Written by Kim Cordell | Product Development Administrator, European Medical Journal | @EMJ_Kim
Here at the EMJ, you’ll find yourself faced with a gold-medal winner in one form or another, no matter where you look. The management team is constantly striving to ensure each member of the team is working towards becoming the best they can be, with a heavy focus on personal development, and ensuring each individual is on the right path for them.
This month, we sat down for EMJ Talktime with our recently turned reporter, James Coker. Known in the office for his love of football, long-distance runs, and endless cups of tea, James took up this new role after working in the EMJ Editorial Team for two-and-a-half years before expressing his ambitions to report for the company.
Q: Can you give me a brief insight into a day in the life of the EMJ reporter?
A: One of the aspects of the job I like is that the days can be quite varied, including travelling to different places around Europe for various events and interviewing people for my content. Generally, I aim to produce a minimum of two news stories per day and one blog or feature article a week relating to one of our 16 therapeutic areas. I try to vary the content I write as much as possible; it could be about interesting research being presented, innovative products being created, new guidelines being published, awareness campaigns, healthcare policies, historical milestones, or simply speaking to prominent medical professionals or organisations to gain their perspectives about a particular field. I also spend time helping the marketing team promote our content. I’d say my days are pretty varied and sometimes new opportunities for content just pop out when you least expect it, so I have to be quite flexible in my approach. The role is also one that is continuously evolving, and I am always trying to create different types of content. For example, I want to produce something special for the upcoming 70th anniversary of the creation of the NHS.
Q: How did you get into reporting?
A: My ‘eureka’ moment, when I decided reporting was something I wanted to pursue, was around 6 years ago when I realised how much I enjoyed uncovering new information and asking people questions about their lives, coupled with the fact that I’ve always enjoyed writing. At that time, I worked in accounts, but I knew this wasn’t what I wanted to do in the long-term. I enrolled on a 2-year part-time Master’s degree in Journalism, which enabled me to still work whilst funding the course myself. It was quite tough at times, but I was very proud of myself for finishing the course and getting a good grade. I also learnt a lot from the course in terms of writing for different audiences and gained practical experience of interviewing people and how to find news stories.
I further honed my skills by writing for a football blogsite during this period; this helped me understand the importance of varying my approach, because the editor wanted the articles in different styles according to the topic (e.g., transfer rumours, pre-match analysis, etc.), and I had to submit articles according to strict deadlines. I also learnt a lot about engaging with an audience through this experience; I would respond to comments written beneath the article and on social media, including those that weren’t too complimentary!
Shortly after I completed my Master’s course, I was offered a role at the EMJ. This was initially in the Editorial department, which primarily involved proofreading as well as commissioning and liaising with authors of papers for our journals, although there were some opportunities for interviewing and writing marketing pieces as well. I worked in this section for around two-and-a-half years and developed a lot as a person during this time. After speaking to upper management about my ambitions of becoming a reporter, I was kindly afforded the opportunity to change department and my role. As I mentioned earlier, this new role is very much evolving, and I still have a lot more growing and developing to do within it, but it is something that I am really enjoying.
Q: You have recently attended multiple congresses across Europe for the EMJ; what has been your favourite part?
A: For me, it is the chance to hear new research being presented and interviewing prominent people working in healthcare. It can be really inspirational to hear about the advances being made in healthcare and the dedication of individuals to improving the lives of patients.
Q: Do you ever suffer from writer’s block and, if so, how do you overcome it in your role?
A: Quite frequently, especially on days when I am writing most of the time. I find that sometimes I have to take a break from writing and do something else for a while, such as researching another article or transcribing an interview. Usually I can then go back to what I was writing with a fresher mind. I also find that exercise, particularly running, is great for freeing up my brain and helping me inject fresh ideas if I am particularly stuck and can go back to it the following day.
Q: You’ve interviewed many influential individuals within their respective fields for the EMJ; have any of these left you with parting words of wisdom that you have not forgotten?
A: I don’t have any particular quotations in mind, but in general I have always been struck by just how dedicated and energetic many healthcare professionals I’ve spoken to are. It is quite remarkable what they have achieved in their professional lives and it just goes to show how much anyone can accomplish if you really care about something. I guess the message would be to focus on something you are really passionate about and keep persevering at it.
Q: What has been your personal key to success?
A: The biggest thing is continually forcing myself out of my comfort zone. I am quite a quiet and reserved person by nature and going out to speak to people I’ve never met before used to be quite a daunting prospect. I have become much more comfortable at doing this now, because I constantly forced myself to initiate conversations at various events and over the phone, which has led to obtaining really good content. I think also being willing to be flexible and open to adapting the types of content I produce has been very important in this regard.
Q: What advice do you have for anybody looking to become a reporter?
A: Firstly, practise writing in all forms as much as possible. I strongly recommend volunteering to write for a website, so you can get used to producing different types of content whilst meeting deadlines. You’re unlikely to get any financial gain from this, but it is vital to start getting articles published. Take on board feedback from your audience as well as your editor; I had a few articles that were not published for various reasons when I wrote for a blogsite and that was a great learning experience for me.
Secondly, go out of your comfort zone and get out and about as much as you can to find stories and talk to people. Reporting in its most basic form is essentially about telling other people’s stories, and that should be at the core of everything you do.
Finally, don’t allow yourself to be put off if things don’t always go to plan; for example, if an interview didn’t go as planned or you receive negative feedback. Make sure you learn from these experiences rather than let it get you down.
This month’s EMJ Talktime was a great opportunity to sit down with James and gain insight into the world of reporting, and the vital cog he plays within the EMJ team. Whether you’re looking to develop your skills as a reporter, or you’re somebody who is interested in learning more about James’ experience, there’s sure to be something to take away from June’s EMJ blog.