Under the Radar with Sophie Griffiths
This week I spoke with Travel Trade Gazette (TTG)'s Editor about the school trip that sparked a love of writing and travel, the unglamorous side of travel writing (as well as the astounding perks) and launching the TTG LGBT platform...
Ellie Austin scored a job at Immediate Media as a Features Writer for Radio Times after graduating from the Magazine Journalism MA course at City University. Here she talks about working in the fast-paced world of a major weekly magazine and the power of a good coffee.
What made you want to work in the magazine industry?
It might seem a bit of a twee story, but when I was in Year 12 I was lucky enough to be selected by the Holocaust Educational Trust to go to Auschwitz – one of two state school children, who are selected each year from around the country. As part of the pitch for why I wanted to go, the Trust asks the students to submit a report on their trip afterwards. The scenes I saw really moved me and I wrote what I hoped was a powerful piece, which was published in the local newspaper. Afterwards a much younger student approached me to ask if I had written it - he said it had really moved him. It sounds corny but it was the first time I’d experienced the power of words, and how they can affect people. From then on, I was hooked.
What have been your career highlights so far?
After university I took a year out and used it to do work experience at places like ITV and my local newspaper in between stints of secretarial work, while I tried to work out if I really did want to be a journalist. I applied to City, University of London to do a postgrad journalism and, while I was there, did work experience at Building Magazine and Ink publishing. I was lucky enough to win the Stationers prize for a piece I did around Dark Tourism. That was the realisation that made me think: “Actually, I can do this, I can be a journalist.”
I got a job at Building Magazine, I was there for a year and a half. UBM also owned TTG at the time and a position came up as a Reporter there, which I leapt at the chance to interview for. I’ve always loved news and I joined in 2010 - just as the ash crisis [the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull] was happening. I thought, “Yes! There are travel stories everywhere!” From there I’ve worked my way up in the Editorial team – apart from an 8-month hiatus to travel the world a few years ago. When I returned, I became News Editor and was promoted to Editor in 2017. Last year I was incredibly proud to win Editor of the Year at the Independent Publisher Awards and was highly commended for Editor of the Year at the PPA Awards, both of which were definite career highlights. I also ran the 2018 London Marathon with my work colleagues for our chosen company charity Children with Cancer, which felt pretty awesome.
Do you have a go-to work outfit?
Usually skinny jeans, trainers and a shirt. You can run around much quicker in trainers, (although I always keep a pair of heels in my bag just in case).
How do you handle deadlines?
The work load at uni was pretty intense so helpfully I now find I work best when I’m working to a deadline. That said, I don’t know how I’d cope with a daily deadline. A weekly one is great though, you just have to be fairly nimble.
What’s the most unusual situation you’ve found yourself in because of your job?
There are so many. Maybe interviewing astronaut, Chris Hadfield (who was fascinating), or interviewing Nigel Farage (who was less fascinating). I have also skydived on a cruise ship and spent an incredible week in the Galapagos Islands for work. I’ve been incredibly lucky.
What would people be surprised to know about your job?
I think there’s a perception travel journalism is incredibly glamorous, but sometimes we don’t get to see the places we travel to – we just land at the airport, go to the hotel and you only see the place from the window of a coach. That said, I have had some amazing experiences, don’t get me wrong!
Walk me through your typical day.
There is no typical day. Sometimes it’s waking at 3.00am and getting to the airport for a trip or conference somewhere. Even in the office no day is the same, but it invariably involves coffee, several meetings, catching up with the team and then attempting to reply to a thousand emails. It’s often travelling as well though - it’s a happy mix.
How has being a member of the PPA helped you/added value to your brand?
There are so many amazing things about being an independent business, but one of the downfalls is that you’re not necessarily in a big publishing house, meaning opportunities to meet with other editors are limited. With the PPA, we get the chance to come along not just to the PPA Festival, but also the Independent Publishers Conference, which I have found incredibly beneficial. Sharing learned values and ideas is really inspiring. The legal helpline is also useful, as well as the regular updates on Brexit. It’s really helpful in terms of staying informed but also for having a platform to talk about the brand where, sometimes, B2Bs have less of a voice.
If you didn’t have to sleep, how would you use the remaining hours in the day?
I love reading and drawing but I never have time. Normally I do pencil drawings or line drawings but I recently did an oil-painting class near London Bridge, which was amazing.
What is the last photo you took on your phone (at time of interview)? Why?
My cat, Tess.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
It’s really mundane, but I’d probably say, chocolate – and I mean the big 200g ones (much more economical to buy). I’m also partial to a caramel latte.
Whose phone number do you wish you had?
Laura Kuenssberg and Katya Adler. I’d love to have a gossip with them about what’s really going on in Westminster/the EU. I’m also a huge admirer of them as journalists – and I love that they are strong women in the BBC’s two most senior political positions.
What’s the worst/best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Worst: “Don’t do TTG LGBT, it will create divisions, we don’t need it, it’s unnecessary”. This was from someone gay and living in the London bubble, rather than considering the bigger picture. I look at our portfolio of events and conferences, and also the emails from people who’ve said how it’s helped them, and think, “Hmmm I think we were right to do it!”
Best: I remember being in Year 8 and my Mum, who’s an English teacher, pointed to one of the books she was marking and said, “This person has just got into Oxford.” At the time I had no idea what Oxford was. My Mum explained and I said “I’d like to go there one day”. She replied: “You know what? If you work hard and you want it badly enough, you can do anything you want.” It sounds like a cliché, but I always think of that even now whenever I doubt myself. She was right too, as I was lucky to get into Oxford five years later.
What/where is your happy place?
Anywhere that’s near a beach or a lake. I love to be near water.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
That I really don’t enjoy flying!
What would be in your Room 101?
PRs who call you immediately after sending an email, asking “did you get my email?”
Also, peas. And let’s put homophobia and Brexit in there too for good measure.
Introvert or extrovert?
Optimist or pessimist?
Film or television? What are you binge-watching at the moment?
Television. Dead to Me on Netflix.
Sweet or savoury?
Morning person or night owl?
Tea or coffee?
Coffee – especially caramel latte!
Emojis – cool or cringey? Which emoji do you use the most?
Cool. The laugh crying one, also hands up and the rainbow flag, obviously!