Amanda Ferguson is a freelance journalist who made her name working for the Belfast Telegraph and has gone on to work for most of the media outlets in Ireland. Currently, she is most frequently found writing news and politics for The Irish Times and Reuters, as well as promoting her home area of north Belfast on social media.
How did you get into journalism?
I grew up around journalists and always thought I would pursue media as a career but ended up studying marketing and communication instead. I took the scenic route through university and got a job working for a quango after I graduated.
It was a decent job with flexi-time, a pension and good holidays but I found it soul-destroying. I did not give age a second thought until I was 29-and-a-half and experienced a bit of a meltdown over the thought that if I didn’t pursue journalism then, when would I? I found out on my 30th birthday I had been accepted to study journalism at Belfast Metropolitan College. So in 2009 I swapped full time employment for three very poorly paid part-time jobs and studying full-time.
I got my start at The Belfast Telegraph, have gone on to work for most media outlets on this island and I have even won a few awards for writing along the way. Nowadays writing about politics and breaking news for The Irish Times and Reuters keeps me busy but I enjoy feature writing and radio too.
Describe your typical working day?
It usually involves lots of conversations, phone calls, emails, typing, and monitoring of social media and news outlets. I am a freelance journalist working for a broad range of clients so every day is different. I could be providing election commentary on the TV or radio, up in a hot air balloon ahead of a council event or reviewing the opening concert of an Adele music tour at the SSE Arena.
Another day I could be doing a vox pop on the street about Brexit, covering a women’s reproductive rights demonstration outside Belfast City Hall or interviewing politicians up at Stormont.
On days when I am not working flat out I love to take a break to watch Countdown on Channel 4.
Who would you identify as your role models in the industry and why?
I have had the pleasure of working with and for so many talented people. The Irish Times Northern Editor Gerry Moriarty is a beautiful writer and a thoroughly decent man. It is an honour to have such a skilled journalist and lovely person as a mentor. I will always remember the help I received in my early career from former Belfast Telegraph deputy news editor Claire Harrison and I am grateful to The Detail data specialist Kathryn Torney for recommending me for some quality jobs over the years.
Mirror and Belfast Live features editor Jilly Beattie is a great journalist and a fabulous woman and has always been very supportive of me.
I enjoy the media contributions made by Alex Kane, Brian Feeney, Chris Donnelly, David McCann, Dawn Purvis and Newton Emerson, among others. I admire The Irish News security correspondent Allison Morris for her confidence and straight talking analysis in broadcast settings.
What is it about journalism that you enjoy?
The buzz. The pressure can be sickening at times but I enjoy it. Journalism can be mentally exhausting but it does not really feel like work to me. It is such a privilege to be journalist.
Working as a Northern correspondent in Ireland is never dull as our history and way of life is so complex and in the main the people are funny, intelligent and full of opinions.
I love talking, listening and learning so writing stories for a living is perfect for me.
I enjoy the ‘money can’t buy experiences’, ‘the ring side seat as history unfolds’, the eclectic mix of people I get to meet and every opportunity I get to tell people how wonderful north Belfast is. It is where I am from and really is the best part of the city.
What would you describe as your most notable story or project?
I am most proud of my pieces that give a voice to ordinary people or those struggling for their rights.
Journalists are trusted with sharing the most important, sometimes intimate and at times distressing details of a person’s life. It is a responsibility I take seriously and I am known for my sensitive handling of topics. Recently a sexual abuse survivor waived her right to anonymity to talk to me and raise awareness for Nexus rape and sexual abuse charity.
I love covering politics and also the arts so my writing on the campaign to ensure the Reduced Shakespeare Company was not banned from performing at Theatre at The Mill in Newtownabbey is a highlight.
I pride myself on being fair and I am also proud of my ability to turn my hand to just about anything and produce fast, clean copy on a complex range of topics, sometimes for more than one outlet at a time.
How is journalism embracing the digital revolution?
With varying levels of success. I think outlets are still trying to work out the best models for online journalism, how to make money from it and how to adapt. I like the opportunity it brings for long reads, to display a story through images, video, graphics and text but shudder sometimes when I see the dreadful non-stories or photo galleries exploiting women and others dressed up as news.
I embraced social media (you will find me on Twitter @AmandaFBelfast) relatively early on and have found it a lot of fun as well as an invaluable tool for my work.
What advice would you give anyone starting out in the profession?
Do your best. Work hard. Take no nonsense. Make sure you get paid every penny you are owed. Have integrity. Remember everyone is equal so don’t feel intimidated. Speak up if you find yourself feeling uncomfortable. Embrace all opportunities. Remember that every day is a school day. Read all your stories back and listen back or watch your broadcast contributions to identify where you can improve. Journalism is a craft so you will always be learning. Be nice to the sub editors. Develop a good contacts book. Support other women. Join the NUJ. Only accept gifts that can be consumed within 24 hours. Enjoy.
What are your main interests outside of work?
Sleeping, reading, dining out, arts events, swimming, and spending time with my friends and loved ones.