How to get into a career in Journalism
It’s one of the most sought-after career choices. So what does it take to get on the journalism career ladder?
Journalists may be less trusted by the general public than politicians, if some surveys are to be believed, but that’s not to stop it being one of the most popular and competitive of graduate career choices today.
According to data from official data collection agency HESA [www.hesa.ac.uk], in 2014/15 2 per cent of the total students at UK higher education providers were studying media courses including publicity studies, media studies, publishing or journalism and the lure of a career in the “glamourous”, action-packed and exciting world of journalism is no doubt one of the factors driving popularity of the discipline.
But as the number of openings in traditional journalistic careers reduces and competition for editorial jobs explodes, what can aspiring journalists do to differentiate themselves from the thousands of other candidates looking to get on the journalism career ladder?
Historically, journalists may have possessed little more than a good command of English and perhaps knowledge of a specialist subject. It was common practice for media organisations to recruit knowledgeable all-rounders who could be taught broadcasting or writing skills in a professional environment.
Times have changed. Although media corporations continue to invest in their training programmes, places on these courses are like gold dust. “The number of students that organisations like the BBC and ITV take will reduce, but opportunities across non traditional employees will explode,” a spokesperson for the Broadcast Journalism Training Council (BJTC) told ResponseSource Media Jobs.
Most major publishers look to graduates to fill their entry-level positions. As long as they give you a real chance to learn quickly, they're a cheaper way to start than paying for a course. Few will specify media studies or journalism degrees. A non-media degree at least gives you a specialism to write about and you can always pick up the media training later. Remember, you might need to aggressively pursue opportunities to develop new skills.
Lindsay Nicholson is editorial director of Good Housekeeping magazine at the National Magazine Company, publisher of some of the most well established magazines in the UK also including, Country Living, Harper's Bazaar, Esquire and Cosmopolitan. She admits that getting a first break in the NatMags stable isn’t a million miles away from the scenario played out in the film The Devil Wears Prada. She’s also keen to stress that editors at the NatMags glossies in no way resemble the Runway editor-from-hell Miranda Priestley so convincingly portrayed by Meryl Streep.
“Broadly speaking we’re looking for a degree and some sort of postgraduate journalism qualification, preferably PTC accredited. That equips candidates with the skills they need to be useful from day one. That’s the gold standard,” Nicholson says. The Periodicals Training Council is the training arm of magazine industry trade association the Periodical Publishers Association (PPA).
“Most of our magazines are very famous names. An entry level job on a magazine will easily attract 200 applications,” Nicholson adds. But of those you’d be amazed, she says, how many fall foul of even basic rules. “If you apply for a job, make sure you include a well written covering letter with good presentation and no spelling mistakes.
Showing familiarity with the magazine is good, Nicholson says. Common sense, perhaps, and yet of 200 applications, she says perhaps only 10 will tick all of the boxes. “And of those if someone already has published work in a local magazine or paper, for example, that will bring their application to the top of the pile.”
David English, who last year retired as the deputy director of Cardiff University’s Centre for Journalism Studies, has trained thousands of budding hacks over his 35 year career at the school, including Sunday Telegraph editor Ian McGregor, Daily Mirror assistant editor Kevin Maguire and ITV politics correspondent Libby Wiener.
English believes all important career breaks often boil down to personality. His list of his successful attributes for budding journalists includes commitment, enthusiasm and an inherent interest in current affairs. But perseverance and never giving up will definitely stand you in good stead, he says. “Those who will not take ‘no’ for an answer will get there in the end.”
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