Many journalism students dream of working overseas, but Lily Martin turned fantasy into reality. How? Research. Here in J-Source she explains how being able to find people and information–especially through social media–makes you an asset abroad, and why you need to do your research before you pack your bags.

Many journalism students dream of working overseas, but Lily Martin turned fantasy into reality. How? Research. Here in J-Source she explains how being able to find people and information–especially through social media–makes you an asset abroad, and why you need to do your research before you pack your bags.

Right before heading into my last semester of journalism school, I found out I was selected for a six-week internship at the London bureau of the CBC. The London bureau covers European, Middle Eastern, and African news for television, radio, and online and is the home base of some of the CBC’s finest journalists.

My transition from classroom to a working newsroom was swift. I finished classes on a Friday in April and was on a plane bound for London the next morning. My first day “on the job” was the day Margaret Thatcher died. Talk about a baptism by fire!

Within hours of starting I was emailing our host facts about Thatcher and sharing breaking news as it came in over Twitter and different live blogs. It was a rush hearing her say things on air I had just sent her. For the rest of the afternoon I chased different Lords and biographers, trying to track down their mobile numbers for not only us but The Current and Power and Politics.

A few months before I came to London I was studying Susan Ormiston’s stand-ups in class, now I was standing next to her as she delivered them to the camera. I saw the Queen in person. I got to attend my first real presser at Canada House. Yes, I worked for free, but I received so much in return. I was even given camera lessons from cameramen whose work is absolutely beautiful.


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At the end of my internship CBC’s London bureau chief, Ann Macmillan, sat down with me  to give feedback gathered from everyone in the office. Ann knew I had obtained a two-year working visa so during our meeting she mentioned that they might have some work for me later in the summer. She soon emailed asking me to come back as an associate producer for seven weeks. I think elated would be the right word to describe my reaction.

While I think a lot of my hiring had to do with me being in the right place at the right time, I had proven myself to be skilled at research and chasing. This was a role they needed filled and they knew I could do it.

Research skills are always going to be valued in a newsroom, abroad or at home. I had a great base from the research classes at school, but I was surprised by how much I relied on social media once I started chasing.

In the weeks leading up to leaving for London, I started to follow the Twitter accounts of different British news organizations. It really helped me to get a handle on what were some of the big news stories going on at the moment, who the big name politicians were, and how press in the UK operates, which is quite different from Canada in many regards.

Through Twitter I’ve managed to get direct office numbers for British Members of Parliament, cell phone numbers and Skype addresses for activists in countries like Zimbabwe and Egypt, and set up interviews with London-based analysts over Twitter’s direct messaging feature.  

Facebook groups have been useful as well. I was once asked to find an Iranian refugee who participated in the Arab Spring and was now living in London. Think to yourself, “If I were this person, what kind of organizations or societies might I belong to?”

Chances are there’s a Facebook group for that and you can write on the wall, send a general message to the person running the group, or message the really active group members. Just keep in mind that if you’re not friends with that person the message will go into his or her “other” inbox, so you’ll probably want to add them as a friend before sending the message.

And you’ll also need to use your research skills before you even consider working abroad:  

  • Acquaint yourself with the many universities in a city like London. Their expert directories are very helpful for finding experts and talkers (e.g. King’s College, LSE, UCL).
  • All that bureaucracy stuff matters. If you seriously want to stay in the UK (or any country) for a long period of time and work, get your visa situation sorted out early. The UK and Canada have a great scheme called The Youth Mobility Visa. You can find more information here.
  • Housing in a city like London is competitive. Get ready to raise your budget and lower your expectations. Give yourself a lot of time to find something. Hostels and private dorms are a good option in the interim.
  • Jobs in a big market are going to be competitive too. Work every connection available to you if it’s your aim to fill your resume with international experience.

During my five months in London I’ve never really known what the next month or two would hold in store for me. Some days that's exciting; some days it's a bit too much to handle. A few weeks ago I was really starting to worry about what I was going to do when my time at CBC came to end, and was seriously considering booking a ticket back to Canada, when I was offered an internship with 360 Production in London. I am so thrilled to be working there and I am beyond thrilled that I’ll get to call London home for a few months more.

Lily Martin lives in London, England. She is a proud graduate of the Journalism Broadcast program at Sheridan College. Currently she is completing an internship with 360 Production in its development department. Before moving to London she worked for Toronto-based documentary filmmaker Jamie Kastner.