An hour with: Shannon Kyle

Know your market, know what they want and find those stories. That’s just three of the key points Shannon Kyle, told us this week at the Journalist Works.

Shannon Kyle at the Journalist works (Photo by Sarah Lewis)
Shannon Kyle at the Journalist works (Photo by Sarah Lewis)
Shannon has worked in the industry for fifteen years and specialises, Al Horner (mentioned in my previous blog), in features. She said: “Features are one of the best forms of journalism. You can get the feature behind the story and you get an emotional sense of the story.” – And as much as I love investigative journalism or just straight reporting, I must agree, I do love getting the research and the background for a feature.

One thing Shannon really did for me with her talk was shed a light on magazines such as Take a Break, as even though, most of you out there probably reads these mags as a bit of a sneaky, guilty pleasure, we all have a bit of snobbery towards them.

Shannon has worked for many different publications, freelance and contracted as has worked for Take a Break and The Sun. But really when she talked about some of the work she’d done, such as her undercover features, on the truth and pressure behind plastic surgery and some of the research she’d done for articles I don’t think there was anyone in that room that could’ve had any snobbery about that kind of work. Her’s was all so well done and impressive.

She told us with these magazine, and with her other life as a ghost writer: “You give the other person a chance to tell their story.” And really, despite what form we do it in, isn’t that what we’re in journalism for? To give a voice to the voiceless.

Her back catalogue was endless and filled with so many amazing stories, including ghost writing Jade Goody’s book, which she described as ‘terrifying’ at points as she had 70,000 words to do in three weeks and as she sat at home with it half done on her computer, it had already been pre-ordered to the number one spot on Amazon.

Shannon gave some fab tips that have definitely made it in to my memory bank:

  • Opinion pieces are great if you can get them,
  • You can find a dozen, or more, feature ideas from one newspaper – this is called a news-hit.
  • Leave your ego at the door when ghost writing, as it’s not your book, it’s the authors (but if you look in the back they do actually get a mention!)
  • Know your market when pitching a story and what sort of stories that appear in them i.e relationships, body image and triumph over tragedy are always good for a magazine such as Take a Break.
  • Be specific and clear.
  • Let your story speak for itself, if you’re a good writer it will show.
  • Find out who the commissioning editor is for the publication you’re pitching to.
  • Sometimes stories that seem to be the most straightforward are the hardest.
  • There is a huge market for freelancers out there and most publications wouldn’t exist without them.
  • You can sometimes get pigeonholed into mags like Take a Break -a but a good journo can break out of it, as there is a certain amount of respect because of how much work goes into it.

That’s just some key points of advice she gave, but she was full of wisdom. Shannon Kyle was brilliant, it was a fab hour with her. Also, as this was her first time at the journalist works, I do hope she comes back and future students listen to her, because she’s got so much knowledge to impart!

P.S. If Shannon reads this, I wish her the best for the rest of her pregnancy and all he best for her baby girl on the way


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