industry

While I figured out what my next step was and to keep the funds flowing, I signed up to a temp agency. Then I got a call saying they had a couple of weeks at the Telegraph. I was an assistant to one of the editor’s assistants. It was a lot of paperwork, paying agencies, researching information for stories. I absolutely loved it. I remember walking into this huge newsroom and being so overwhelmed by the energy in the room. They were all so engrossed in what they were doing and there was a sense of urgency. I thought this is exactly where I want to be.

Hana in the newsroom before going freelance

While I was there I got to know all the reporters and some of the editors. It was basically like paid work experience.

Taking every opportunity

Our foreign editor at the time said our world news manager is going on maternity leave. It’s similar to what you’re doing and we can train you. I did the interview and got the job.

It was then that I started the Press Association NCTJ diploma which was evening classes and Saturdays. I started sending stories to different departments at the Telegraph.

Hana with her Natures Notes column

In my assistant role, I was paying for agency copy for a column called Nature Notes. I thought ‘why are we paying for this, I could write it’. I went to the editor and said ‘we’re paying for this, but I think I could do it, could I have a go?’. He said, ‘alright I’ll give you a month’. I ended up doing it for the whole time I was there. I was so proud of that. It was very much fake it until you make it. All you can do is ask and the worst they can say is no.

Becoming a qualified journalist

I qualified while I was still at The Telegraph. I was really lucky that I had a lot of mentors, they really took me under their wing. One of them told me that I’d get so much from working at a local paper. He said it would be really beneficial for me to go to court and other things you learn at local papers. So I did. I went to work at the Watford Observer for six months. And actually, I have worked at five national newspapers, and my favourite was working on the local. You can’t beat local news. I loved writing stuff that people really cared about as it was on their doorstep.

Read more: Why I quit university to become a reporter

Then I got a job offer from Woman and Woman’s Own magazines. I worked as a staff writer and editorial assistant. I did that for around a year. But everywhere I went it felt like there were job cuts and magazines folding. I started looking for newspaper jobs and worked at the Femail desk for the MailOnline. Unfortunately, I became ill and needed to take a bit of time away from journalism. But I really missed journalism and writing while I was away. I decided to go freelance.

Deciding to go freelance

I wanted to go back into newspapers but to do it on my own terms and have control over my hours. I started doing shifts at the Sun and the Mirror and started to get into radio a bit more. I’d always done radio in the background so I thought I would start bringing that into the fold.

Hana is a freelance radio producer and journalist

I got a job on Talk Radio on a freelance basis. I got a few shifts a week as an assistant producer. As I had the news-sense I knew what would work. I was so determined to prove myself and work my way up. I said I would like to have a bit of training and do some producer shifts. They were fully supportive and let me shadow producers and staff. Then I got a job Eastworld, I’ve been doing since August last year.

I also work on Three Counties radio with the BBC. Last year, I had started making resin jewellery and selling in on Etsy. It did quite well and I got a call from the BBC saying did I want to go on the radio to talk about it. It was then I did the networking I the made friends somehow and they said would I like to do shifts for them.

What it’s like day-to-day

An average day for radio would be I produce a show that comes out on a Sunday, so in the week I’ll be having a look at what’s going on in the news at the moment. Then we think about who we want on the show and build the programme as the week goes on. I think people think the presenter does it all, but the producer does everything except the talking which is quite fun.

Working as a reporter is a bit more structured. Pre-COVID, you’d go into the office, we’d have a conference so everybody knows what’s happening at the time, you start pitching stories or the editor might say ‘this is going on, can you look into this’.

My advice

You don’t need to go to university to study journalism. I think it’s so much better to go and get work experience and do the NCTJ. It’s cheaper than a degree and you learn everything you need to become a journalist.

Hana at the BBC

I think you have to have thick skin. I learned that the hard way. Do not take everything editors say to heart – it’s a high-stress environment.

Talk to people. I have found that in this industry people are always happy to help. They started right at the bottom too. People will give you the time.

If I could tell my younger self one thing it would be to be present. Enjoy what is happening right now instead of planning five years ahead. Because what we have right now is so temporary and will soon be our past.

You can find Hana on Instagram at: @hanamaycarter

Bex Bastable
Bex Bastable
Bex is a journalist and the co-founder of The Women's Work Collective.


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