Zainab Boladale spoke to Careers editor Jenny Darmody about working as a TV news presenter, dealing with imposter syndrome and her career advice for future journalists.
No matter what industry you’re in or how accomplished you are, imposter syndrome can creep into your mind at any stage in your career.
Zainab Boladale is a 22-year-old reporter and presenter for RTÉ’s daily children’s news programme, News2day. She was named Journalist of the Year at the DCU Hybrid Awards in 2017 and nominated for U magazine’s 30 Under 30 Awards. She’s also chairing a panel at Inspirefest 2019 this May.
Despite these accolades and working for the national broadcaster, Boladale explained how the feeling of not being experienced enough and comparing herself to others has been one of the biggest challenges so far.
What first stirred your interest in a career in journalism?
From a young age, I knew that the media industry was the place for me. The only time I ever abandoned the idea was after a summer of bingeing Tyra Banks’ America’s Next Top Model and I thought, ‘Why not give modelling a try?’
After nearly falling on stage in heels that were far too high, in a competition that was won by Irish model Madeline Mulqueen, I quickly returned to fantasising about my initial dream job: journalism.
Sometimes, my mom will tell guests that she’s not surprised I’m now a news presenter because she remembers me grabbing on to whatever newspaper my baby hands could find and loudly muttering words based around the pictures. Based on that alone, I think I’ve always had a natural curiosity about real human stories.
How much does technology play a part in your career?
My phone helps me to be productive and organised. Something that may surprise people is that I draft my scripts on my phone and I also write essential notes about the story I’m going to cover. It allows me to quickly journal the information I have and the information I want to find out. Sometimes, I write words that rhyme or work well together while my report is being filmed. It doesn’t have to make sense in that moment, but I know I’ll find a way to use it later.
I’ve been addicted to Google Calendar since leaving college. This is probably the millennial in me, but I don’t like carrying notebooks or diaries. So, any important life events, reminders, upcoming holidays, work-related events and hair appointments, it all gets slotted into my Google Calendar. I like to glance at my calendar and to see that some days are ‘booked and busy’ and that others are ‘fab and fun’.
I edit my own reports and so does the other News2day presenter, Cillian Sherlock. The editing software used in work is very different from what we used in college or what I’ve used personally for social media. I remember being very nervous about that at the start, but after about a month I got used to it. I enjoy editing now; it’s interesting to see how taking care to include extra details can shape the way our viewers understand the story we’re trying to present to them.
What would you say is the biggest highlight of your career so far?
I know this will sound so cheesy but genuinely it’s been the brave, talented and inspirational young people I’ve met. I’m 22 (which I sometimes forget), so I’m still considered young but when I’m talking to primary or secondary school students, they tell me about how they want to create a solution for societal problems, how they are campaigning for a cause or taking part in an initiative that they hope will make a difference. It’s hard to not feel optimistic about the future.
What do you still hope to do in your career?
I’m full of joy and I want to keep having fun, no matter where my career takes me. Luckily, RTÉ News2day has allowed me to show that aspect of myself on-screen. My career has only started, but really I can see myself weaving through many areas of the media. I’m fascinated by the many different ways one can tell a story. People my age and younger are the biggest consumers of visual content and I think there’s so much potential in attracting those younger viewers here in Ireland.
What was one of the biggest challenges you faced in your career so far?
Questions like ‘Maybe you’re not experienced enough?’ would creep into my mind when I started. I’d compare myself to those around me – their style, their presentation skills. People around me just seemed so put-together, which makes sense now because many have been in the business for years.
It took having a teary-eyed conversation with someone I admire in the newsroom for that imposter syndrome to slightly fade. Their advice was so simple, but it came at a much-needed moment. They told me to channel my feelings into learning from those around me and think about how I would reinvent the wheel.
What do you think someone looking to enter the TV or journalism industry needs to know?
Don’t pursue it if you’re chasing after clout. There’s an assumption that a TV job is easy or that a journalism job will get you recognised. I know this because I’ve had people ask me if all I do is show up, read my lines and go home. I know it looks easy on the big screen, but a lot is happening behind it all. It’s the same with print – many of my journalist friends are extremely hardworking and focused.
Do you have any productivity tips that get you through your day?
Make sure you’re sleeping and eating right! There have been days where I haven’t been good at doing both. Missing out on rest or skipping meals to get work done is not worth it. So, take care of your body so you can bring your best to work every day. Also, drink more water. It keeps your busy brain hydrated!