I was around 16 years old when I started really paying attention to the news. Before this, I would only consume it if it was on in the background at home. I remember vividly tuning in to Sky News and watching live images of the crash site of the Malaysia Airlines passenger jet which was hit by a missile in 2014. Although the imagery and just the sheer thought of over 280 people perishing was overwhelming, I was paying particular attention to how the news was being communicated to me and other viewers. This kicked off my interest and fascination with news storytelling.
After a year of watching the news, I was eager to be apart of the line of communication between the newsroom and the audience. But I was fully aware a news organisation would not for one second entertain the idea of having me; I was still in school, had no relevant qualifications and would be a liability that would give their legal department a constant headache. But I was impatient and wanted to get started straight away. After thinking of how I could get started, I landed on the idea of starting my own blog, based around television. I thought legally it would be OK as it’s just soft news stories. My mind was made up and I had reserved my domain. Fast forward a year and at my own pace, I’ve developed my writing style, built up a somewhat distant relationship with broadcasters that allowed me to receive press releases which contained embargoed material. If you’re unsure what ‘embargoed’ means, it’s basically the issuer of the press release forbidding you from publishing information contained within until a certain time or day. It felt like a milestone and they trusted me with this material.
While I was busy writing articles for my website, I still had to juggle school. Unfortunately, my health declined during the last two crucial years of my time in secondary school. I was missing large chunks of school regularly. When I say ‘chunks’, this could be weeks of classes at any one time.
I always felt guilty because I continued my website while I was absent from school. In hindsight, the website was an escape for me and it kept me going. As sixth year arrived, I was acutely aware the chances of me getting my dream course of Journalism in DCU weren’t good. In certain subjects I was miles behind the class. Most of my teachers were fantastic, and they really did the best they could to keep me on track. However, despite all of this, there would have been better odds on pigs flying than me getting an offer from the CAO.
Christmas had passed and Leaving Certificate exams were in sight. I was considering other avenues and options to take once I finished up in secondary school. It would be wrong to say my school’s guidance counsellor actively discouraged me from applying for PLC courses – because the idea of attending one was never entertained. I remember going through the CAO handbook and being asked if I wanted to attend an Arts course. The common issue though is I wasn’t going to get enough points for any course that was linked to media. I remember discussing it with a lovely teacher in the school. I’d never been lucky enough to have her as a teacher, but she guided me with her wisdom and told me to apply for a PLC course. She showed me how it was a year or two to ‘prove myself’ in something I love which in turn would get me into college. I remember joking with her, saying if I can’t get into college through the front door I’ll just go ‘round the back, even if it takes more time. Sadly, I’ve learnt she passed away. Because of her, I applied to Dún Laoghaire Further Education Institute and was accepted soon after to their pre-university journalism course.
As someone who always has to plan ahead and know exactly what they’re doing, it was an enormous relief going into my Leaving Certificate exams that no matter what the outcome, I was going somewhere after the summer – and, more importantly, in the area of study I wanted.
The day of my Leaving Certificate results I didn’t think much of it. I didn’t allow myself to feel much towards the results as I knew the outcome would be poor and it would have been a waste of time to dwell on it. Instead, I was excited to get started in Dún Laoghaire.
I quickly realised after just weeks of starting in Dún Laoghaire Further Education Institute (DFEi) that this was the perfect place for me; the balance between theory and practical learning was just right. I appreciated the political component of the course as it opened me up to different areas of journalism. But what I loved most was the continuous assessment approach. There were end of year exams which would account for a certain percentage of your overall grade. But apart from that, the rest of the year consisted of assignments and projects. Other modules on the course included writing, technical and research skills for journalism.
In the second half of the year at my level 5 QQI journalism course, I had to complete a work experience module. But before the excitement of getting the chance to get inside a newsroom, you’re taught everything about employment law and the rights you have in the work place. It’s valuable knowledge. I was really lucky in securing a week’s placement in the RTÉ Newsroom in Donnybrook. I worked during the week with the most brilliant and nicest journalists on the entertainment desks. I was finally able to put everything I had learnt to the test. From interviewing sources for a story, to reviewing upcoming cinema releases, I had a variety of jobs and actually got to write articles that were published.
The year in Dún Laoghaire had flown and I didn’t even consider applying to the CAO. My mind was made up that I was going back to complete my level 6 course in journalism there. There was more practical work just like the year before, such as interviewing various personalities who came in to visit or give talks, presenting mock news bulletins and producing radio packages. What some people don’t seem to know about these courses is that you’re taught by teachers who have previous or current working experience in the field they are teaching you.
In February of this year while I was still working towards completing my level 6 course, RTÉ News offered me the chance to work on their Election 2020 coverage. I had been recommended by the brilliant entertainment team. I was delighted, nervous and excited to be back in the newsroom. As a 21-year-old student, it was a big deal for me to be covering an election at my age and at such an early point in my career. I don’t believe I’d have been afforded this opportunity without the help of Dún Laoghaire Further Education Institute.
This year I did re-apply to the CAO. It was a different feeling to that just two years previously. I was confident I was going to be offered a place in a higher education institute. I had worked hard and really put the hours in. At the start of the summer I was offered a journalism level 8 course which I accepted. But earlier this month I couldn’t believe what I was seeing: DCU had actually offered me a place on their undergraduate journalism course. After speaking to my now former teachers in Dún Laoghaire for their opinions and guidance, I accepted the course. To me it still doesn’t feel real. Just two years ago this course was off the table for me. It’s a big personal achievement in my eyes.
I successfully completed a level 5 and 6 QQI accredited journalism course in Dún Laoghaire Further Education Institute, passing both years with a distinction. It feels weird saying that. But even more weird saying I’m an incoming DCU student. From the get-go when I landed in a PLC course I’ve been championing them ever since to whoever will listen to me. They are brilliant and open up a lot of avenues and possibilities for those who attend them – but only if you put the work in.
When I proudly posted my DCU news on Twitter I asked our new Minister for Further and Higher Education, Simon Harris, to promote and encourage more students to take up places in further education institutes. I still believe there is a level of snobbery towards these courses by guidance counsellors and indeed parents, but I really hope attitudes will change – and I think they will.