INSPIRED: Wannabe Hacks

If you’re trying to break into a specific field, it can feel a bit daunting. Fortunately for aspiring journos, there is Wannabe Hacks, a website devoted to bringing advice and news to those looking to make it in the world of newspapers and magazines.

Here, Ben Whitelaw, one fifth of Wannabe Hacks, tells us a bit about what goes on behind running the site, and what gave them the idea for it in the first place.

Tell us a bit about yourselves…

We are: The Student (Ben Whitelaw), The Freelancer (Matt Caines), The Intern (Nick Petrie), The Maverick (Alice Vincent) and The Chancer (Tom Clarke).

What gave you the inspiration for the website?

During our time at university (four of us went to Birmingham together – Alice (who studied at Newcastle) was recruited after our friend unfortunately had to drop out of his MA course in London) – we felt that there wasn’t really an online resource specifically for aspiring journalists – it was mainly commentary and advice from those who had already got into the industry. So we decided to create a site where people could see how five very normal grads got on trying to get into the media. It helped a lot that we would be doing so through various paths – postgrad course, freelancing, interning etc – and thus had a careers advice element to it as well as the journalism slant.

From that point in August, we decided to give ourselves alias’ to make ourselves instantly recognisable and another friend from Brum, Jess, made our silhouette Mad Men style alias’, which are very distinct. We set up a WordPress blog and fiddled with the concept and the design as we went before enlisting a young designer, Cameron (@driz) to create our custom site, which went live in December. So we’ve come quite a long way in just over 5 months!

What does Wannabe Hacks aim to do, and how does it go about doing it?

I’d like to think Wannabe Hacks satisfies the needs of different people in different ways – provide advice about aspects of journalism (we recently had a Reporter’s Week about ways of finding news), our views on the latest media hot topic (whether it’s press freedom or 10 O’Clock Live) and enlightens younger people about possible routes into the industry. And then there are those who are just reassured when they hear we are having the same trouble as they are at mastering shorthand or pitching stories to editors.

What recognition have you had in the press?

All our mentions can be found here. The Guardian piece (starting Journalism may be stricken but it is far from death’s door…‘) was published back in September when we were just a month old and kind of kicked it all off for us. That was just a case of us getting in touch with Media Guardian and saying ‘hey, we’re doing something a bit different, fancy letting us write something?’ More recently we came second in Fleet Street Blues’ Best journalism blogs. Stats wise, we’ve had 10,000 page impressions in the month Dec 17 – Jan 16, the time Analytics has been tracking our numbers on the new site.  Before that we had 31,000 page views in the four months between Aug 13 – Dec 17 on our old site. So we’ve had over 40,000 impressions in 5 months and we’re still growing which is good.

What are your plans for the website?

We will be diversifying our content in the coming months to demonstrate that we are moving with journalism. We’re planning to place greater emphasis on infographics, looking at where it comes from and how it is presented. Podcasts and Audiobooks will make up a greater proportion of our content and we will begin to delve into video with some simple guides that we think journalists will find useful e.g. a day in the life of The Freelancer, how to find stories on your patch, body language when talking to someone etc. We will also be launching a Photo Friday to highlight the importance of photography and the good work that goes on. In addition to this we have a Hacks meet up planned in London for 28th January – it’s nothing formal, just a chance to have a chat and meet some people face to face, and we already have 60 people signed up. We are also hoping to write an ebook in the next few months and are just fleshing out structure and topic between us.

To find out more info about Wannabe Hacks, visit or have a look at their LinkedIn page. Also, Tweet them: @wannabehacks


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