Thomas Hewitt speaks to Cision’s Simon Stiel about the challenges of working in journalism as an autistic person and how the industry can improve access for those with autism.
At what point did you decide you wanted to become a journalist?
I decided to pursue journalism during my time studying a HND in Media Production at South Nottingham College. I was assigned a project by my tutor to complete an article for the college’s magazine, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of not only interviewing members of the college and gaining responses, but also producing an article from scratch.
This definitely whetted my appetite for the industry and I became more interested in travelling down the journalism route following this assignment, because to this day I enjoy learning new and exciting aspects of the world we live in, and I believe journalism is the perfect way to achieve this on a daily basis through the knowledge we attain for our stories.
What challenges have you encountered as an autistic person working in the media? And how have you overcome them?
As you may be aware, Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism, can be challenging for those who wish to pursue a career in an ever-changing profession such as journalism. We tend to find changes in our routines extremely daunting, which I can personally account for during my younger years working in the industry.
The challenges I have normally tended to face is the art of conversation and obtaining information for the story. I struggle with anxiety issues and I have found in the past that engaging in conversation with a member of the public/interviewee can be both difficult and exciting, depending on how you approach the interview beforehand.
I find however, that pre-planning, as well as explaining your condition to interviewees, helps your experiences in journalism substantially and increases your overall confidence to complete daily tasks in the profession.
What do you think could be done to make a media career more accessible to people with autism?
I think more backing and support from the government and the NCTJ is definitely required to help encourage those on the autistic spectrum pursue a career in journalism. Confidence is a vital component in regards to working in the industry, as you will be dealing and interacting with members of the public among other jobs.
Not only would I like to see more understanding and acknowledgement from the hierarchy involved in journalism, but also give those on the spectrum an opportunity to express themselves through their stories. I’d also like people to be able to showcase their talents and attributes on a platform, that from personal experience can be a morale boosting engagement if you allow change to happen and accept your own abilities and limitations.
There are several fictional TV drama series with autistic protagonists (The A Word, The Good Doctor, Atypical). Do you think the media portrays autistic people accurately?
I think it depends on how each individual views an autistic person both on screen and in reality. We all have different opinions of each other and this boils down to not only those on the spectrum but in general as a whole, so I would say that if you believe what you see in the media is the interpretation of an autistic individual. then that is fine in my book.
I view programmes such as the A Word as a helpful mechanism to showcase the positive attributes and unfortunate restraints each person on the spectrum will inevitably encounter in their life, with the intention to create a better understanding of the condition for the general public.
For any PRs looking to contact you, what advice would you give to ensure they communicate clearly?
For me personally, I am happy to speak over the phone, via email, or in-person. Throughout the course of my life so far, I have worked hard to increase my confidence, knowledge and maturity, to the level where I am comfortable to engage with other like minded people in the industry.
This may however be different with regards to other members in the industry who have an autistic disorder, and may at times prove to be challenging and difficult to engage in regular dialogue with a person on the spectrum.
Therefore, I would strongly suggest taking your time when conversing with autistic people, and appreciate that we sometimes experience difficulty when processing and understanding the characteristics involved with communication.
Finally, if you had a dream story to cover, what would it be?
My dream story would be to cover a general election, or a political development in the UK/European Union, as I am a huge follower of politics and I’ve never really had the opportunity to promote a political story to a wider audience, so that would definitely be a goal I would love to hopefully reach in the not-too-distant future.