A (virtual) coffee with… Alice Wignall, freelance journalist

After starting her career by winning the Sunday Telegraph’s Catherine Pakenham award (Polly Toynbee is another former winner), Alice went on to become Senior Writer at New Woman, Features Director at more! magazine and a regular contributor to the Guardian. She’s just finished a stint as Features Director at Elle magazine and is now freelancing.

Why did you choose journalism as a career?

I worked on the student paper at university, eventually ending up as editor, and that got me hooked. The opportunity to write for a living was probably the biggest thing, but journalism also gives you the chance to really engage with and comment upon what’s going on around you.

What are your areas of interest?

I’ve worked in women’s magazines for all of my career, so as you would expect: relationships, emotions, style, culture and why they work in the way they do. For newspapers, I write about similar things, but with a slightly different approach; also on media, women and wellbeing.

How has your job changed over the last 5 years?

Personally, it’s changed because I now edit as much as write, a very different discipline and one that I really enjoy getting to grips with. Hopefully, finessing other people’s work makes me into a better writer too. In magazines particularly, over the last five years there are fewer writers on staff; freelancers are much more an essential part of the process – something that’s obviously been facilitated by the internet.

Career highlights so far?

Oh, lots! I loved working at Elle. I think it’s a great magazine, with a fantastically talented team and it’s so nice to work on something you are proud of. I also had a lot of freedom and responsibility: definitely a challenge but one I enjoyed. Editing my student paper wasn’t exactly a real job but I’ll never have more fun again. But I find almost everything I do interesting, and I’m very lucky to be able to do a job I love.

Advice for PRs?

Oh, just the usual gripes: don’t call up to pitch an idea that would never in a million years go in the publication I am writing for. At Elle, we’d get loads of PRs trying to place things on our food or interiors pages. We didn’t have any! Building good relationships is what brings most benefits to both sides.

Advice for wannabe journalists?

Work experience is pretty much essential to get you in the door and it’s an increasing problem that people who don’t come from London and/or from wealthy familes who can subsidise extended periods of working for free are at a disadvantage. So make the most of other opportunities: especially working on student newspapers, radio or TV stations. You need to show you’re committed – even a blog can do that. Don’t give up. Contrary to what you might think, the world is not full of talented, ambitious, hard-working candidates. The industry is hungry for fresh blood and if you can prove you have what it takes, you’ll be snapped up (eventually) – you just need to keep banging away.

Favourite media?

I love, love, love the internet but you’d struggle to get me to give up on print. It’s just a nicer reading experience, easier, more of a ritual. Nothing online can match a glossy magazine for the edit, knowhow and sensual pleasure of reading it. And newspapers’ websites often annoy me because their layout doesn’t correspond to the publication. I like the way that you can look at G2 on the Guardian’s website, so you can see all that day’s features. Other newspapers funnel you to ‘Health’, ‘Fashion’ or whatever – you go to what you know you’re interested in but miss out on stumbling across an great article on the adjoining page that you never would have thought to look for.

Can’t live without: coffee, paper, or tweet

I probably should try to live without Twitter, because it’s such a distraction. I don’t use that much paper (I don’t even own a printer). I don’t actually drink coffee, but replace that with tea and that would be it. I get through gallons of the stuff. I couldn’t contemplate work (or life!) without it.

Contact: alicewignall@gmail.com

This entry was posted in A (virtual) coffee with..., Journalism, PR, Print. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to A (virtual) coffee with… Alice Wignall, freelance journalist

  1. ALLI FATIMA says:


    • Hi,
      If you tell me a bit about yourself, I’d be happy to point you in the right direction.

      Take a look at the other “A (virtual) coffee with…” articles for advice from other journalists.


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