getting into journalism
I get so many emails from people asking me how to get into motorsport and journalism but I simply do not have time to repsond to everyone. I thought it might be best to put some tips on here for you all to read - the Q&A below comes from an interview that girlracer.com did with me. My career path was not luck - I knew I wanted to be a journalist from the age of 12. I went to Napier University in Edinburgh and studied Journalism and since then had a varied career from news to a variety of different sports.
I am really sorry I don’t have time to write back to all your requests but hopefully this will point you in the right direction .
Journalism is a highly competitive field, and F1 journalism is notoriously hard to get into. Given that Lee McKenzie has an enviable career spanning a range of racing series, I thought she would be the woman to advise budding motorsport journalists on the best way to get ahead.
Question and answer formats are usually pretty dull reading, but Lee's an engaging writer and I don't really see the point in interspersing her answers with awkward linking of my own...
You’ve been a journalist now for more than half your life, which is very impressive for one so young. Do you remember the first published piece you wrote? Who was it for and what was it about?
I cannot remember exactly what it was but my one of my first ‘big’ articles was when I was 15 and I went round Knockhill with ex British Touring Car driver John Cleland. The Daily Express in Scotland printed a picture byline and gave me about 650 words in the sport section. I was also writing a lot for local newspapers by that time too. I was always, and still am really nervous about reading things in newspapers and mags that I have written. It all seems so much more tangible – even though I present in front of millions of people on TV!
Many young writers give up at the first hurdle, due to a lack of confidence. How many rejection letters did you receive before breaking in to the business? Has the thick skin you developed then helped you in your later career?
I did so much work experience for free – I believe that is the key to getting ahead as a journalist. The paper has to trust you and know you before they will run your copy and just post you a cheque. In that case I probably didn’t get any rejection letters but I have had copy thrown back at me when I did work experience when I was16 at The Daily Star. I wrote it “not tabloidy” enough.
With hindsight, which were the decisions you made – the job offers you took – that led to your current role as the Beeb’s pitlane reporter?
My first job out of Uni was for Bernie Ecclestone’s Formula One Management but I only did half of the 1998 season for them and a race or two in 1999. By that time I had a trainee reporter job at Border TV. ITV then gave me the chance to present Speed Sunday – which was a massive production, live for 2 hours on Sunday afternoon’s and an audience of 100. It was too much, too young for me but the bosses could see I really knew my motorsport and sent me to the F3000 races that supported F1. That became GP2 and from that came A1GP, Sky Sports , IRL etc etc and now F1!
Were there any missed or regretted opportunities along the way?
I felt I didn’t get the support I should have on Speed Sunday but it is not a crèche and learning in the public eye, in front of millions is not a pleasant experience. It all worked out well though and I am a great believer in fate. Also I would never have got my chance to co-drive in the WRC if it weren’t for that show so it was worth it for that alone!
Other than ‘keep writing and keep submitting’, do you have any tips for aspiring motorsport journalists?
Don’t be too much of a crazed fan and don’t go into it so you can meet your heroes – you will only be disappointed! And that goes for any sport. Know your facts and where you are strong. Why the BBC team works so well is that we all have different strengths. Ted Kravitz for example is excellent at the technical stuff! My forte is making the drivers feel more relaxed and open up to me, which in turn gets good interviews but I still have to know a double diffuser from a hair diffuser!
There are legions of great motorsport journalists, past and present. Is there anyone whose work has particularly inspired you along the way?
Most of the Autosport guys are pretty up there – guys like Mark Hughes and Andrew Benson from the BBC can tell you the facts from most races from the last, God knows how many years. But also people like my father Bob McKenzie and the Fleet Street journalists who have to bring the stories to readers who will flit between football and rugby. It is not easy to churn out decent, interesting stuff day after day.
Journalism is a competitive industry, and most of the big names in motorsport have eggs in a number of different baskets. What inspired you to diversify with the Lee McKenzie Network, as opposed to the usual route of additional writing and freelance work?
I present other programmes and not just F1. In the past I have presented rugby, horse racing, bowling, netball, and I love current affairs and loved working in news – I also covered the Lockerbie Trial. I do Landward for BBC Scotland but I also look after a couple of drivers competing out of F1. I have the contacts and see so much bad PR that I thought I could help some talented drivers get a bit more coverage. Alongside that there is the corporate stuff like Goodwood Festival of Speed, writing for websites and also Media Training – it is good to have options!
Has your agency helped your journalism, by strengthening relationships with drivers, or has it provided an added challenge in terms of possible conflicts of interest?
I never look after a driver in the series in which i am working. The closest I came to was Adam Carroll in A1GP but by the time he won the championship I had left A1. I looked after Adam for 4 years in GP2 and DTM and still help if he ever needs anything.
How would you advise a young writer looking to follow in your footsteps? Is there any advice you wish you’d been given?
I grew up with a Fleet Street background so to be honest I was lucky to have advice on tap but I get very annoyed when I get emails from people saying they want to on TV or famous and stuff. I have no time for that and it is insulting for everyone else who has tried so hard to make it. Just keep focussed and know your subject whether it be politics, motorsport or hairdressing.
Often people who want to become journalists don’t have a real understanding of the sheer number of hours involved. Do you have a work-life balance, or is that the stuff of fantasy for those who’ve made it to the top?
I came to Australia ten days ago and am now in Malaysia – I will work through until the Sunday and then fly back Sunday night and be back in the UK by 6am Monday morning. I also filmed on my days off, as I do all the behind the scenes features with the drivers etc. It is not a hard life and I am not saving babies or anything but most days are 12 hour days at the circuit. Also In the 4 weeks up until Bahrain I was in a different country every week. It makes life difficult but then we do get some amazing opportunities too and I do choose to work in between F1 races so maybe the chaos is all my making! I also still go to other motorsport series to watch as I feel it is my duty to know what is going on and who is up and coming etc etc.