Some of us know the following lecture from their African parents: “My daughter, you can only be two things: lawyer and doctor, or doctor and lawyer.” Respond that you want to be a journalist, and watch the hilarity ensue.
You’ll hear; “So you want to kill me now?” But against the traditional narrative, many young African women continue to trailblaze in creative careers. SLA caught up with Judith Ohikuare, editor at Cosmopolitan, for gems and takeaways from her journey to the top.
Every single place that I’ve worked at before has been an application for the position I have now. I have been able to bring in the skills and knowledge I’ve acquired in my past towards my current position.”
How did you get your start as a journalist?
“After high school, I did an internship at Penguin Group where I got experience in the publishing aspect. The following summer, I worked as a marketing and publicity intern at Inc. magazine because that was the opportunity that I could get.
I didn’t really have any experience but they were willing to let me in there, so I took it. I then went on to work as a features intern for Seventeen magazine and later Marie Claire.
After college I worked at Inc. magazine where I was initially hired as a reporter on the print side.They were integrating print and digital at the time. After the integration, I was one of the social media managers. I still did small pieces as a junior reporter for the magazine covering live events for the website.
I left Inc. and moved to Washington D.C. for a fellowship at The Atlantic because I wanted to delve into human interest stories. When the fellowship was over, I briefly worked for a startup and I am now at the print side of Cosmopolitan Magazine as an associate editor.”
What is it like marketing yourself and standing out of the crowd?
“For me, it came down to finding people who are doing things that I like and building connections with them. I stay in touch with people that I want to learn from and whose work I respect. I think that when you make those natural connections then you can easily sell yourself. Those authentic networking connections lead to positions.
For example, during my internship at Inc. Magazine, I worked with an editorial intern who is an incredible interviewer. I admired her interviewing style and we naturally became friends. She is the one who let me know once a full-time position opened up at Inc.”
How do you approach personal branding?
When it comes to branding, I would say choose spaces that make sense to you and that you feel represent you most authentically. If it’s on Twitter, how do you want to convey your voice?
Do you want it to be more personal or professional? If it’s on Facebook, do you use your personal account to share your writings or do you want to create a writer’s page for that?
How have you utilized social media to build your brand?
You don’t need to be on every platform. You don’t have to be on periscope, if that’s not why people are coming to you, for example. I think you and your brand come off most authentically when you are doing what is most natural to you.
If you are creating a website for your work, which is what I am thinking of doing, then how do you organize that? Do you organize it by theme or by publications? That entails getting in touch with what people are coming to you for. If I think that people are coming to me more for profiles then I will organize my website in terms of profiles as opposed to publications.
What’s your opinion on creating personal space on the internet?
It’s something that I’m still working on. For me, it’s about going into the sites that I feel represent me the best. I initially created a Twitter account to share the things that I’m reading and that I find fascinating.
When I started getting more into journalism, it became a great tool to discover other writer’s voices so that I could know what they talk about, and connect with people, too. I also use Facebook to share things that I write. Occasionally, I email articles that I have written to friends who I think may be interested.
What risks have you taken for your career?
I gave up a full-time job to join the Atlantic for a one year fellowship that wasn’t necessarily going to lead to a job after it was done. But I followed it because it was something that I was very interested in and that I knew I would learn from.
Put yourself out there for positions that may not have an immediate sense of pay off but that will teach you valuable skills.
Do you believe there is one set way to becoming a journalist?
There is no set career path in this field so try different things. It’s great to have a beat, but if you get opportunities outside of that take them if you can do them and do them well.
One of the things that I have done on the side is write a few profiles for Mater Mea – a website that celebrates black women who are mothers and have careers. This is because I love what it is doing and think there is a lot of good value in being a part of it.
I would advise anybody to follow those passion projects. Whether it is something that you start yourself or that you are a part of through somebody else.
What advice do you have on identifying opportunities?
Take them. Even when you can’t necessarily see where they will lead. When I was at Inc. and ended up becoming one of the social media managers, I knew how to use Twitter as a consume, not from a business perspective.
It was definitely more work but I learnt so much about analytics, creating a voice online and connecting with people. I ended up using those skills at The Atlantic. When I’m given an opportunity, I take it.
If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here.