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Empire Magazine’s Helen O’Hara Visits Students at The NCS

On Tuesday 11th December 2018, English Literature students at The NCS were delighted to welcome Empire Magazine’s Helen O’Hara as part of our Lecture Programme. Helen has worked at Empire – the world’s biggest and most popular film magazine – for over ten years as a contributor to both print and web articles, editor-at-large, and as a regular co-host on their extremely popular weekly podcast. She also works as a freelance writer for titles such as The Telegraph, GQ, and The Pool. Most recently she saw her first book, ‘Best Movies of The 80s’ published across the world.

In telling the story of her career, our student’s learned that the successful journalist standing in front of them didn’t intend on working as a writer. Instead Helen spoke of her training to become a barrister. Her path started by studying Law at the University of Oxford which she described as, “being like Hogwarts,” to someone from a small town in Northern Ireland. Despite then qualifying as a barrister, Helen described how it was a job that never quite agreed with her. Eventually she realised that her current point in life with minimal responsibilities would be the time best suited to attempt a career change.

Seeing an advert for an internship at Empire Magazine, Helen applied. Having no qualifications or experience in writing didn’t phase her. As a film fan she’d read the magazine for years and said that she understood the voice in which it spoke to its readers. That knowledge was one of her key takeaways for our students; that if you’re applying to work for a publication, get a few back issues, understand it’s style, and send a sample piece to them with that voice. With a pinch of what she admitted was pure luck, Helen earned the internship.

Her journey at Empire saw her learn the ropes. From making the tea, she progressed and started writing. She told our students how her qualifications actually gave her a skill set that was not only transferable, but perfectly suited to this new job.

“When I write a review, I’m saying that I like or dislike this movie and this is why. I’m putting forward my case, just as I did when I worked in law.”

The talk continued with many of the practicalities of writing for a magazine. She spoke of having to understand many areas of the law (especially with respect to libel), writing to house styles, the realities of interviewing celebrities, and how print is responding to falling revenue by “pivoting” to areas such as video and podcast. She also treated us to anecdotes of some high points in her career including set visits on Harry Potter and Marvel films, and having to interview Hugh Jackman over breakfast in New York.

Throughout her 25 minute talk on her career and the question and answer session that followed, Helen covered many topics from writing as a freelancer (as she now does) to the state of the print industry. One student wanted to know the thing they should focus on in order to work successfully in the industry. Aside from writing exactly to the word count commissioning editors provide, one topic came to the fore repeatedly.

“Your teachers will love me for saying this. If you want to work as a journalist, perfect spelling and grammar is a must.”

The advice continued throughout the session and beyond for students who stayed behind afterwards for a one-on-one chat with Helen. Everyone at The NCS would like to thank Helen for giving up her time to come and visit our students and share her experiences and earned wisdom with them.

The Student View
I enjoyed the talk given by Helen as it was very engaging and informative. She spoke with great enthusiasm which clearly gave us the impression that she enjoys her job.
From her talk I learnt that it is okay to take sensible risks because you will never know what you are capable of achieving without taking risks.
Before the talk my options for my future were very closed, but after listening to Helen speak, I understand that it is wise to keep your options open - which is exactly what I am going to do.
Besides listening to all the famous people that Helen had met, I was also interested by the fact that she studied law but eventually did not consider it as a career path. It shows that we cannot be 100% sure about what we want to do with our lives, but we’ll never know unless we push ourselves.
I enjoyed the talk from Helen O’Hora as she shared a realistic insight into the life of a journalist, detailing both the successes and the struggles that are a part of the changing journalist industry.
I thoroughly enjoyed this lecture with Helen O’Hara. It was intriguing to hear her journey in to journalism. No secret was left unturned, as she shared the hardships as well as the perks. Through this opportunity I have learnt how journalism can be used to articulate and share your interests as well as opinions with other people. I have gained an insight in to the life of a journalist in the world of work and how English can be used to branch out into many careers.
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