Newspaper Journalism (general)

STEP
#1

I thought I’d post this just as a guide for those who are interested in this kind of career, give my two cents’ worth so to speak…

Just so you know where I’m coming from, I’m a trainee newspaper journalist on an NCTJ course at Highbury College in Portsmouth. I previously graduated with a 2:1 in History. The course has very high rates of success (most graduates have a conditional contract with a newspaper before the course is over, and the remainder get something shortly thereafter) due to the college’s connections.

The first thing I would say, in case you haven’t heard it a thousand times already, is that personal contacts are everything. Unlike many other industries, the media is something of a ‘closed shop’ when it comes to recruitment (how many times do you see “reporters wanted” in the jobs page?) and newspapers tend to take people on who either (a) they know very well, or (b) have what is known as a pre-entry qualification.

Either way, the first step is always to get work experience. It’s bloody hard to find the time to do it, especially if you’re working a shitty full-time job just to tide you over and pay off a bit of your student debt, but whether you’re hoping to be recruited directly or to get on a training course, this is an absolute must.

Call up a whole bunch of local papers in the area, find out who to write to about work experience, and send a brief letter to the relevant contact requesting work experience (generally granted in blocks of one week). Don’t be afraid to follow this up a few days later with a polite phone call.

When you get work experience, be prepared to help out in whatever way possible, no matter how tedious you might think the story is. Newspaper editors don’t care how insightful your opinion on the Middle East conflict may be - they want to see that you’re keen, willing and able to interview that granny about her jam-making competition.

However, persistence can definitely pay off. I carried out work experience at a number of regional titles in the South West, all owned by the same company, and ended up getting invited to come in and do the odd bit of work as a freelancer for a little extra cash. This also allowed me to go from covering vicar stories to bigger things, and building up a reasonable portfolio of cuttings (which you should definitely do if you’re serious about being a journalist).

In the end, however, editors will want you to be trained. If you’re lucky and please them enough, they may offer to pay for this on the newspaper’s budget and line up a job for you once you finish. This is known as ‘direct entry’, the first of two routes into the trade.

If, as in my case, they aren’t feeling kind enough to offer this, you’re best off applying directly to a training course and paying for it yourself after building up a reasonable portfolio through work experience. This is known as the ‘pre-entry’ route.

Training is important because there are so many practical skills you need as a journalist that even many undergrad degrees in journalism don’t teach. The most obvious of these is Teeline shorthand, a bastard of a task to learn if ever there were, but something which will allow you to transcribe notes at the speed of human speech once mastered. There are also legal matters and the structure of government to learn - the first of these will help prevent you and your paper getting sued, and the second will give you an invaluable understanding of how to source stories.

Just about every journalist I met on various local papers had undergone training on an NCTJ-accredited course. The National Council for Training of Journalists is the nationally recognised body for training in the field and sets the standard for what journalists need to know. NCTJ courses are considered to be of a higher standard and mean more on your CV to a prospective employer compared to a non-NCTJ accredited journalism course.

You will need to have a minimum level of work experience on a local newspaper before applying to one of these courses, but if you check the NCTJ’s website you will be able to view all the centres around the UK which offer the courses. Distance learning is also an option, but every editor I’ve spoken to says they would prefer a candidate who had attended a course at a training centre as the distance learning courses involve less practical experience in journalism.

Once you have an NCTJ pre-entry certificate and a decent level of practical experience, you will finally be in a position to start applying for jobs as a reporter. They reckon it takes at least three years of work on local news before getting even a sniff at working on a national newspaper, so don’t start writing to the Guardian (or the Mail, if that’s your bag) just yet.

So to recap all that in summary:

  1. Get work experience - this is a priority, and you won’t get anywhere in news without it unless your dad is Piers Morgan.

  2. Work hard at your work experience, keep coming back for more and cross your fingers that the paper are feeling generous enough to offer you a job and send you off on a training course.

  3. If that offer isn’t forthcoming, get as much work experience as possible, build up a portfolio and then apply to get on a training course, ideally an NCTJ accredited one. This will give you the minimum qualification you need to start applying for jobs as a reporter.

#2

Hi Jim and welcome to the site…thanks for posting about jobs in newspaper journalism in the UK! I hope you’re enjoying your course, it sounds like a lot of fun.

It’s interesting that you say journalism is a “closed shop”. I agree that it can be hard to get in to journalism, especially if you have little experience and you want to work for a large newspaper, but I’d like to put forward a point of discussion and see what you have to say about it… and any other readers for that matter…

Do you think that in the communications led age we live in, that it is easier to get in to journalism than it was ten, twenty or fifty years ago?

For example, there are now a whole host of media and journalism recruitment agencies (Formula Won, Black Cats, PFJ… (P.S. PFJ have some seriously angry consultants)) that you can sign up to that will approach you every six months with various opportunities, including top jobs at IPC and EMAP weeklies such as the NME. Really, it’s true.

Although journalism jobs weren’t advertised in papers ten years ago, today there are specialist websites where you can find lots of them. For example, www.journalism.co.uk hosts pretty much every journalism job going in the UK, including some very well paid ones.

Furthermore, there are generally a lot more newspapers and magazines these days than ten or twenty years ago, not to mention websites, blogs, business to business sites and magazines, company internal magazines, etc, etc… and consequently a lot more options for journalists.

There is even the option of writing your own blog and making a lot of money out of it… without even ever joining a paper or magazine iat all!!!

And don’t forget, that countless magazines and websites based in countries in the Middle East (safe ones, like UAE and Saudi) are desperate for English journalists for a whole sea of publications from finance reporting to oil info researchers to celebrity paparazzi!. Often these jobs pay extraordinarily well (£30k for your first job, £50k after 2 years) and offer return flights, free accomodation and a TAX FREE salary!

Although it “might not be true” Middle Eastern publishers often compete to have more staff than each other, and more western staff, so their journalists may not even need to do very much apart form sit back in the sunshine and look pretty!

Of course there is absolutely nothing to do out there apart from sunbathing, riding elevators to the top of tall buildings or racing camels so most journalists come back after a short time. Or get locked up whilst they’re over there for drinking. Be careful with that, anyone who’s planning on going.

It seems to me, that along with the internet, globalisation and the rise of the free magazine, there are more jobs for journalists these days than ever before… but you might think I’m wrong. If so, I’d like to hear it!!!

#3

In short - I think there is more of a formalised entry process emerging with the rise of other forms of media, and it is less about ‘who you know’ than it used to be as ever-declining advertising revenues force the industry to become more streamlined.

However, it’s still more closed than a lot of other professions because it would seem there are still way more people that want to do “something in the media” than there are jobs out there.

I was having a long think about this over dinner, but unfortunately have way too much work on this evening to post a full reply.

I do think there’s a lot of truth in what you say, but I also don’t think it’s quite that simple… well, I’ll explain my opinion and my reasons for thinking it when I have a bit more time on my hands - probably over the weekend.

Til then,
J

#4

Right, further to the post I put on earlier, a more detailed response!

I should very much imagine that the journalism industry is more open than it was ten or more years ago. From chatting with various editors, senior reporters etc it seems as though standards were more relaxed, people went down the pub at lunchtime and slapped articles together while half-cut, and everything was about who you knew.

Now, with widespread internet access eating into circulation figures like no-one’s business, newspapers are tightening procedures and formalising the entry process so that it’s become more open than before.

However, I would still say that it’s a lot more closed than many other industries, and stand by the sentiment of my original post. Because so many people want media work, there are always going to be more hopefuls than there are places - thus, the people in higher places who do the recruitment can afford to be incredibly choosy because they know they’ll never be short of young people clamouring to get a foot in the door.

In turn, this means they can put all manner of stipulations upon entry, and indeed do so in order to weed out the genuinely determined, focused and capable from those who just think journalism sounds like a nice idea.

Thus, getting into the industry still requires - in the vast majority of instances - getting lots of work experience and plugging away, pestering editors everywhere and taking a lot of rejections in order to prove that it’s something you really want to.

The industry is fun, varied and engaging, but it is also stressful, and demanding - editors want to see you work your arse off to get in to prove that you won’t just flake out when you realise there’s a lot of work involved and it isn’t all free lunches.

I’ve done a mixture of work experience and paid work at four different papers (Surrey Mirror, Bath Chronicle, Western Daily Press, Bristol Evening Post) as well as talking to editors and reporters from yet more titles through my course, and pretty much all of them got in through either doing a shitload of work experience at the same place until they got hired, or else getting on an NCTJ course (which itself has a minimum entry requirement of previous industry experience) and only then applying for work.

On my present course, out of fourteen of us, only one person came straight out of uni with no experience, and got a job through direct application (her paper have sent her to train here before her job officially starts).

The rest of us have all plugged away at various papers but don’t yet have a promise of a job at any of them - we are now paying our own way through this course because the chances of getting hired rise enormously once we’ve got the qualification.

In an age of decreasing advertising revenue and declining readerships, editors want to take people on who are already skilled in shorthand, law and public administration so they don’t have to ‘baby’ them in the basics throughout their probationary period.

So - at least as far as my experience has taught me - just coming out of uni with your undergrad degree and getting into a journalism job is a rare occurrence. There’s a guy on my course who even did a BA Hons specifically in Journalism, but is still on this course because of the very specific practical skills it teaches - he couldn’t get a job on the basis of his degree alone.

Likewise, there’s a highly intelligent and very capable girl who graduated from Cambridge with a theology degree, and has work experience on at least one national paper - the Guardian, I think, or maybe the Independent. Yet even she couldn’t get a foot in the door anywhere.

That isn’t to say it doesn’t happen, but I just don’t think it’s particularly easy. Especially with the higher paid jobs in national and even international journalism - as far as I know, the majority of people working in those glamourous fields served their sentence on the Nowheresville Chronicle for a few years before they got in.

A lot of young graduates dream of going straight into the kind of idyllic jobs you describe, and there’s no harm giving it a shot, but I think it’s worth bearing in mind how many other more experienced candidates you’d be up against when applying.

Also, with regard to the rise of web journalism, I think that most of the more successful and credible online news sources are those which have their roots in print or other earlier mediums (e.g. BBC News, Guardian Unlimited, Telegraph Online, Reuters etc.)

Even on a smaller level, the most successful local news sites are those run by newspaper companies - for example, the “thisis…” sites like “thisisbristol”, “thisisbath” etc. are owned by Northcliffe Press, and the “ic…” sites like “icsurrey”, “iccroydon” etc are owned by the Trinity Mirror Group.

I’m also somewhat unsure of how likely one would be to succeed by ‘going maverick’ and writing a blog. I guess that future developments may make this more of a possibility, but a talented writer would face a hard struggle to be recognised amongst the nutters airing their extremist views to all and sundry. Again, I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from giving it a shot - with a load of determination, who knows? - but in my view this would be a bloody hard path to tread.

The newspaper, radio and television journalism industries have reacted reasonably quickly and adapted well to the rise of web journalism, and as a result own and run most of the web’s successful news sources. Therefore, many of the web’s journalists actually work in a ‘dual role’ - writing for their newspaper, then uploading copy to the website.

In short, it seems to me that impressing and getting onto the newspapers is the best way to make it in online news. Of course, this is based purely on my experience so far, and I am but one man. If there’s anyone out there who has a totally different perspective or has had a totally different experience, then I’d be interested to hear it.

Phew! Right, back to the shorthand…

J.

#5

An afterthought:

I would emphasise that I’m very much discussing news and newspapers - I know relatively little about areas of the media further afield such as magazines, business journals, advertising, public relations etc.

My original post was very much directed towards people interested in going down a specific route rather than a comment on the media and communications industry as a whole. In terms of the bigger picture I really don’t know a great deal.

So if people are interested in the media in general but haven’t yet decided what area of it they’d like to work in, you would be well advised to consult other sources of information!

#6

What do you think of Obadiah Shoher’s views on the Middle East conflict? One can argue, of course, that Shoher is ultra-right, but his followers are far from being a marginal group. Also, he rejects Jewish moralistic reasoning - that’s alone is highly unusual for the Israeli right. And he is very influential here in Israel. So what do you think?

uh, here’s the site in question: Middle East conflict

#7

Hi Alex… I’ve heard of Obadiah before but can’t quite remember the background. Could you fill me in on the concept/history about the guy and a little more background. !!

#8

What do you think of Obadiah Shoher’s views on the Middle East conflict? One can argue, of course, that Shoher is ultra-right, but his followers are far from being a marginal group. Also, he rejects Jewish moralistic reasoning - that’s alone is highly unusual for the Israeli right. And he is very influential here in Israel. So what do you think?

#9

What…?

#10

This is interesting:

http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/greenslade/2008/07/why_regional_journalists_no_lo.html

It completely contradicts everything I’ve heard before now, though there’s a bit of debate about it in the comments section afterwards. But it’s worth a look.

Incidentally, one poster writes: “I think one area you’ve missed out on is that the magazines-to-nationals route is now a real thoroughfare, blocking the regionals out. A staff writer on Grazia, who has celebrity PR contacts, knows what a ‘Low-GI’ means, knows how to organise a photoshoot and deal with models, picture agencies, food stylists and all the attendent piffle of producing consumer media is actually more useful to a national paper these days than some ferret who can find dog meat in bins outside a restaurant.”

This saddens me greatly.

#11

…are you a ferret jimmy? …do you look for dog meat?

#12

Can’t say I do, not regularly anyway.

Seriously though, the OP may have been putting it a little bluntly but the spirit of what he said stands. Journalism should be about getting your hands dirty to find out the truth behind the image of businesses, politicians etc - there’s so much “churnalism” about these days that’s just recycled agency copy or PR dross. Especially in those bloody free papers they give out on trains and buses - once you get past the guff and double-page spreads about what substances Amy Winehouse has been shoving up her various foetid orifices this week, there’s hardly any original journalism in them.

rant over

#13

I did work experience for a local paper once. My team re-wrote press releases and recycled agency copy about local folk music bands and curry houses :slight_smile:

#14

Haha, oh dear. Unfortunately most papers use press releases to fill page space to some extent, and it’s usually the work experience person that gets lumped with writing that. Still, any workie who sticks at it can soon find themselves promoted from the heady world of writing nibs to covering such exciting topics as flower shows and school fetes!

#15

…Nibs?

#16

Ah, sorry… jargon. Nibs = News In Brief. Those little one-paragraph stories you see in both local and national papers - “A man was arrested today for buggering pigeons in a London park. The man, who police have not named, will be up before the courts next week.” That sort of thing.

#17

Hi! In Northern-Nigeria mostly north-east and north-west,specifically Bauchi, Maiduguri and Kano state many things that are inhuman and degrading treatment are the Dayout and Dayin focus.Where vast majority of people continue to remain in ‘silent voices’. No one to unfold their lives style to the world. Somtimes i wonder if the world really knows or is just a pretence,whatever. What we have is HAUSA REPORTERS, which their report is mostly self-centred leaving people in ghastly situatiion of untruthness. I dont know if you, People have resident reporters here, if dont please i suggest you should have, since we have internet, audios/images and comprehensive caption will be send to you. But if you have let them increase. Thanks til i hear from you