This is a transcription of a short interview between Mike Coraluzzi of MotorSportsCareerAdvisor.com and Professional Motorsports Journalist, Sam Mallinson from the FIA Formula E Championship.
Brief Bio: Sam Mallinson in the Accreditation & Communications Coordinator at the FIA Formula E Championship. He is a Sports Journalism graduate from the University of Brighton and has held positions as a freelance Journalist and a Reporter.
Mike: Sam, can you tell me just briefly, how did you get started on your journey into motorsports; if you could describe that, please?
Sam: Okay. Well, the way I got into motorsports, specifically, is Formula E. That is my first motorsport specific job, in terms of communications because I originally started out as a journalist doing freelance work, straight out of the university. Basically, just tried the hand at a lot of different things, had various work placements, work experience, and of course, various media platforms, whether it’s newspapers, radio, television, just to see what took my fancy. See what I felt was what I was good at; what I wasn’t so good at. It was a really good opportunity to find out what my strengths and weaknesses were and what I enjoyed as a possible career opportunity.
So I decided I enjoyed writing and did freelance journalism with various newspapers in the U.K. and the opportunity came about to join Formula E with the communications team here with motorsport and I had to accept, especially such an exciting new project in its first year. In terms of motorsports itself, I’ve been a massive motorsport fan for many years. I’ve been attending lots of events, including Formula 1™ Grand Prix since the age of 12 and really enjoying writing for my own website doing that when I was younger, and also doing a couple of freelance bits with newspapers for Formula 1™ as well. And that was the way I got myself in motorsports, by making sure I was keeping across lots of sports, but also, keeping in mind that my passion is for motorsports. That’s why I always knew I would like to end up being and here I am today at Formula E.
Mike: Yeah, cool. A lot of people are writing and blogging for free and you touched on you managed to do this freelance; do you have any tips? Because I know lots of bloggers and lots of good writers, do you have any tips for them to get in with someone who will publish their materials?
Sam: It’s always difficult with freelance roles, especially in written journalism because the market is always trying to look to save money, and if they can get internships and things and work experience and placements for free.
Sam: I think the best advice I could give is it’s always going to be hard for a time, but if you just go into these places and do as many work placements and experiences as you can, even whether it’s unpaid or paid, you really have to push forward and have the right attitude. If you have the right attitude and they believe that your work is worthwhile, then eventually, the money and the paid work will become at the end of the day, you’re giving a service and if your service is good enough, people will recognize that and they’ll pay you for it.
So I think it’s all about networking, speaking to people, building relationships. You get in touch with people, even though you don’t need to speak to them about work. You’re just generally catching up with them, seeing how they are, speaking about catching up with them about how’s that family and friends or any common interests.
I just think it’s all about how you approach it and your attitude and I think that’s the best tip I could give getting any kind of work, whether it’s free or paid work, and eventually, it should turn into a career hopefully.
Mike: And would you go as far to say do some samples or do some free work? I think you did mention that. Tell a company “Hey, I’ll work for free for a little bit. I’ll show you what I can do.”
Sam: Yeah, for sure. I mean, I used to do free work with work placements and internships, and the thing is, that’s your shop window. If you promote yourself in such a way and in a good way and show your work’s worthwhile and they want to have more.
I think also, mainly, about ideas. Journalists’ future and their whole career are built on ideas. I mean, you can keep reproducing the same stuff and just continue to plot along like normal, especially in the digital world where now they just… if you start generating ideas, that’s where you earn your money.
Mike: I like that.
Sam: You need to start thinking of original ideas and things that people have never done before and if you can show that in your time when you’re in the shop window, for sure, those guys will be back in touch with you, for sure.
Mike: That’s cool. That’s great advice and that ties right into my second question. I was going to talk about can you discuss advantages of your education and personal characteristics you think have helped you. You touched on personal characteristics of persistence and showing people that you want it and coming up with ideas, being unique, but what about your education background? What have you done and how has that helped you?
Sam: It’s interesting, in media, a lot of people, in general, have a lot of interesting backgrounds. Some people never studied journalism or never studied English; a lot of people studied History or different things and I think in all types of media work, they’re all the same. If you can communicate, then that works across anything. If you’re a very good communicator, you can do that on TV, you can do that on radio, you can do that in writing, you can do that in PR or journalism. The ability to communicate and write, it’s really a transferrable skill.
And I think personally, throughout my education, I studied English and I studied sports journalism so it’s very specific, but I really think what I learned there is transferrable. If you studied English and the written word and doing it concisely and doing it properly, not wasting a word is really the way forward, especially a university, that’s when you start going out and no one is holding your hand anymore. It’s your own reading, your own work, your own dissertation or thesis and that’s where you really come into your own because that’s kind of like you’re a freelancer.
What you’re writing next week, you have to go out and get your own ideas. You have to set up your own interviews, arrange everything yourself and I think that’s a crucial phase. Going to university and having that experience, whether it’s doing a course in journalism or not; the actual self-teaching process is crucial, I think, in journalism, PR, and of course, in media, in general.
You said about personal traits and characteristics that people should have; you’ve got to be confident and you have to be thick-skinned. There’s a lot of times where you will get criticized or you have to take a risk and make a decision and people will point at you for that and say that this was you, the most obvious way of putting it in the written press. If your name is there, your name is in a byline next to your work, they are your words, you have to stick by your judgment; you have to be confident and self-assured.
The best thing is it’s all about attitude, it’s about being hard working. I know everyone said it’s about all aspects and jobs in life, but it’s just being enthusiastic and the ability to be flexible, as well. I mean, in journalism and media, the world changes every day. Every month there’s something new; there’s a new app, there’s a new website or a new tool to learn.
You can’t get stuck in one way of working; it’s all about being flexible and proactive in how you approach your work and your schedule as well. Nowadays, you don’t send copy by the phone, you send it by email, so you save yourself 10 minutes speaking over the phone; well, how can you utilize those 10 minutes? Nowadays, it’s by tweeting or blogging and doing other things or we may be asked to transcribe an interview, but it’s really about being flexible and authoritative. You have to be able to make your own decisions and I think that that’s something that’s really important.
Mike: I think you answered like most of my questions with those answers. That’s fantastic. We’re backtracking a little bit, but for new motorsports job candidates, I work with a lot of kids or people out of tech schools and colleges studying motorsports and you mentioned getting an internship or so; my question was regarding like the best strategy for obtaining a good position. Can you backtrack and explain that again for newer folks in motorsports?
Sam: I think if you are trying to get into motorsports, there’s a lot of different ways you can approach it. I think if you know you’re dedicated to doing motorsport in the future, you can always try and do something outside of the media itself, as well. I would have loved myself to have maybe done an internship as a mechanic or an engineer or something as well, because having that experience on top of the communication skills would be invaluable. To have that inside knowledge, it makes you a much stronger candidate.
So approaching motorsport based teams directly, the obvious choices, approaching various other media platforms across all other sports as well as motorsports is crucial. I think sometimes to get to where you want to go, you can’t be so specialized and specific. I mean, I wrote about football, golf and American football and lots of things like that, so that shows you’re really versatile. If you only get into motorsports specifically, I would advise that it’s best to try your hand at everything because you may end up thinking, “Oh actually, I don’t really like this motorsport stuff; I thought I did and now I don’t. People change and what you like changes as well.
But if you want to get into motorsports, approaching engineers and local mechanics learning how an engine works, getting your hands dirty and oily and just getting involved with that. Anything to better your experience and understanding is vital, I think, and the more of those things you can do, the better.
Mike: Yeah, it makes sense. Parallel activities or jobs; businesses that surround motorsports. On a personal level, what have been some of your biggest challenges as someone in motorsports?
Sam: Challenges in motorsport?
Mike: Or career.
Sam: The challenges in my career, I’ll try and relate them to motorsport, is understanding what path I wanted to go down. This is exactly why I tried my hand at a lot of different digital media platforms. My grandpa, who I unfortunately never met, he used to write for a daily newspaper in the U.K. about football and covered Leeds United, who used to be a good football team, not so good anymore, during their glory era in the ‘60s and ‘70s. That kind of made me think oh, I definitely want to go into writing for newspapers and people assumed oh yeah, he definitely has to go and write for newspapers, but what I discovered was the biggest challenges is with yourself and your own expectations. Are they want you want or do you want something?
So that’s why I tried going around trying radio, trying writing, trying TV, in front of the camera or behind the camera, try everything and see what was the best for me. It takes time to understand, but it’s worthwhile and it’s difficult and it can be confusing growing up trying to find out what you want to do, but I would say once you find it, it was the right decision to decide whether you’re going into writing, PR, or whatever it may be; I think that’s the main challenge I faced.
But other general challenges as we spoke about previously in this conversation, you want to try to just get your bum on the seat in the office or the place where you want to do and do a placement can sometimes be the hardest thing. Just getting your name out there and people to say yes to is sometimes quite difficult, so that’s always a tough challenge. Be persistent and send many emails and courtesy phone calls just checking up on whether they received your application and things like that. There are all these things that are challenging, but worthwhile at the end of the day, I think.
Mike: My next question is what areas and new technologies do you suggest students pay attention to that could help them in the future?
Sam: It needs to be absolutely everything. There’s nothing specific I would say they need to focus on, but if there’s a new app out on your phone that has taken over the media world, get it; get it, see how it works. How would you do it better? How would you use it? How would you implement it yourself?
Just keeping on top of your game and never letting anything pass you by. Sometimes I think I can be quite old fashioned in what I like. I still like classic rock music, Led Zeppelin and things like that, but I also listen to some new chart must as well, just because I like to know what it is. It’s the same with new technologies, you can’t just say, “Oh, I don’t think I like that.” You might not like it, but try it; you might need to know what it is in the future.
All the new trends and latest things that people use, all the social platforms like Vine, Twitter and any new blogs on new ways of spreading instant news is really important. It’s not just learning how to use it, but also, think to yourself, “How could I do it better? What could I do better if I was to use this or create something, what would I do? How would I use it?” All these things are used in certain ways, but they can be used differently and used differently, but just do what you want to achieve and what your objective is with it. So it’s all about playing with it with all these different aspects.
I would suggest really going into social media trends, digital trends, online trends. Unfortunately, it might not be good for your eyes as the optician tells you, but just keeping your eyes in front of the screen. It’s about second screen experiences and getting involved with all these things with iPads, tablets, phones and things like that. Even in motorsports specifically, the technology is increasing at a vast rate and all the digital and technological world has continued take up, so keeping across all those various platforms is really important.
Mike: Okay. I got it. That was good. And you covered pretty much everything I have.
I have my one last question. What’s the number one trait, if you can say it, or the characteristic you think will contribute to a student’s future motorsport career success? Challenging question, I know.
Sam: Yeah. I would just say, if it’s considered a trait, and I know I said it before in this call, it’s attitude. That’s a broad thing, it’s not necessarily specific, but it’s just all about how you work on a team; how you are perceived by other people when you work with them; how enthusiastic you are; how hardworking you are; how you come across to other people.
Your attitude will essentially decide whether you’re going to be successful or not. If you go into it with the wrong attitude, you will always be unsuccessful. If you go into it thinking that you’re going to do a good job and you’re going to try and enjoy it and put a smile on your face, you will succeed. It’s all about attitude, I would say.
Mike: That’s good.
Sam: That’s what I would suggest, it’s all about attitude.
Mike: Yeah. I leave these last two questions very open-ended. Everybody responds similarly, but slightly differently. Yeah, it’s good.
That’s all I have for questions. Thank you Sam!