I’m writing this to inspire girls and boys with a love for writing, a nose for journalism and a passion for fashion to take up careers in fashion journalism. It’s something the industry desperately needs and while we have ample bloggers (digital is the future, right?) we also need dedicated souls who want to train for the job, write for publications, follow and understand the ethics of journalism BEFORE becoming publishers of their own sites.
I switched from pre-Engineering to Journalism back in the 90s and soon acquired a degree in Journalism and English Language & Literature from Kinnaird College. I was studying for my Masters in Literature (Government College, Lahore) when I saw a tiny advertisement for a job at Libas International. I walked in on my way back from college and got the job. Of course, I had been writing for the kids pages of The Nation since I was 12 (it helped that my dad was and still is their political cartoonist), got a scholarship for an exchange program to Japan based on a story I wrote and I loved to write. I was hired at a salary of 2000 a month. My designation: editorial assistant. I’d go to college at 7am, get to work by 2pm and home by 7pm. My parents, sick of transporting me, bought me a car when I was 18.
From 1997 to 2002 I worked through Libas, The News (Pindi), Instep at The News, Dawn Images, Herald, Newsline and an occasional article or two for Outlook India, Express Tribune and now, Hindustan Times and Hello!Pakistan. I also worked through marriage, two kids, my husband’s transfers, his MBA…the only thing that kept me at it was a love for writing. The only way I managed to keep at it was that my parents, husband and kids were always supportive and pushed me to follow my dream.
I remember one sunday morning – strictly a family day – when Arjun Rampal was in town (good old days) and my editor at Instep – my now good friend Muniba – called and gave me 15 minutes to get to PC for an interview. On impulse I refused…breakfast on the table, kids and husband waiting, me not ready…my family pushed me, literally to shower and rush! I owe so much to their support.
But it was for the love of the story. The only time in my 16 year career that money came up was when once, Masala Magazine (UAE) called to ask whether I could write for them. They said they didn’t pay contributors but would put my picture on my column. I told them I was a professional writer, not a socialite and couldn’t work free. Rarely have I ever worked for free, there’s no respect in that (unless it’s a philanthropic cause) but it wasn’t until much, much later into my career that I actually had the nerve to ask an editor for a certain sum as remuneration. And that confidence came from Dawn Images, where my editor convinced me that I wrote well and deserved much more than I was getting.
Where I’m getting at is the fact that you don’t become a journalist if you’re in the job for money. Unless, someone pointed out today, you’re in it to make money. On the side. That makes you no good as a journalist. And you don’t enter the field thinking you’re God’s gift to editors. What’s with young writers who write in first person and think their opinion matters when they haven’t even been writing long enough for people to recognise their bylines. Modesty, guys, have a little humble pie every now and then.
1. Write for the love of the story. And don’t just report, make your story interesting and entertaining to read. Do we always want to read earnest lectures on, for example, how the fashion industry should reform? NO.
2. Try not to write beyond 1200 words. In my experience this is when the attention starts to dwindle and a story becomes a chore.
3. Don’t write in first person unless it’s a blogpost or a personal column.
4. Go an extra mile for unearthed information. Don’t write from the comfort of your drawing room, with information that everyone else has.
5. Meet people and understand the industry that you’re becoming a part of. How can you write on fashion fairly if you don’t enjoy it, respect the people in it or resent the (apparent) frivolity of it.
6. And last of all, write fairly but fearlessly. It’s no fun if you’re always worried.
Lastly, I would strongly recommend fashion journalism for women with a love for the field. It allows you the freedom to work while having and raising a family. It (eventually) pays decent but most importantly gives you an identity that you’ll never have at an office job. For me, my byline and being published was always priority. I have a lot to be thankful for – my hard work and commitment paid off – and yours will too.