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How I Got Here: GQ Australia’s style and culture writer on climbing the media ladder

WORDS BY CAIT EMMA BURKE

“Being able to turn an impulse into a story and publish it online within a matter of hours really gets my adrenaline pumping.”

Have you ever stalked someone on LinkedIn and wondered how on earth they managed to land that wildly impressive job? While the internet and social media might have us believe that our ideal job is a mere pipe dream, the individuals who have these jobs were, believe it or not, in the same position once, fantasising over someone else’s seemingly unattainable job.

But behind the awe-inspiring titles and the fancy work events lies a heck of a lot of hard work. So what lessons have been learnt and what skills have proved invaluable in getting them from daydreaming about success to actually being at the top of their industry?

Welcome to How I Got Here, where we talk to women who are killing it in their respective fields about how they landed their awe-inspiring jobs, exploring the peaks and pits, the failures and the wins, and most importantly the knowledge, advice and practical tips they’ve gleaned along the way.

This week, GQ Australias style and culture writer, Amy Campbell, tells us how she ended up in her ultimate role. Amy started out studying journalism at university, but quickly realised that covering hard-hitting news wasn’t for her – her interest lays in fashion, art and culture. She undertook internships at i-D Magazine and Marie Claire, among others, while she built up her portfolio and honed her voice as a writer (fun fact, the first piece of writing she was paid for was for Fashion Journal).

A spontaneous move to New York after graduating led to a paid internship at Man Repeller (now known as Repeller), where she was able to make invaluable connections and gain experience that helped her land her role as a staff writer at GQ Australia. Her time in the job has seen her travel to exotic locations, attend international runway shows, and interview the likes of Bill Murray (yes, really). But most importantly, it allows her to do what she’s passionate about all day, every day – writing. Here’s what she’s learnt along the way.

What do you do and what’s your official job title?

I’m the style and culture writer at GQ Australia. I plan, write and edit fashion, music, entertainment and sometimes food and travel stories and interviews for GQ’s bi-monthly print magazine and our website, gq.com.au. A lot of people don’t know that Australia has its own GQ magazine – we do! And even though it’s traditionally a ‘gentlemen’s’ magazine, you definitely don’t have to be male to enjoy it.

Take us back to when you were first starting out. Did you study to get into your chosen field, or did you start out with an internship/entry-level role and climb the ladder? Tell us the story.

I studied journalism at RMIT but I wanted to study fashion design because I thought that was the only pathway into a career in fashion. I didn’t get in, which was earth-shattering for my 18-year-old self. But I eventually went back to the drawing board and chose journalism, because I loved to write and had always been obsessed with the creativity of magazines. Honestly, uni terrified me. My degree was really competitive and everyone in my course was so smart and ambitious – a lot of them wanted to be TV news anchors and investigative reporters, which I wasn’t cut out to be. I remember writing a feature story about bushfire arson for an assignment because I felt like I had to cover hard-hitting subjects to keep up with the status quo. Funnily enough, when I began writing assignments about subjects I was passionate about, like art, culture and fashion, my marks improved significantly. I think (I hope!) I’ve grown better at trusting my gut over the years. 

Interning was mandatory in my degree, which I’m really thankful for because studying media and actually working in it are two very different things. I did stints at Marie Claire, i-D Magazine and a TV news station in country Victoria, which I loved despite my fear of hard news. My first paid piece of writing was actually for Fashion Journal, so it feels serendipitous to be writing this today. I moved to New York after graduating, which was not planned (looking back, I was probably outrunning the fact I didn’t have a job “lined up”) but I landed an internship at Man Repeller, a blog I’d worshipped throughout uni. That was my first paid internship, but I also worked part-time in retail to make ends meet. It was exhausting but exhilarating and I loved every minute of it. 

When I moved back to Australia, GQ was hiring so I applied. I didn’t know anyone who worked there and given I’d only ever written about women’s fashion and lifestyle, I genuinely thought there was no way I’d get the job – I knew nothing about cars and watches! But I think that made me go into the interview process with a nothing-to-lose attitude, which is very unlike me because I’m a chronic over-thinker. But I guess it worked out, because, well, here I am! (I still know very little about cars and watches).


Amy at GQ‘s Gentlemen’s Ball

What challenges/hurdles have you faced getting to where you are now? Can you tell us about one in particular?

When I was living in New York, I found out I had thyroid cancer. Don’t freak out – it’s curable in most cases! But it meant I had to pack up my life and move home for surgery and treatment, which was pretty scary. I had to wait a month to have the operation, and then there was a month of recovery afterwards, and during that last month I grew so anxious about what lay ahead and whether I’d be employable after a couple of months off (ridiculous, I know). I don’t speak about it too much, but it was a pretty real hurdle. Thyroid cancer is actually the most common cancer diagnosed in Australian women aged 20-24, but I didn’t even know it existed when I was diagnosed. Connecting with other women who’d been through treatment gave me so much peace of mind, and hopefully, by speaking about it I can give others that reassurance too. 

What do you want people to know about your industry/your role?

In terms of my role, it’s definitely a ‘live and breathe it’ scenario – in a good way! Because I genuinely love asking people questions and telling stories, and I’m also obsessed with menswear and the culture of menswear, my job is perpetually fascinating to me. I think it would be harder to do if it weren’t. I also think it’s a really interesting time to be working in magazines. For all the talk about the death of print, I think that exciting new ways of doing things will come out of this evolutionary moment. Maybe I’m a little naive, but I do believe there’s still room for inspiring storytelling and beautiful images to exist, and it’s up to us to work out what shape that takes.

What’s the best part about your role?

Being trusted to tell people’s personal stories is an insane honour and privilege. Working with a small team to put together this tangible snapshot of Australian culture and style six times a year is also immensely gratifying. The opportunities that come with working for a global brand like GQ are also unreal – travelling to Seoul for a Hermès runway show last November was a real pinching-my-self moment. I also love writing for GQ’s website. Being able to turn an impulse into a story and publish it online within a matter of hours really gets my adrenaline pumping. Interviewing people I’ve grown up admiring (Bill Murray and Hermès’ menswear designer Véronique Nichanian are two that stand out) is also a total trip. Sorry, that’s five best parts!

What would surprise people about your role? 

Travel opportunities (pre-COVID) still surprise me. I’d been working at GQ for less than two months when my boss asked if I wanted to fly to Lake Como to write a story about this amazing hotel there. My boyfriend literally thought they were playing an initiation joke on me, that it was a hazing ritual or something, he was so sceptical! Not quite so glamorous, but I think the fact I pitch almost all of the stories I write for GQ surprises people. A lot of people assume I get assigned stories, but they’re mostly all my ideas, which means pitch meetings are stressful but the final thing is really rewarding.

What skills have served you well in your industry?

Traits like curiosity and empathy are super helpful when interviewing people, as is knowing how to make people feel comfortable when you’re asking them questions. I think my job’s gotten a lot easier as I’ve become confident enough to back myself and take total ownership of my stories, seeing them right through to the final draft. My editors have a lot on their minds, so I try not to give them anything extra to worry about. 

What advice would you give to someone who wants to be in a role like yours one day? 

I remember being bummed that none of my internships led directly to an actual job. I didn’t realise it at the time, but this wasn’t a reflection on me (or maybe it was, who knows!) but rather that entry-level writing positions in Australia are few and far between. What my internships did give me were references, and I think those references helped me get my job at GQ. If you can manage to leave a good impression, in my experience, supervisors/editors will happily vouch for you when it comes to going for a job down the track and I think that’s pretty invaluable. 

What about a practical tip?

When it comes to interviewing people for a story, listening to what they’re actually saying instead of thinking ahead to your next question is hugely important. This took me a while to learn, but it’s amazing how many little things you can pick up on (and then ask them about) when you really listen carefully. 

@amycammpbell

Read the rest of the How I Got Here series here.

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