A career in trade publications is not what you think

Curtin Journalism graduate Josh Lewis recalls how he fancied a career in broadcast news but instead spent 12 years covering oil and gas, in what proved to be a great career move:

“Having a career at a trade publication was not what I first envisioned after finishing my journalism degree at Curtin back in 2008.

I had initially intended to pursue a radio or TV career in the UK but arrived there just after the global financial crisis hit, which saw my job prospects evaporate.

I eventually returned to Australia, set up my own freelance company and Upstream was the first prospective client to approach me, offering a short-term, three month contract at one of the world’s leading oil and gas publications.

I took on the job, despite knowing nothing about the oil and gas industry, or writing for trade publications in general.

Josh Lewis says writing for trade publications offered him great variety. Photo: Supplied.

It involved a steep learning curve to understand industry lingo, such as knowing what ‘spudding a wildcat’ means, or learning that a ‘smart PIG’ is not what it first sounds like (it actually stands for pipeline inspection gauge, and has nothing to do with intelligent farm animals).

It also required additional study outside of work hours and attending industry events to not only make contacts but also understand the sector.

This early work paid dividends and my three month freelance contract quickly turned into a full-time permanent position that took me around the globe.

I originally began as an online reporter for Upstream. My core focus was on oil and gas operations in the Australasian region, however, with the online service breaking news 24 hours a day, five days a week, my coverage would also extend into other global regions.

Surprisingly, working for a trade publication provided great variety.

I would regularly write across a number of topics such as politics, finance, technology, feature writing, head-to-head interviews and more.

While I started as an online reporter, I built up my local contacts to help break exclusive news for the weekly newspaper, getting scoops on anything from contract awards to health and safety issues at facilities.

An example of Upstream’s content. Photo: Supplied.

Eventually I worked my way up to an editorial role, becoming the publication’s energy transition editor, focusing on the industry’s shift towards net zero emissions and renewables. 

This saw me directing the coverage of editorial staff across the globe in places such as China, India, the UK, Norway, the Americas and New Zealand.

Another perk of working for an industry publication is that it quite often involves travel, if you pick the right industry to cover.

Josh Lewis on assignment for Upstream in Shanghai. Photo: Supplied.

While largely based from home, well before a global pandemic made it the norm, I would regularly travel to Singapore to visit the company’s closest regional office to Australia.

I also got to travel on occasion to the company’s other regional and main editorial offices in the UK, Norway and the US.

Covering an international industry such as oil and gas also required extensive travel to visit facilities and cover industry events.

This allowed me to travel overseas regularly to places including China, Vietnam, Korea, Japan, Portugal and more.

While some destinations were easy to travel to, places like Vietnam and China created challenges that I initially had not anticipated.

I quickly learned from these trips that not every country is as welcoming to journalists and they created an additional number of hoops to jump through in order to obtain visas.

For both my trips to Shanghai and Hanoi I literally picked up my journalism visa on the way to the airport, unsure when I left the house if I would be heading to the airport or back home after picking up my passport.

I originally imagined working for a trade publication would be a boring monotonous job that I would grow tired of fast, however, it was quite the opposite and resulted in me turning a three-month temp job into a career-defining role spanning more than a decade.”