Kate Thompson

Age: 26
Where on the planet are you currently located: Johannesburg
So what exactly is your job and how did you go about achieving that career path:
I am the editor of FM Campus, a supplementary magazine to the Financial Mail. I studied Journalism and English at Rhodes University, specialising in New Media. I then travelled overseas, working as a freelance writer and editor, as well as doing some fairly awful temping, rent-paying jobs in London and Edinburgh. When I came back to SA, I took a job in web publishing. I started in this position, editor of FM Campus, in 2009.

I think I got here because I really love what I do, so it makes it easier to work hard. In my interview it was clear that I really knew the heart and purpose of the publication, and I think that gave me an advantage. Being knowledgeable about your field is your best preparation.
What’s a typical working day for you:
I get into work at 9am, and start with a coffee while I wade through loads of emails, three newspapers, and several news sites. I spend most of the day editing articles from freelancers and internal staff for our website. I also write articles for FM Campus and FM. I often meet with potential partners and would-be advertisers too. I also tweet and facebook about our articles as often as possible. I finish any time between 5pm and 7pm depending on how busy I am. (FirstStep.me says: Finally a coffee drinker!)
All jobs have challenges, what would you say are some of yours:
We’re a tiny team with a small budget. This means that sometime you just don’t have the backing for your great ideas. Occasionally the copy that gets submitted is terrible, and I need to work at it for ages, sending it back for rewrites and more rewrites, and then fixing it myself. This is also my first job managing people directly, which is a big learning curve.
Where do you see yourself in five years time:
I’d like to be a senior editor at a major publication, but one that I think has real value for its readers. I’m never going to be satisfied editing puff pieces or lipstick chronicles. I’d also like to do my Masters in Journalism, and maybe try my hand at lecturing (in the slightly longer term). It is a dream of mine to study at the Columbia School of Journalism in New York, but I’m going to have to find funding for that dream to become reality.
Do you believe in studying as a key to success in all careers:
I can only talk from my experience, but I think there is a lot in my field that can’t be taught. You need to be a naturally curious person, enjoy people’s stories, and have a solid language base to work from. The writing and grammar can be taught to an extent, so you don’t necessarily need a degree for that. However, my degree gave me a wider understanding of the media industry and the pressures that shape it, such as ethical, financial and legal frameworks. It’s also a safe space to hone your skills before venturing in to the workplace.
Do you have any career role models that helped motivate your success:
When I was 17 I met Donald Woods when he addressed a Rotary club in East London (where I grew up). He was the editor of the Daily Dispatch in the 1970s, and is famous for his friendship with Steve Biko and his criticism of apartheid. His talk that night cemented my ambition to be a journalist.
One of my friends at varsity, Natasha Joseph, was a few years ahead of me in her journ degree. I used to ask her to read and crit my stuff. She was always patient and helpful, explaining where I’d gone wrong. Even now, when I struggle with a professional question, I turn to her.
Highlights of your career so far:
Taking photos of Nelson Mandela at the 2008 Nelson Mandela Foundation Annual Lecture, and my current job, working for the FM, with the great staff here. FM’s editor Barney Mthombothi has also been a role model for me and it’s wonderful to have the opportunity to work in his newsroom.
Funniest moment of your career so far:
When I was a junior reporter, I attended a swanky breakfast event with loads of local celebs in attendance. I had to stop them and get quotes about the event. I stopped one lady that I recognised but couldn’t name, got her quote, and then asked her to spell her name for me. She saw straight through my charade, and said something biting along the lines of “you have no idea who I am, so don’t pretend”. She still gave me her name, but I was MORTIFIED!
Okay serious questions over:
If you weren’t an editor you would be a game ranger or paleoanthropologist (seriously). (FirstStep.me notes...whilst making a cup of coffee: Paleoanthropology is the combination of paleontology and physical anthropology)
How many countries have you travelled through in the last 5 years: 8 or 9
What is your favourite movie, website and book:
This is impossible to narrow down, so these are favourites AT THE MOMENT, and are subject to change on a whim at any moment.
Movie: Shaun of the Dead
Website: hayibo.co.za
Book: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
If you could live on and have your very own planet what would you name it: Schnuftonia (FirstStep.me raises eyebrows!)
What message do you have for the youth of the world:
No one really knows what they’re doing. Being an adult doesn’t mean you have the answers, just that you’re better at hiding the nerves. Make the ethical choice whenever you can and you’ll always be able to live with yourself.