Only a few months after starting at the British primary care magazine Pulse as a staff reporter this year, COVID-19 hit, marking the start of a rapid learning curve for Costanza Pearce who continues to break exclusives and hold those in power to account. "It has been overwhelming at times but a privilege to serve and write for doctors who are working on the frontline and who need help digesting information."
What made you want to work in the publishing industry?
When I was a teenager my dad used to bring me back Italian Grazia so I had a massive pile of them at home. As I got a bit older, I got really interested in how text and image work together and how you can use them to tell a story. I have generally just always enjoyed taking something complex and trying to make it simple and so I realised that my skills fitted journalism.
Chart your career from the start to where you are now.
I studied Medieval Literature & Languages which is where I fell in love with text and image together. At the time I was Editor of a student magazine for the international development society at university, which is when I realised that was what I wanted to do. I finished my degree and started off as a copywriter at a start-up. I then worked at the Financial Times for The Banker magazine helping organise the Bank of the Year Awards. It was a great experience to be part of the newsroom and build up some contacts. After six months I did my NCTJ at the Press Association and I then got my first reporter job. After a year I moved to Pulse where I have been since January.
Were you surprised to find yourself in health journalism following a degree in Medieval Literature & Languages?
My experience at the FT made me really consider trade press because I really liked knowing exactly who your audience was. My now Editor came to the Press Association to give a talk about trade press and that is how I ended up applying to the job. With something very specialist you don’t need to know the subject matter already and I don’t write any clinical stories, but more political stories. They want you to have those journalism skills as opposed to subject knowledge and it also means my reporting is more accurate because I don’t make assumptions.
How did it feel to win a PPA 30 Under 30 Award?
I was honoured and completely delighted as I am so in awe of all the others on the list. Being a health journalist in a pandemic has given me a real chance to grow, especially only having had a staff reporter job for less than two years. It has been a big responsibility and learning curve and breaking big stories over the last year has really built up my confidence.
What has it been like being a health journalist over the course of the pandemic?
It has been completely mad. We went from having an average of one breaking news story a week to, in the peak of the pandemic, publishing two breaking news stories a day. It has been overwhelming at times but a privilege to serve and write for doctors who are working on the frontline and who need help digesting information.
What is the role and importance of the magazines like Pulse during this time?
The role is to advocate and serve our readers. Serving is the really important thing about a trade magazine. Because you know exactly who your audience are, you can really get under their skin and know what they care about and what makes them tick. In this time we have had to pivot to creating lots of COVID resources so a lot of our time has been spent digesting tonnes of official documents. The advocacy part is about putting pressure on people in power and championing doctors.
Can you highlight some of the stories you have personally broken over the course of the pandemic, which you are most proud of?
Our team had covered the fact that there were expired masks going around and at the time the government had rebutted our story and said they were safe and had been tested. A few months later I then personally broke the story that practices had been told to dispose of them because they were unsafe. I then revealed how many practices had been affected. There was also the story on locum GPs who had to claim state benefits because they couldn’t find work. We were so overwhelmed with responses that we had to turn it into two stories.
What advice did you wish you had received starting out at Pulse as a young reporter?
You don’t need to apologise for not understanding. My Editor says that you can tell a good reporter because they will stop people constantly to get them to explain and clarify. It’s important not to be apologetic and ashamed about not understanding something.
What’s on your radar?
How to make our coverage more diverse. I know that the GP profession is very diverse but sometimes it is easy to use the contacts that are long standing and who we have already built trust with. I want to try and branch out and build more contacts. Unfortunately, the comment section, which at times is a cesspit, can dissuade people from contributing and so this means at times we aren’t as diverse with our interviewees as we could be.
What magazine would you stockpile?
Delicious magazine. I love a food magazine and for a while I wanted to do food journalism. It’s a great thing to stockpile and all those recipes will never go out of date. An alternative would be The Big Issue as homelessness is an issue that is really close to my heart.