Nicola Shepheard

'The workload was challenging but made me feel prepared for the newsroom...'

  • Nicola Shepheard

Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Psychology

Graduate Diploma in Journalism*

Media Relations Advisor, University of Auckland

Since graduating with a Graduate Diploma in Journalism in 2002, Nicola has received four Qantas Media Awards and has been an award finalist many times. Nicola has covered a broad range of topics in her writing, with achievements in the categories of Māori issues, crime and justice, and arts.

Nicola began working at North & South soon after completing her diploma, where as a staff writer her job involved researching and writing long-form feature articles, usually 5000–7000 words in length.

‘In December of my graduate diploma year I was in Auckland on a student placement with Metro, which is based in the same building as North & South. Jim Tully (GradDipJ Programme Director) rang and told me North & South were looking for a writer and suggested I introduce myself to Robyn Langwell (the editor). I did, and I ended up getting the job.’

In her work for North & South, Nicola enjoyed the range of topics, people and areas of New Zealand life in which she got to immerse herself every month.

‘I had a crash course in Māori affairs, having profiled several Māori figures, including Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples, and Labour’s Shane Jones. This meant grappling with some very involved, slippery issues that go to the heart of New Zealand’s formation. I really enjoyed my social issue-type stories, especially the ones that focussed on young people.’

Nicola finds it hard to name one favourite story. ‘That’s tough,’ she says. ‘I really enjoyed hanging out with Witi Ihimaera for the profile I did of him; and with Kevin Milne from Fair Go. One of the stories I’m proudest of is a piece I did on Suzie Sutherland, who was murdered in Christchurch in 2005. It’s in the July 06 issue. It was a very difficult story to research, partly because many family members didn’t want it to be written, but I’ve since heard from a family member that they thought it was a very sensitive article.’

Other aspects of the job which Nicola enjoyed were the license to ask personal and pertinent questions; the time, space and expectation to create a rounded, considered, well-crafted piece of writing; her bright, funny colleagues; and the domestic travel.

Nicola enrolled in the Graduate Diploma in Journalism after three years overseas and a BA(Hons) in Psychology. She wanted to gain a vocational qualification and after tossing up between further study in Psychology, a master’s in Creative Writing at Victoria or journalism training, she decided to go for journalism.

‘I lacked both the courage and conviction to try for the master’s, and had too many doubts about a career in psychology at that point of my life,’ she explains. ‘I’d heard the Canterbury course was well-regarded, and after my OE I wanted to spend more time with friends and family in Christchurch.’

Nicola found the emphasis on the craft of writing invaluable and especially appreciated the shorthand course.

‘The workload was challenging but made me feel prepared for the newsroom. I enjoyed trying out radio and TV, though I believe those two components of the diploma have been further developed since I left (which is great). I also found the talks by working journos really useful and inspiring.’

‘The course gave me a secure grounding in the principles of good – that is, intelligent, well-written, absorbing and ethical – journalism and confidence to enter the industry.’

After North & South, Nicola started working at Herald on Sunday where she gained experience at Sunday newspaper feature writing.

‘I wanted to try a different feature form, so I accepted a job at Herald on Sunday. I really enjoy the faster turnaround and pacier style of Sunday features – as long as you don't get me on a deadline day... Having to do news as well was a shock to the system initially, but it's definitely sharpened my news sense and skills.’

Having spent seven years as a feature writer in Auckland, Nicola wanted a fresh challenge, and decided to return to study, working towards a Master of Arts at the prestigious Columbia Journalism School in New York. ‘The master’s is for experienced journalists who want to deepen their knowledge of the craft and gain expertise in a particular subject area. My area of concentration was arts and cultural journalism.’

Nicola won a Fulbright Graduate Student Award which partly funded her studies in America. ‘I really enjoyed the cultural exchange dimension of the Fulbright programme,’ she says. ‘It was an exhilarating year.’ A year that paid off as, on her return to Auckland, Nicola landed a job as Art and Features writer for Metro.

After having a baby in 2011 and in 2013, Nicola freelanced as a researcher and writer for various publications such as Metro, Green Ideas, Little Treasures and Sunday Star-Times, before landing her current role as a Media Relations Advisor for the University of Auckland, where she will be covering media releases on research from the Business School and Liggins Institute.

* From 2014 students now study the Postgraduate Diploma in Journalism

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