Career Talk 27.07.21 (Updated)

5 ways to start a career in journalism without a media-related degree

If you’re an undergraduate who wants to be a journalist but isn’t involved in student media, then seriously: get on it.

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This article was written by an external contributor. Cameron Broome reveals the steps you need to take to make it as a journalist.

Being a journalist sounds great – writing for a living, setting the news agenda, voicing your opinion, interviewing people, raising awareness of stories that you think are inspiring. But hey, I don’t need to sell you journalism – you wouldn’t be here if you weren’t keen, would you?

First things first, there is absolutely zero point trying to make it in media if you aren’t motivated, committed and absolutely certain it’s what you want to do.

News journalists can work up to 50 hours per week, especially when just starting out and trying to build up a portfolio and contacts. The hours can be unsociable, you have to be geographically flexible and journalists have to work under pressure to tight deadlines. In other words: it’s hard graft.

But if you are committed and you want to be the next James O’Brien, Owen Jones or Andrew Neil (hopefully with a better hair cut – no offence, Andrew) then go for it.

There is no one fixed path to making it in the media. Journalists have diverse backgrounds and you can enter the industry at any age in a variety of different ways. Here are some ideas to get you started.

journalism yay

Get involved in student media (obviously only applicable if you’re a student)

If you’re an undergraduate student who wants to be a journalist and isn’t actively involved in your University’s student media set up, then seriously, why are you reading this article?

Student media is the closest experience you can get to working in the media without actually working in the media. At Manchester University, for example, there’s the Manchester Media Group consisting of The Mancunion (the University newspaper), Fuse FM (the University radio show) and Fuse TV (the University TV channel).

I’m Head News Editor of The Mancunion and this has given me useful skills in WordPress, industry-standard Adobe InDesign and finding, editing and writing news content akin to working for a newspaper.

Newsrooms are becoming increasingly integrated, with a blurred line “radio”, “print” and “TV” and so it can be useful to get experience across different platforms.

If you don’t have a student media set up at your University, start one yourself. Contact your Students’ Union, apply for funding, make a WordPress blog, start writing yourself and advertise for contributors. However, even if this isn’t possible, there are loads of online blogs you could contribute towards such as Backbench UK, TalkPolitics, Filibuster UK, The Social Jungle, Huffington Post, It’s Round and It’s White among others.

Get some social media management experience

WTF?! Why will this increase my chances of making it as a journalist?! As Sheffield University states: “To be a successful news reporter your social media, camera and content management skills must be as sharp as your nose for a story.”

spock journalism

Just think about the way that you consume news – more and more traffic comes through smartphones devices, often directly from social media.

There are lots of ways you can get social media management experience. Charities are always looking for volunteers to manage their pages and university societies equally often have social media pages you can run.

Equally, use your own social media page to build social media skills – this is also useful as it can help get you noticed by potential employers. In addition, some websites pay per unique views on articles and so having a large social media following can help to maximise your audience reach.

Do a Masters course

There are lots of Masters Courses available where you can basically learn everything you need to be a journalist crammed into a year (or two years if you do it part-time).

Some of these courses are also accredited by relevant institutions – such as the National Council for the Training of Journalists. It can be necessary to gain an NCTJ-accredited qualification if you want to work at a newspaper or similar.

City University London is a popular choice for many aspiring journalists, though the cost of living in London might be a factor to consider and it is not NCTJ-accredited.

Really, the choice of institution is less of an issue – it’s more how you make the most of your time there. Choose the course that would work for you best. Do you research, attend open days and ask questions to those in the know.

Get a post-graduate qualification that isn’t a Masters

You can also acquire a journalism qualification without doing a full Masters course.

Press Association Training offer a 17 week NCTJ news reporting course, a 17 week NCTJ sports reporting course and a 9 week Magazine journalism course. These courses are based in London but rumour has it that they are set to offers courses in and around MediaCityUK in Salford, Greater Manchester.

Similarly, News Associates (who have offices in both London and Manchester) offer a 20-week long NCTJ fast-track Multimedia Journalism Diploma.

The advantage of these courses is that you can learn everything you need to know to be a journalist – editing, writing, reporting, media law, ethics etc. – all crammed into a few weeks. The disadvantage is that the courses are intense and it might take time to build up journalistic skills depending upon how much experience you have already going into the course.

These courses are probably better suited for people who already have broad experience in the industry and are looking to sharpen their skills and get a professional qualification.

journalism masters

Apply for media-related jobs and see what happens

“If you don’t buy a ticket, you’ll never win the lottery” is an overused phrase but it does hold some validity in journalism. If you don’t apply for jobs in the media, how will you ever know if you stand a chance of landing them or not?

Just read job descriptions carefully, tailor your CV and write a strong cover letter – originality can be a good way to stand out from the crowd. Get someone else to read your application – be that family, friends, University Careers Service team member or literally anyone whose judgement you trust. Then take the feedback on board, edit your CV accordingly (maybe repeat these steps a couple of times) and then fire away some applications.

Who knows, you might just get the lucky break you have been waiting for….

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