Insight

Employability

/ 11 months ago /

 Article by Zaki Dogliani

Our guide on how to get a job in journalism in 2017

This post is written by a member of the Debut Student Publisher Network. If you’re looking to get a job in journalism when you graduate next year, read on for Zaki’s ultimate guide:

Welcome to the 21st century. Newspaper sales are struggling, whole editorial departments are being shut down, and journalism jobs are at more of a premium than ever.

Look, getting a job in journalism isn’t easy. We thought we’d take a look at some of the key questions young journalists are asking themselves. Our guide should hopefully help you on your way to snagging a writing gig in 2017 – hopefully. Good luck, young padawans. Here we go:

Don’t assume you will (or won’t) need an MA/NCTJ

job in journalism

Whether you need a postgraduate journalism qualification or not is an interesting debate that rages across the industry. Some study for a master’s, which takes a year. Some choose the shorter NCTJ-accredited diploma.

Others get by without either and manage to avoid incurring further debt. Many believe you learn best on the job, and that there’s only so much you can learn in a classroom.

Print journalism

In print, it tends to be local papers that want you to have a qualification most, principally so you learn shorthand and media law. You’ll definitely need shorthand if you want to do court reporting, as no recording devices can be brought into the courtroom. And local papers tend not to have the same access to lawyers national papers do, so editors like you to know about defamation law.

Magazine journalism and new media

Magazines and new media tend to be the most relaxed about it. I’ve done 18 months of work for both without one, as have lots of people I’ve come across.

Magazines largely want to make sure you can write. That you can meet deadlines, lay up pages or format articles for the web, and promote them on social media. They’re often more likely to look at previous experience rather than whether or not you have a qualification. National papers vary but tend to be somewhere in between. Some want a qualification, some don’t. They can be important in broadcast, however.

What experts really think about this

Paul Barltrop, the BBC’s West of England Political Editor, told Debut that “It’s very much the norm now to do a postgraduate qualification.”

“There once was a time when people worked their way up [without]. In the modern era though, put yourself in the shoes of station managers: you have so many applicants in the initial process that how else do you draw the line? You might just discard the applications without qualifications.”

So which set of skills do you need?

job in journalism

I wouldn’t have got either of the BBC magazine jobs I did without proficiency in SEO and social media. And I think it’s generally fair to say that entrants to the industry these days are expected to have those skills as a matter of course.

If you’re young, many employers will simply assume you do. You may prefer to write for print, which is fine, but there’s a fairly good chance you’ll be asked to do at least some online work as part of your first journalism roles.

For any reporter job, you should be able to use a camera, and take and edit basic video. Sadly, the days when you would usually be accompanied by an in-house photographer mostly seem to be over.

What experts really think about this

job in journalism

Paul Barltrop has to research his own stories, drive around the West Country, shoot his own video, check sound and edit when he gets back to the office.

Broadcast has moved in a similar direction. Barltrop, who trained as a radio reporter, says “Back then, I’d have a camera man and sound operator. Now, from inception all the way through to delivery, you can do it yourself.”

BBC journalists are expected to use a vast range of skills in their everyday work. Barltrop largely puts the change down to advances in technology.

Don’t get trapped in a work experience cul-de-sac

job in journalism

Work experience at a variety of media outlets can be a valuable addition to your CV, an easy way to learn new skills, and a means of making some of your first industry contacts. Unfortunately, a growing number of publications now exploit young journalists by offering medium and long-term placements without pay.

My general rule of thumb is not to do any more than a cumulative month of unpaid work experience placements or internships, and no more than two weeks at the same place. If they want your skills for any longer than that, they have to pay you.

Beware of employers who look to fill gaps in their workforce and use unpaid youngsters to avoid employing paid workers or freelancers, as the National Union of Journalists has discovered.

Sometimes the biggest mags are the guiltiest of it because they know that, paid or unpaid, they’ll always find someone willing. Even if you are lucky enough to be able to afford to work for free for months on end, think of the impact that can have on other young journalists looking to make a living in the industry. The more that are game for extended unpaid placements, the less likely certain editors are to pay contributors.

To specialise or not to specialise?

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There are two schools of thought on this.

The case for specialising

On one hand, specialising in a specific topic and showing off how skilled and knowledgable you are in a certain area could make you stand out.

From experience, being a higher education specialist got me two of the four post-graduation jobs I’ve had. And I could give you several examples of young journalist friends who got work post-uni because of their expertise in a certain field.

The case for not specialising

On the other hand, journalists are expected to be more and more versatile. Traditional splits between reporters and sub-editors are gradually being eroded. Whether it’s a good or a bad thing, young journalists are increasingly asked to perform a wide variety of functions: typically writing, commissioning, editing, subbing and social media.

Today’s job descriptions frequently ask for experience in all of those areas and more. At your student newspaper, therefore, it’s a good idea to start off as a writer and then apply for a role on the editorial team which will involve commissioning, subbing and laying articles up on InDesign or a website.

None of this is to say that you can’t have anything that you’re especially good at. Data journalism, for example, is growing, and being particularly good at it may help you get far. Ultimately though, it’s rarely enough any more to only be skilled in a small number of areas.

What experts really think about this

Barltrop adds: “To some degree, starting off, you want to portray yourself as a jack of all trades. Specialisation can come later on. Almost no-one comes straight in as a specialist. The more skills, the greater the breadth of your abilities, the better.”

Feature image © BBC
Images © WOCinTech, Unsplash, Pexels

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