Getting Your Foot through the Newsroom Door – our new series on landing a job
It’s no secret that journalism is one of the most difficult industries to break into – so we’re bringing you a 5 part series on how to land that elusive first job. The author of our guide is Laurence Cawley, a professional journalist who has worked in the regional and national media for the past 10 years. A dedicated shorthand practitioner, he is also the editor of http://www.shorthandworld.co.uk.
PART ONE: An introduction
As many as half of all graduates say they’d like a career in the media. That’s a lot of graduates out there who want the same job you want or the job, if you are already working in the media, you currently have. I’ve heard this statistic banded about many times – often by editors or managing directors of newspaper groups justifying the poor pay journalists tend to get.
I have no reason to doubt the statistic – I’ve met a lot of graduates who say they’d like a career ‘in the media’. Most of them now work as management consultants, accountants, in advertising or in sales. However, even if many of those who want a career in the media never quite get there, there is a simple truth: the route to being an employed journalist is competitive and the going is tough (at first). As is the case with all competitive environments it pays to ensure that you stand out from the crowd. But to know how to stand out from the crowd, you have to know what an editor is looking for from a potential candidate. Put simply, editors tend to be looking for:
- A commitment to a career in journalism
- Self-confidence that stops way short of arrogance
- An eagerness to learn and a keenness to help and get involved
We’ll focus on the top of the editor’s wish-list first. Demonstrating a commitment to a career in journalism is vital and will be something all editors are looking for in any new recruit. The following steps all demonstrate a commitment to your chosen career:
- Asking and undertaking unpaid work experience at a local newspaper
- Working on a school, university or community newspaper or news-sheet
- Finding a good news story and then phoning a newspaper with it whilst asking for work experience
- Undertaking training to become a journalist at one of the many establishments that offer courses.
This not only shows you are committed to a career in journalism, but also that you are willing to go to the financial expense of getting yourself ready to become a journalist.
Believe it or not, the last option listed above will be the least likely to impress an editor. Many editors are skeptical about the value of journalism or media-based degree courses. They are often tinged with more theory than practical tuition and cover the ethics and philosophy of journalism when most editors are more concerned with tight copy, written in a legally-sound way which will inform or entertain their readers.
On a personal level, I think media studies and journalism degrees are excellent and, if combined with experience of working as a journalist, offer an excellent grounding towards becoming a considered and insightful reporter. But unless the degree includes a certificate to say you have got your shorthand speed to (ideally) 100 words per minute, a thorough grounding in media law and court reporting, a basic understanding of local and central government and proof that you know how to construct a news story, a degree in journalism or media studies is unlikely to lead to a job. Unpaid work experience, however, often leads to a job – though not on its own.
The rest of this series includes:
- Applying for work experience
- How to stand out during a placement
- A degree or no degree?
- What are employers looking for?
Check back every Monday for more!