“Wouldn’t you rather write about lipstick for a living? You don’t look like the sort of person who would be interested in mining.”
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked this question during the course of my career, even once (rather short sightedly) by my boss, I’d be a millionaire by now.
The answer is, quite clearly, no. I would not.
Firstly, because lipstick does not make the world go round. Industry does; without mining there would be no lipstick. Second, it does not capture my imagination in the way that science does. I relish the challenge of taking a really technical topic and making it engaging and readable. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy makeup as much as the next person, but I’d be bored stiff if I had to write 2,000+ words on it every month. And finally, it is not the field that I spent three years of my life and a shitload of money training to work in!
I did not go to university with the specific intention of becoming a mining editor (does anybody?) But nonetheless, it has proven a rich and stimulating career path; one which is sadly overlooked by many eager new recruits and, like many areas of the mining industry, is now failing to attract the level of talent required to secure its future.
Why should you consider a career in mining journalism?
- It’s a really interesting job. The discovery and extraction of minerals/metals underpins every other industry on this planet, and I have learnt something new every single day of my career so far. The job of a mining journalist is essentially to present information to readers about current affairs and the state of the industry in a concise and engaging manner. In order to do this you need to do a lot of reading, speaking to experts in different areas and, in doing so, you start to build up a comprehensive knowledge of certain topics. After a few years, these silos start to link together et voila, you are knowledgeable enough to start offering up opinions of your own to readers.
- Travel. Lots of it. If it’s adventure you’re after but your coffers are empty then mining journalism is an excellent career choice. Your feet will barely touch the ground some months.
- Longevity. There are plenty of publications, both print and digital, servicing the mining sector from all corners of the globe, and most of these are happy for their writers to even work remotely. Once you’ve built up a base of knowledge and contacts, you have a job for life.
- Community. Once they’re settled at a mining publication/company/vendor, employees rarely leave. They may shuffle roles or move to a competitor, but I’ve been working with many of the same technical experts, journos, PR and communications people for over a decade now and I’ve made some wonderful friends. The sense of community and level of peer support in the mining industry is very strong.
Of course, every job has its downsides too…
- Travel. You will spend an awful lot of time sitting in airport waiting rooms, on dodgy and, frankly, sometimes dangerous flights, and lying awake in hotel rooms with jet lag. Often you travel with colleagues or fellow journos which makes it more fun, but otherwise, you had better enjoy your own company.
- Deadlines. There is always at least one deadline looming over you, or, more often than not, ten. Especially as you move up the ranks from journo to editor. Family holidays, medical appointments, even kids, must be planned around these. If you are anxious or don’t like working under pressure then this is not the job for you.
- The glass ceiling. Yes, the mining industry is trying to overhaul its reputation as a male-dominated industry. Yes, certain companies are making great strides. But, on the whole, most technical roles are still held by men. All of the long-standing publications that serve the industry are owned by men and, the number of female journalists operating in this sector pales in comparison to the number of men who write. I am the only female editor-in-chief (that I am aware of) at a major mining publication and only the third to have held the post of editor in Mining Magazine’s 110-year history. Yes, there is still a glass ceiling but the only way it will get broken down is if more women bang hard on it.
- No-one, bar your colleagues, will understand what it is that you do. “Oh. That’s… interesting.” Is the response I usually get when new friends or acquaintances ask what I do for a living. Cue a change of topic.
You’re still interested, so what do you need to get started? An undergraduate degree in a scientific subject is, in my opinion, really useful. Courses on geology and geography won’t teach you the ins and outs of mining techniques and equipment, but they will equip you with a working knowledge of earth history, the processes that create different types of mineralisation and how to locate economically viable deposits. You can learn the rest on the job.
A can do attitude is essential. You will spend the first 6-12 months feeling wildly out of your depth; this is perfectly normal. Whether you cover the investment side of the industry or the operational side, mining is a tricky topic to get your head around. There are strange, archaeic terms for things, and the history of the companies involved is long and convoluted. This is where a good editor is essential. They will guide and educate you on your journey.
Read around the topic. Most publications have websites that offer news stories and basic features for free. Spend some time getting to know the companies that operate in your chosen area of interest (e.g mining equipment/ technologies/ finance/ CSR/ environment/ commodities) and key issues affecting their businesses.
Build yourself a strong CV then go ahead and email it, along with an example of your writing, to the editor of whichever publication you like best (tip: use spell check first). You may need to send it several times (we get 200+ emails a day) and maybe chase it with a phone call but eventually you will get a response.
Most important of all: don’t give up!