Tom Latchem in Shadwell, near the old News of the World offices. Photo: Jason Alden
For the last interview-column of the semester, we got a real treat. At the largest conference for journalists in Norway, SKUP, Peikestokken and NJ Volda caught up with a prominent journalist from the UK.
Tom Latchem has worked for several large media companies in the UK, including the Daily Mirror and the BBC. In the aftermath of the hacking-scandal that raged the British media last year, he lost his job at The News Of The World when the newspaper closed down.
– Why did you choose journalism?
My dad has been a journalist with the BBC for the last twenty years. He used to take my brother and me into the newsroom from when we were six or seven years old. We would make our own radio shows, and fell in love with that world.
I always liked journalism, and I always loved writing. I got asked to write for the school magazine, and when I saw my name in print, I thought – “I quite like that!” So I went on and got work experience at various places, worked for my university paper and that sort of thing, and got into it that way.
– Where and what did you study?
I studied politics in Southampton. I considered studying journalism or media, but my dad said… Eh, I do not know if this is going to be very popular with you guys in Volda, but he said, ”I would not – do a proper degree”. Because you may decide after three years of studying that you do not want to be a journalist anymore. In that case you are a bit stuffed, you do not have anything to fall back on. If you do something like politics, which you like and enjoy, you could eventually work in government or something. I studied for about three years, but during that time I made sure to get a lot of work experience, I.E. the university magazine and a lot of cuts in other media, to prove that I wanted to be a journalist.
– So how did you end up where you are today?
Well, unemployed? Hehe. I got into the Daily Mirror Graduate Training Scheme right after university. By doing all these little bits and cuts on beforehand, I could say: ”Look, I do want to be a journalist”, and prove to them that I was the right person for the job – and they gave me one. There were 800 applicants for it, and three people including me got it. It was great training. You go into all sorts of departments – you do features, news, showbiz, and get to go around the country as well. I did that for three years and then at the end they put you into your final year at one place – and I worked for the People newspaper.
After that the News Of the World poached me, and I went to work for them for 2,5 years. In that time I went from feature-writer to TV-editor. Then - we were all made redundant, and I was forced to work as a freelance journalist.
What tips would you give to a journalism-student in training now?
Get cuts! Commit yourself and prove that you want to be a journalist. We can all do a journalism degree, but it is in going beyond the call of duty you prove it. By working for free and by finding stories. Ultimately you rise and fall on your stories, so if you can't find them, you are useless to a news organisation – although there have been plenty of journalists that I have worked with that could not get good stories. If you can get stories you will always have a job, because people always needs them. If you get work experience and you are keen and interested, people will respond to that - and say “I like this guy, he has got something”. You make contacts that way, and people will from then on remember you and possibly employ you in the future.
What kind of tricks and teachings from the studies do you take with you every day at work?
Writing is not important. Writing is the least important part of journalism. I know journalists who can not write. Keep a decent contacts book - which I failed to do. Write down everyone that you meet, cause you never know when you are going to need them again in the future. Just be nice to people, not just people you work with! There are too many people that act like assholes, and if you act like that on the way up, then people are going to kick you on the way down.
What advice would you give to a journalism-student from Norway coming to England?
Do not bother going into newspapers. It has ten years left and it is dead I think. Use what makes you unique – the fact that you are Norwegian perhaps? Just get in contact with the news desks, do not make any spelling mistakes and be nice in your application. Say “I’m coming over, I would like to work for XYZ, can you give me work experience? Can you give me a job?”. Bombard everyone. People do not get letters, really. If they are well written and engaging – people respond to them. Follow them up with a phone call, because people just ignore emails. But if you ring up and go “Oh hi! Bla bla bla”, people will respond to you.