Phoebe Dodds, the Reluctant Journalist

By Sabina Bahisheva

— Phoebe Dodds, first year student at Amsterdam University College, is only nineteen years old and already has a resume that could make aspiring journalists jealous. But even though Dodds has been writing for The Huffington Post from the age of fifteen and recently wrote her first article for The Guardian, she is not ambitious about pursuing a career in journalism.

Dodds grew up in an international environment. Because of her father’s job in banking the Dodds family has lived in four different countries: France, Germany, the Netherlands, and now England. Out of all the countries that Dodds has lived in, she liked the Netherlands the most. That is why she chose to leave London and study in Amsterdam.

Dodds does not remember the exact moment she started writing. “I think it started couple of years ago with a blog I had. I wrote anonymously about European culture and the different cities I visited,” said Dodds. The posts were not written in the style of city guides; Dodds wrote about things that interested her – slightly naughty facts about Europe and pointless trivia. “For example how in ancient Greece they called a giraffe a camelopard because of its looks, a mix of a camel and a leopard,” said Dodds. According to Dodds the blog got approximately 10,000 views in 2011, but was shut down after Dodds’ long absence from the blog and because she missed some payments.

Having lived in different countries influenced Dodds’ career aspirations. Dodds knew from a young age that she wanted to work in an international environment. At fifteen Dodds got the opportunity to gain some work experience at BBC, shadowing people and seeing what they did. One of the journalists encouraged Dodds to write wherever possible, so she did. She contacted The Huffington Post and pitched an idea. Soon after, her first article “Why Learn Another Language When You Already Speak English?” was published.

Dodds still sometimes writes for The Huffington Post, but thinks that their editorial office is not very responsive. “I send The Huffington Post an article about the Charlie Hebdo shooting the day of the attack. They got back to me a month later wanting to post the article, which I didn’t want anymore because in my opinion it was too late,” said Dodds.

After Dodds’ Guardian article “Six ways the Dutch are nailing student life” went viral and was shared more than 19,000 times, she was approached multiple times by students from AUC. “People asked me who I knew at The Guardian and who helped me publish this article,” said Dodds. The reality is very different. Dodds was browsing The Guardian website one night and noticed that there was nothing on the site about young people studying in the Netherlands. Although Dodds could have asked her mother, a professional speech writer, to help her write a pitch to The Guardian, she wrote them a short email presenting her idea. Before she knew it she had the thumbs up to submit a draft. Although this should be reassuring that journalism is open to all qualified writers, Dodds doesn’t regard herself as one. “It was slightly depressing that this was all it takes,” said Dodds.

It is now common practise in journalism for websites not to pay writers for their posts. In her article, “The State of Online Journalism Today: Controversial”, Jane Friedman, CEO and Co-Founder of Open Road Integrated Media, explains that “the more traffic a website gets, the more it can avoid payment by offering […] exposure space – which is indeed valuable and needed for some writers but not all.”

Dodds was not taken aback by no payment for her work as it was stated in advance on the sites of both publications. “You get so much exposure from the posts anyway. Often they’ll display a link to your Twitter and Facebook account,” said Dodds. However, she was surprised about how little control she had over the Guardian article, as she didn’t even get to approve the final edit. She first had to write the body text, then was asked to submit quotes related to the topic, and later she had to submit personal quotes that could fit within the headlines. “I didn’t mind that the article was tweaked, but there were parts where I was misquoted. Some of my quotes included words I don’t use,” said Dodds.

Dodds, also a member of The European Youth Parliament since 2013, now aspires to major in International Relations. She hopes to have Anderson Cooper’s news correspondent job on CNN one day. But for now she is looking for a part time job and will probably continue writing articles for The Huffington Post and The Guardian when she stumbles upon topics that interest her. “Because it’s a good thing to have on the CV,” said Dodds.

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