Thursday, May 15, 2014

Journalist Interview: Q & A with Sarah-Jane Darcey

Today I'd like to welcome Sarah-Jane Darcey all the way from the UK. She shares her career story including how she continues to adapt in the ever-changing field of journalism.

How did you decide to become a journalist?
I’ve always loved writing, and studied for a degree in promotions.  During that time I specialised in journalism and dabbled in running my own online magazines.  After that I simply started contributing to outlets online and eventually I was writing for publications that were more high profile.

Can you describe your career history and current projects?
The bulk of my work has been as a fashion and lifestyle journalist, and I have written for Hello! Magazine, The Daily Sport, and been an official Beauty Insider for --Superdrug.  I’ve also blogged professionally and worked in areas such as copywriting.  In terms of current projects, I’ve just launched a new site for female writers and bloggers called Women In Their Own Words The aim of the site is to showcase authors and women who run their own blogs or businesses and provide useful tools and inspiration for others who’d like to get into the literary industry.

Would you recommend this same path to someone starting out today? Why or why not?
I think that journalism has really changed over the past few years, with such a shift towards digital content, more and more journalists are getting into the industry through new paths such as blogging. Whilst this is obviously a fantastic opportunity to get into professional writing that just didn’t exist five years ago, the market is getting crowded and bloggers are becoming more powerful, edging journalists out. For example, bloggers are being invited to fashion week with more traditional print journalists, and their resulting copy can usually be ready in a much shorter time and instantly reach thousands of online readers. There are short cuts now if you’re open to them.

Obviously professional training is never going to be obsolete, and a combination of a journalism qualification mixed with online experience is probably the best route, but there are other ways into the market now if you can capitalize on them.

What do you like best about your work?
Right now I’m working with lots of lovely writers, journalists and poets for Women In Their Own Words, and they have plenty of inspirational stories to tell and lots of great advice to share. Hearing how they’ve done it and how creative women are making writing work for them and their lives is a lot of fun and drives you on to become better in your own work.

What is your biggest headache?
It’s definitely not a headache but there’s a lot of admin that goes with setting up a website and business, and growing an audience for a start-up. It’s been great to connect with more people within the industry and we’ve had a great response so far so that’s really encouraging.

What are the important personal qualities or abilities necessary for a person to be a successful journalist?
The ability to research thoroughly, being able to cope with deadlines, and obviously you’ll need excellent language skills such as spelling, grammar, vocabulary, proofreading and editing. I think it’s also important now to be multi-skilled, and being able to use design software, produce and edit multi-media content or code websites makes you more employable. The days where journalists just wrote content are disappearing, and now they need to be able to design graphics and produce photography to go alongside their text. Self-promotion skills are also key, so you need to understand how to market yourself and get your work seen.

How many hours do you work each week?
Definitely not enough! As much as possible I try to I work long days, seven days a week. You have to be motivated and self-reliant to work freelance, and when I’m not working I’m reading books for review or thinking up new ideas, or trying to promote the new site on social media. I wish there were more hours that I could work!

What do you wish you would have known before becoming a journalist?
That the industry is changing. Journalists are in a precarious position in terms of the rise of digital content and blogging, and freelance competition is huge. People are getting their content from Instagram or Twitter, or from reading blogs or websites for free, rather than paying for magazines or newspapers. Lots of bloggers now call themselves journalists, and to an extent all of us are reporters and journalists now as we our chronicle our daily lives.

Things have also changed now in that journalists are no longer faceless hacks working behind the scenes to report the news or put out stories. Readers want to know who you are, rather than just what you have to say, and are invested in the lives of their favourite bloggers and writers. 

Are there any books you suggest reading, training courses that would be beneficial or professional organizations aspiring journalist consider joining?
Women In Their Own Words has a section for journalists, interviewing women who are already up and running in their careers, and reviewing books which would be of use to anyone interested in the field. I think if you’re looking to get into journalism, or writing in general, then you should be reading as much as you can, magazines, books, blogs, whatever you can get your hands on. Aside from that the usual industry suspects are the NUJ and, and there’s a wealth of information online. Savvy Working Gal is a great resource for working women in general.

How much can a journalist expect to earn?
This varies greatly according to the publications you’re writing for and whether you’re working in-house or freelance. Paid online opportunities can be hard to come by, especially with the rise of blogging and so many people who are willing to write for free in return for some exposure or freebies or to build their portfolios.

I see you are a member of The WoMentoring Project a mentoring program for creative types. Can you tell us more about this?
I’m currently mentoring with The WoMentoring Project, which offers free professional advice to women who wouldn’t normally have access to literary advice. You simply browse the website until you find a mentor who seems the best fit for you, and then follow the application process.

Is there anything else you would like readers to know about yourself or your career?
I hope Savvy Working Gal readers will be interested in joining us at Women In Their Own Words and following us on our journey to grow the site. Many thanks to SWG for allowing me the opportunity to share my story with you!

Where can we find you?
My own website is online at, and Women In Their Own Words can be found at and I’m also on Twitter, @sarahjanedarcey

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Will You Have Enough Money To Retire?

In honor of Financial Literacy Month, I selected Helaine Olen’s book Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry for The Savvy Reader Book Club’s April/May selection. Today’s post is the first in a series of posts I will be writing based on the book.

In Pound Foolish, Helaine Olen writes:
Countless studies have been conducted about Americans and retirement post-2008, but they all say the same thing: we’re petrified and getting more scared by the day. “If we find a consensus about anything in America, this is it,” said pollster Bill McInturff, whose 2011 annual National Voter Survey found almost nine out of ten people worried they did not have enough money set aside. The folks who administer the United States’ corporate retirement plans feel similarly. When Deloitte and the International Society of Certified Employee Benefit Specialists surveyed plan sponsors, they found a mere 15 percent of those queried believed the employees their plans were supposed to be serving were saving enough money for their golden years. (Pgs. 75-76)
Why are we so scared?

The guaranteed pension is becoming extinct:
In the early 1980’s, 62 percent of workers had a pension plan, a guaranteed stipend paid by an employer to an employee when they retired; by 2007 the same number only had access to a 401(k) or similar employee-not employer-based savings plan, where one is expected to put their own money aside to pay for retirement.
Here are the problems with this new 401(k) retirement model:

No guaranteed stipends:
During retirement, my father-in-law had a pension and retirement health benefits in addition to his social security and Medicare benefits. He was content. He didn't travel or live extravagantly, but he did have enough money to give his grandchildren expensive gifts from time to time. When I think of my own retirement I know I won't have that luxury. The luxury of knowing exactly how much money I will have coming in every month. I don’t have a pension, just 401(k) savings and a few other after-tax investments. If a large unknown expense occurs or the market is hit with another huge correction my portfolio could be decimated leaving me without enough money to withdraw an adequate monthly stipend.

Is social security guaranteed?
I also think people, especially those who are under the age of 50, are worried the social security fund will run out of money and either the benefit won’t be available for them or it will be reduced.

We have to be our own investment manager:
I remember the first time I had to allocate my 401(k) contributions. I put 25% into each of the four funds offered. Later, I would put 100% into the fund that performed the best in the previous quarter. Currently, my financial planner selects the funds and provides the allocation for my 401(k) account.

Not all employees have a financial advisor:
In the past, my company’s 401(k) administrator would advise employees to direct their money into a target based fund when they were unsure how to allocate their contributions. After he learned these funds were not the panacea they were marketed to be he stopped giving advice altogether.  He is now interviewing 401(k) administration companies that offer financial planning services. My own financial planner recommends he proceed with caution. It has been his experience that these companies show up for an initial consultation then you never see them again, but your plan still pays the fees.

Retirement calculators don’t account for stock market corrections:
How much will your portfolio actually grow? Many financial planners, including my own, provide retirement worksheet projections indicating huge portfolio gains. My planner uses an earnings assumption of 8.42% and an inflation rate of 3%. Under closer examination I see the 8.42% is a blended rate ranging from cash and equivalents return of 4% to a special sector funds return of 12%.

When I left my last place of employment in 1998 my 401(k) account had a balance of $29,000. Fast forward 16 years and it now has a balance of 55,392.75. That isn't exactly an earnings rate of 12% (the standard rate used in most retirement calculators) or even 9.75% (the average annual return for the S&P from 1927 to 2011). I calculate the return to be less than 5%.  In case you are curious it is currently invested in Thornburg Limited Term Income Class C and Washington Mutual Investors Fund. When I complained to my financial planner about my measly return he reminds me this is just one piece of my entire portfolio which is diversified in totality.

No access to 401(k) plans:
As the popularity of contract workers continues to grow, I am concerned in future years retirees will have even less money saved for their retirement.

Will I have enough money to retire?
As I told my financial planner, I can't afford another major market correction. If my portfolio can achieve an 8.42% return and if I don't incur an unexpected hardship I should have enough money, if things don't go as planned...I have no idea what I will do.

What about you, will you have enough money to retire?

 *Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on Femme Frugality and Debt Debs*