Dublin student seminar inspires budding journalists

  • 18 Nov 2022

The NUJ's event for journalists in Ireland left all motivated to pursue careers within the industry.

Michael O’Toole shared some of the difficult experiences he’d encountered as a journalist, emphasising the importance of prioritising personal safety. Top tips included always introducing yourself, choosing safe locations to meet sources and being aware of misinformation.

Referencing the NUJ’s code of conduct, he said “the most important thing you can do is protect your sources.”

With an eventful career spanning several  decades, O’Toole shared “The Troubles are the main reason I became a journalist.” 

He said:

“If I was starting again I would do it in a heartbeat. I’ve seen the best of people, people have told me their stories, I’ve been round the world. It’s a great privilege to do my job.”

Siobhan Holliman, deputy editor of The Tuam Herald, and Cathaoirleach of the Irish executive council  echoed comments, adding “it is a privilege. Once you treat people with respect it will come back.“

Next to address the engaged audience was Emma Tyrrell. The broadcast journalist encouraged students in the room to be confident in seizing opportunities and connecting with people at organisations of interest. 

She said:

“Don’t wait until the end of your degree to get experience. Try and get experience as soon as you can.” 

Hearing a firsthand account of the morning anchor’s day at 98fm, was the highlight for several student journalists joining on the night. Tyrrell considered the variety her role brought, saying “you don’t know any given day what stories you will be on. It’s a great place to work”

The panel agreed that although journalism never stays the same, hard work and determination go a long way. 

As Bryan Dobson rose to address attendees, he captured attention with stories of his time on pirate radio at the start of his career. “It’s important to step out of your comfort zone and try something new” he reminded others, encouraging steps to explore new avenues and roles at different stages of a career. 

On integrity, balance and objectivity, he said:

“Our job as reporters is to uncover stories and communicate them in a way that engages attention and teaches people about the world they live in. 

“It’s not the job of any journalist to tell people what to think. It’s our job to challenge those in authority and with power, and to hold people to account.”

Closing his address, he said: 

“I am really enjoying the twilight years of my journalistic career. I can’t think of a better job in the world; I love meeting people. The world is so full of stories just waiting to be picked up."

Journalist and TV presenter Zainab Boladale discussed how her curiosity and passion for media led her to a career in the industry. Early memories of “flicking through newspapers as a child” and “ sitting in the library for hours” meant she quickly became engulfed in all things storytelling. 

She said:

“Working in children’s news taught me the importance of stripping a story to its core. 

"Having to explain Black Lives Matter protests and stories on Trump to children when half of adults didn’t understand it was difficult”

Her skill has led her to win awards and travel around Ireland as a reporter, but Boladale also shared the backlash she had received from some, as a Black woman in journalism. 

She said:

“Journalism is sometimes inaccessible. You need to give people the grace to realise that if they know the story they just need the proper tools. We lack enough opportunities for people to have a go at it.”

Boladale encouraged student journalists from diverse backgrounds to pursue a career if they are passionate. “It’s important you bring what you know to your stories...don’t limit your ideas of journalism to what you see.”

On her approach to her pitching, she said “I pitch stories I find interesting; stories that are unique. I think what can I bring to the table and what can I bring to the forefront that’s not out there?”

A q&a session followed by an informal reception allowed students and speakers to network, making helpful connections. Holliman reminded students of the important role the NUJ would play throughout careers.

She said:

“What the NUJ gives you is a voice. It gives you support and is there to help you in the industry. It stands up for you as a worker and stands up for journalism itself."

Séamus Dooley, NUJ Irish secretary, congratulated Katie Mellett, winner of The Irish

Times Mary Maher bursary as the audience applauded her significant achievement.

Mellett is the first recipient of the award and will have her course fees paid for by the publication. She will also receive student membership of the NUJ.

Dooley also highlighted the work of the union’s Black Members’ Council and encouraged students to become involved within the NUJ. He told attendees of the  Claudia Jones Memorial Lecture with guest speaker Gary Younge, held earlier this month.


Ian McGuinness, NUJ Irish Organiser, said:

“As well as the talks by the speakers, and the Q&A session; students had a chance to chat with the speakers and nine other working journalists who were in the audience, at an informal social event afterwards.

“The feedback from the students was superb. They valued the opportunity to talk with journalists, who are among the best in their profession in Ireland. It energised and inspired them as the next generation of Irish journalists.

“This will become an annual event in Ireland. These types of practical seminars are instructive for working journalists and student journalists alike. If any Irish branches want to stage similar local events, the NUJ Irish office can advise and assist them in doing so.”

Ian thanked the five speakers for giving up their time to speak to students. He also thanked NEC member Dara Bradley, IEC member Cearbhall O Siochain, and NUJ Irish Office staff Evelyn Hannigan and Helen Taylor, for helping to organise the event.

 You can catch up on the event by searching #NUJStudentSeminar on Twitter.

Synoah, student journalist, said:

“Today gave me courage to continue and pursue my path. It was really engaging and i feel inspired by the panel to just go for it.”


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