Confessions of a penniless graduate

Confessions of a penniless graduate

By Ali George 08/02/11

Ali George is a blogger and aspiring journalist based in Edinburgh; she's so skint that she uses a shoe as a lamp (see her work space, above). Here, she shares her experience of trying to break into the media during the biggest recession in living memory...

Breaking into the arts industry is hard going, whether you’re interested in publishing, illustration or, like me, journalism.

The expectation that everyone with half a brain should go to university has created an army of bright young things who all have a sense of entitlement to a job that is well paid or interesting. The only trouble is, there aren’t enough to go round.

I’m not knocking university – I had a brilliant time when there – but far more important than whether or not you attend is whether you know what you want to do at the end of it. And even that isn’t always enough.

I started my degree convinced I wanted to be a journalist, but left under the impression it was too narrow and competitive a field. I opened myself up to PR, communications and arts administration just to be on the safe side. It wasn’t because I thought I was untalented, but because I wanted to stay in Scotland, the recession had hit, and there were no jobs.

For six months I racked up rejections from all over Edinburgh, until I went for a local authority job on minimum wage. They didn’t mind I was overqualified, just as long as I didn’t expect to be paid accordingly. By that point I was so bored of being skint all the time, I agreed without hesitation.

Meanwhile, my partner snared a Christmas temp job, having spent most of his degree working in retail, and then spent a year on part-time hours in an aimless torpor. Ask nicely and he’ll tell you a tale of how he and three other recent graduates received training from a postgraduate on lifting boxes. He is still there two years later. I, on the other hand, quit my job after its dubious pleasures reminded me how much I wanted to be a journalist.

Succeeding in the arts industry at large – and journalism in particular – seems to me to be a result of incredible focus on what you want to do, often aided by luck. Over the past six months I have been writing voluntarily for seven or eight websites to build up my portfolio, and only now am I beginning to see any results (I was recently approached by STV news about writing for their new website – voluntarily.)

I write because I want to, because it interests me, and because I can. I get upset when I read a poorly written article because I know someone got paid for it when I would have done better. When a politician or celebrity says something stupid, I instinctively want to share my thoughts – I’ve been blogging for nearly 10 years as a direct result.

I have the certainty now that if I keep focusing on one thing, rather than hedging my bets, I will be able to eke a living out of freelance journalism. It’s taken me 10 years to definitively reach that conclusion.

I am typing this on a rickety old laptop by candlelight, wearing five layers of clothing and fingerless gloves because I can’t afford to switch on the heating. Because this is what it now takes.


Can you relate to Ali’s plight? Leave a comment.

Visit Ali’s blog.

More confessions:

Hannah Drake – theatre director

Nicolas Williams Hughes – artist

Closing Update

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