“I love taking complex ideas and making them understandable”

Emma Burnell (MA Journalism 2018) is a freelance political journalist and communications consultant who has written for the Guardian, the New Statesman, the Times and the Independent. She has appeared on BBC News, Channel 4 News, and Sky News.  

Emma Burnett

As a freelancer she is accustomed to managing multiple projects. “I am always working on several things at once” she tells us, “this week, for example, I’ve delivered some training on influencing local government, have been in discussions with a new client about some ghost writing, and have been sending out pitches for articles”. She is hoping to stage her first play this summer – a prospect that is “incredibly exciting” – and is “starting to think about a one woman show about honesty”. 
Her work has appeared in several national newspapers. “As a journalist, there is also something really special about seeing your byline in a paper you grew up with” she says. “Though I also love to work with newer outfits such as Left Foot Forward or Byline Times. And as a proud Londoner, working with On London – an independent website covering London’s politics and culture – is great too”. 
Much of her work has been in the public policy arena. “A lot of policy work is discussed in really odd, arcane and high-level terms – it’s like another language, it’s so inaccessible” she says. “I don’t think that’s very democratic. How can people really make choices over things so opaque? I have always seen my role as being about communicating ideas to different audiences, clearly and engagingly”. 
Emma completed her MA in Journalism at Birkbeck. “I hadn’t excelled academically at undergraduate level. I had been working for years in think tanks with very clever people and began to feel a bit intellectually insecure. I was delighted to graduate with a distinction – I am a considerably better journalist for having done this course”.  
Her advice for Birkbeck students looking to get into journalism – have a thick skin. “You get a lot of knockbacks as a journalist. But if you have a great idea and know how to sell it, someone will see its potential”.