Post details: The key to journalism: “Just start writing”
The key to journalism: “Just start writing”
Categories: 02 Special interviews
Jes Nielsen (St. Edmunds, 1998-2001; Sidney Sussex 2002-2004) had a clear ambition to become a journalist – a foreign correspondent in particular – even before reading a BA in Social and Political Sciences (SPS), and later on an MPhil in Chinese Studies at Cambridge. He shares with us how his Cambridge education and unique background facilitated his pursuit in becoming a foreign correspondent for a leading Danish newspaper.
With this clear ambition in mind, Jes contemplated going to journalist school in Denmark upon completion of his military duties. However, on a friend’s suggestion, he became curious of the English university system, and decided to apply for Cambridge’s Social and Political Sciences (SPS) programme. Jes remembers the nerve-wrecking interview, where he was stunned by the interviewer’s thorough knowledge of Danish history. The tutor’s deep understanding of Denmark, its history and culture ‘was absolutely intimidating’, Jes said.
Whilst the SPS programme did not instill in him the knowledge of journalistic theories, it provided a perfect opportunity to develop an eloquent style of writing, and an ability to clearly express an opinion. The most important skill he learnt from Cambridge, however, was critical thinking: ‘You learn to listen to all kinds of arguments and assess their value. You appreciate the beauty of each argument, even though you don’t necessarily believe in any of them!’
In terms of the learning environment, Jes found St. Edmund’s College a particularly welcoming place, where the sense of community was perhaps stronger than could be found in any university in Denmark. Jes treasures the life-long friendships he fostered, with college peers as well as eccentric characters he met through the many student societies at the university. In spite of the students’ differing backgrounds, Jes believes there is a common trait amongst them, namely, an impressive degree of focus and drive. Jes also met his wife (a law student from Hong Kong) during his second year, and this inspired him to return to Cambridge for a second time to study for a Masters in Chinese Studies, after a brief period of working as a speech writer in the Danish Parliament.
Having acquired proficiency in the Chinese language, Jes firmly set his sights on becoming a foreign correspondent in China: ‘Unless you are a war correspondent, there is no better place to go. China is the biggest international story right now.’ Instead of focusing on a particular aspect (e.g. financial, political) of journalism, Jes greatly enjoys the freedom offered by his current employer, a leading Danish newspaper (famous or infamous for its publication of the Mohammed cartoons in 2005) of exploring a wide variety of topics. His innate sense of adventure is reflected in his upcoming book (published in Danish), in which he compiles short stories on many facets of life in China, ranging from democracy in rural communities, to the hardship of migrant workers in big cities.
As well as a general freedom to explore, Jes enjoys the opportunity to be at the forefront of major political events, and to be constantly stimulated by meeting people from all walks of life. More importantly, Jes advocates that there is nothing like the possibility to share one’s own experiences with many hundred thousands of readers. ‘They see the world through your eyes,’ he says.
Jes is aware that to many students, journalism offers an ‘unstructured’ career path and appears to present high risks. But he thinks that young people ought to take some ‘career risks’ – especially before they settle down. As for aspiring journalists, anyone interested should ‘just start writing’. For those who have the same degree of focus and passion as Jes, combined with a great sense of perseverance, journalism is a fulfilling career.
(interviewed by Kelvin Cheung, Homerton 1999)