Magazine editor, music journalist and keen photographer, Fiona McKinlay, reveals how her passion for music and writing helped pave the way to her career at Think, why confidence in your own abilities will take you far, and offers some practical advice on how to kickstart a career in the publishing industry.
Read on to find out more about Fiona’s unlikely journalistic inspirations and her career highlights so far.
Hey! I’m Fiona. I am a managing editor at Think Publishing and work on a bunch of magazines.
I do loads of commissioning, editing, writing, work with our clients to make sure we are giving them what they want and what they need, make sure magazines get to press on time and that they are as good as possible.
The role is really varied and although it can get pretty high pressure at times, I love it.
Did you always want to get involved in journalism? Tell us about your inspirations.
Well, I began writing when I was two…! One of my earliest heroes was April O’Neil in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon. She was a TV reporter.
As the shyest child ever, though, I worked out that print journalism would be a better career for me. I wasn’t really a fan of danger either, so news was ruled out.
Music has always been a huge thing for me, so music journalism was an obvious goal. I pursued that pretty tirelessly for a long time. Over the years I did pretty well with it… but at various points also worked in a record store, went to uni twice, worked as a full-time web developer, did a load of music photography, managed a medical school library and was various kinds of writer and editor. It definitely wasn’t the most direct route.
Ultimately, late one Saturday night, I sent a speculative CV to Think. I thought nothing would come of it… but I was wrong, and here I am.
What are your favourite aspects of being an editor?
One of the best bits about the job is the team I work with, who are a super-smart and super-talented bunch. I learn so much from working with them and they inspire me to keep getting better.
I used to think my spelling and grammar were pretty hot, but our sub editors are spectacular. I love seeing what the designers do and picking up some of their ways, so that I can make all of our jobs a little easier – stuff like copying styles and other little fixes that save pages going back and forth between us. The more closely we work together too, the better I get at commissioning articles that will work really well visually. The other editors have taught me loads too. We come from many different backgrounds, so have a lot of ideas, expertise and contacts to exchange.
You’re also a music journalist and a keen photographer. How did you get involved in these creative roles and what do you enjoy about them?
I made my first website when I was 13 and put music reviews on it, so I guess that might have been the start of it. Through my teens I got involved in any and every music website and magazine that would publish my stuff.
At uni, I got involved in loads of student media. Somewhere along the lines I worked out that taking photos at gigs could open up more opportunities, so I started doing that too.
I became music editor of Qmunicate (Glasgow Uni’s Queen Margaret Union magazine), which gave me some of the best days of my life and some great experience, which included learning InDesign.
Through Qmunicate, I was introduced to the music editor of Metro and started writing gig previews for them. I got pretty involved in the local music scene too, and a bunch of other opportunities came my way from that. It all happened gradually with a lot of hard work.
I have two favourite things about music journalism: getting to chat with songwriters and musicians who make music that has had a massive impact on me personally, and getting to spread the word about the more underrated bands I love.
With gig photography, there’s just a real buzz to getting a great shot.
Career highlights so far.
I interviewed Nate Ruess from Fun. a couple of times before they got super famous, and once after – which bizarrely ended up being at The Guardian offices in London. They were recording a session, and I got to be the only other person in the room apart from cameramen when they played their set.
The first person I ever interviewed face to face was Damian Kulash from OK Go, and I’ve interviewed him a bunch of times since. He’s super-smart and always has interesting things to say, so it’s always a pleasure.
My first phoner was Matt from Busted. There are so many other interviews that stand out too: Jared Leto, Panic at the Disco, Fall Out Boy, Brand New, McFly, Razorlight, The Killers, Biffy Clyro, Twenty One Pilots…
Other highlights include driving a boat at Lochleven Castle for a feature in Historic Scotland magazine, Legion Scotland Today winning Front Cover of the Year (PPA Independent Publishers Awards 2014) for its first issue, beating Rock Sound.
Oh, and one of my photos got used in Rolling Stone earlier this year. No biggie.
What advice would you give to those interested in becoming an editor or journalist? What skills should you have and what aims should you set yourself?
Email editors, tell them what you want to do and send them your work. Sometimes you’ll not even hear back, but a lot of the best opportunities in my career came from just sending that email and asking the question – the biggest one being my job at Think.
Write loads and network, because if nobody knows who you are, they’re not going to think to ask you when that feature commission comes up that’s just perfect for you. Pitch ideas.
Internships are a great way opportunity if you go in with the right attitude. Ask questions, offer ideas, learn as much as possible and try to make sure they’ll remember you – and remember that you’re good.
I did work experience at NME twice when I was a shy teenager and did none of that. I did end up writing a few things for them in later years, but those commissions came through an entirely different route.
Be confident and believe in yourself, but don’t be an arrogant fool. Be nice, be organised, be proactive and file on time. Always. Please.
Also, don’t ignore how much journalism has changed over recent years and how much it is likely to keep changing. Find other things you’re good at – those can either be alternative career options or your journalism USP.
What would be your dream magazine to edit?
I’d love to bring back Smash Hits, or produce a holiday magazine with a massive budget so I could be paid to go traveling all the time. Also, I love bad puns, so anything with the scope to use more of those.