Patrick here this time, for my turn on a little behind the scenes, background story on me and my beginnings before this blog. Russell’s post, with snippets from his experience, and where he stands now, can be read here.
Using My Voice
I was always fascinated by journalism, and writing in general. Though I endured a lot of adversity and fear in my childhood and teenage years, I never took my eyes off the prize and knew, no matter what, that I would be good at being a journalist and writer.
To backtrack, I have the (sometimes) misfortune of living with a stammer. Something I have had as long as I can remember, probably since the first time I opened my mouth and produced sound – broken, quiet, strained sounds. If you thought it was hard to get into an exclusively communication-driven industry, try doing it with a stammer stopping you in your tracks at every corner. I’ve talked lots about living with a stammer and you can read more here:
When Words Fail You, Claire Droney in the Irish Examiner
How Embracing My Stutter Gave me a New Lease on Life, Patrick Hanlon in The Huffington Post UK
Patrick Hanlon speaks to The Mooney Show on RTÉ about stammering
At 18, I got the chance to attend DCU to study journalism, it felt like a dream come true. I got my first university choice, my top course choice. Though going through it, I realised it wasn’t fully to my taste, I did learn an incredible amount about the industry and the profession. I left with a mark I didn’t think I could have ever achieved. I left with something stronger than school work or a stable grade though, it was the extra-curricular that has stood the most to me in my career.
Though, upon reading that you probably think I mean a hundred sports clubs, trips abroad with lots of various societies and raucous nights out with scores of new people. If so, you would be wrong, because, though I did join a bunch of clubs and societies and made a good few friends, there was just one activity that I cherished the most, and that was being a part of the university’s independent arts and culture magazine, run by the students for the students. I got involved right off the bat within days of my first year and produced features for the two issues of that year. I then interviewed, and was chosen, for the role of Deputy Editor for my second year, then progressing to Editor in my third and final year.
On My Own Beat
The magazine gave me everything I wanted to learn and let me explore the type of writing, lifestyle journalism, I wanted to pursue – which I felt was often discouraged, dismissed, and mocked within lecture halls. Yes, the world revolves around money, politics and the law. But if that was all the world, and journalism in general, was ever about, it would be such a dull and robotic place to live. With the magazine, I got a chance to be immersed in colour writing, from art exhibitions to interviewing upcoming bloggers and social media pioneers to writing about trends in dance, graffiti and fashion. I was surrounded by photography, unique publication design and immersed in small teams full of creative people who inspired and educated me. That’s what I thought university courses were meant to be and were meant to provide, but it’s outside the lectures where I truly experienced that.
That experience spurred me on to, yet again, go against the grain of my classmates and produce a very different thesis from everyone else. I undertook a design project, as opposed to the traditional dissertation. I produced a 100-page fashion magazine. I taught myself InDesign. I took the photography. I interviewed for every feature, and wrote every word. My magazine was awarded the highest mark possible, a first class honours grade.
A Change of Fate
I completed a three month internship in RTÉ that summer within the online entertainment website. An absolute blessing – which I almost didn’t get the chance to experience! Throughout my final year I had planned, hoped and eventually resolved to move to London just days after I would finish my degree and live out the mandatory summer internship I had to complete over there in the bright lights of the bigger smoke. I had it almost entirely planned. Yet a few days before being due to board that plane, I got extreme cold feet and I threw it all away.
Heartbroken at my lack of courage and ashamed of my response to fear, I also gut-wrenchingly knew that without fulfilling a summer internship I was going to fail my entire degree. No matter how well I performed over the three years, or with my thesis, it was a deal breaker. So I had to crawl back and seek out any Irish opportunity I could – opportunities I so smugly dismissed for months. I had to scramble and search amongst the scarce few jobs left since my entire class rightfully got the best Irish opportunities first, months before.
It was fate that all of that should happen. Because the very next day I saw an online posting for the internship I would ultimately get. RTÉ. Ask anyone from my final year class ‘Who will end up in RTÉ?’ and I guarantee you I would have been beyond the bottom of that list. Yet there I was. And there I stayed, in Ireland’s national broadcaster, long after the end of my fellow classmates’ internships. I got rewarded with a full-time job. It felt like a miracle.
The paying job was a different one to my internship, but still within the same team. It was a brand new role, created specifically for a brand new venture. It was perfect for me. RTÉ Lifestyle was about to become a hub of colour writing content, with five dedicated websites, and as part of that the existing fashion and food webpages would be turned into large-scale, traffic-heavy mini-sites on rte.ie
I was charged with digital content production for RTÉ Food primarily, while simultaneously producing for, and helping to manage, the rest of the RTÉ Lifestyle websites – Fashion, Homes, Travel and Motors, as well as continuously contributing towards the Entertainment website too. I was there from the planning and idea stages through to the testing and problem-solving stages and then at the forefront for the early (live) days and beyond.
I’m so proud of the job I got to do in RTÉ. It’s a position I never thought existed in such a big, daunting, hard news corporation, and I felt so lucky and so privileged to be in that seat. My two main passions in life are writing and food. Though I never got to combine the two professionally before getting that job, the idea of being a food writer was always in the back of my mind – a distant dream that I thought only select people got to do. I have such a passion and an inner drive towards food and cookery. Learning about it, testing myself, immersing myself in it has never felt like a chore or daunting decision. Little did I know that learning about cookery and having it as a passionate hobby throughout my teen years would lend itself to being my full-time job soon enough.
In RTÉ Food I got to experience the food industry up front and engage with some amazing producers, companies, chefs and fellow writers. I got to know amazing Irish talent in the form of some exceptional food bloggers, who I then got to support and bring on board as contributors. I swam amongst a sea of great recipes, new ones of which would crop up everyday, and I would be tasked with publishing them and portraying them in the best light possible. Though – I never got to test recipes in a test kitchen first, like with food magazines, and during the first months of my job I had to carefully transfer 3,000 recipes, one-by-one, from the old site to the new one. I cursed all recipes quite quickly for that short space of time.
I felt like I made a difference, like I brought something new to the industry table and that I was within the heartbeat of a voracious Irish food industry and community that was having something of a revival, with it’s blood pumping faster and more fervently than ever. In two very fast years I got hands-on experience of social media and digital marketing, two things you might seem baffled to find out were merely a smudge along the pathway in my degree (which I only completed a couple of years ago!) – mentioned, yet glazed over as we quickly hurried along towards classes in shorthand, ancient communication theories and court reporting. Yet two things that were so integral to the job I had to do everyday.
Not Staying For Dessert
And then, it came time to leave.
Though people may think it was ludicrous to go out at such a pivotal point in the brand’s early life, it felt like the right time. Certain practices were in place that I felt like there was a definite turning point occurring and it was up to me to decide whether I stay on, content but always at the same level, or search for something new and exciting abroad to challenge me and kick my career into high gear.
Then I made my merry way over to London, where it’s been one hell of a struggle and probably the most testing time of my entire career. I had to begin professionally at rock bottom, which I didn’t prepare for and which completely knocked all my confidence. It’s a long story, but I wrote about my journey in London in an article in The Irish Times in December 2015: ‘London is as Tough a Place to Emigrate to as Any Other…‘
I eventually found my feet. I worked my way up the retail ladder. I finally got a career-worthy job at Roche Communications, which I adored. Then I set up my own business as a freelance copywriter and social media consultant, which I’m still doing to this day alongside everything our wonderful blog affords me.
I sometimes wonder if I made the right decision. I still wonder what it would be like if I never left Ireland or clung onto the lucky break at RTÉ I was given. Throughout my entire life I’ve acted on impulse of an inner feeling, from vying to study journalism to focusing more on the extra-curriculars of my course and not the classes while I was there; Choosing not to go to London once, and then going to London when the right time came again. Something inside always told me what to do, so I’m going to keep listening to it…