I want to work in ..... Journalism and Writing

 

The truth is like a lion; you don’t have to defend it. Let it loose; it will defend itself.
Augustine of Hippo
A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes
Mark Twain
If you tell the truth, it becomes a part of your past. If you lie, it becomes a part of your future.
Unknown

 

Also see our

JournalismShakespeare

Journalism involves gathering, interpretation and presentation of news and other items of topical interest, involving some or all of the following tasks: conducting interviews, attending events, constructing reports and stories, undertaking special assignments and researching the background to stories.

Employers include: local and national newspapers; websites and online news; magazines and journals, the trade press; the BBC and independent TV and radio; international broadcasters; news agencies. Freelance and portfolio careers have become increasingly common although they usually follow a considerable period as a staff journalist, building up experience and contacts.

According to the National Union of Journalists the average starting salary for a print journalist is about £15,000 in 2011 and the average for all journalists is only about £24,000 - far less than that of a teacher, so you don't do it for the money!

Multimedia journalism (the ability to create reporting in text, video and audio for the web and broadcast) is becoming much more important and whereas the number of print journalists has dropped sharply, web journalism is becoming increasingly important and this is where many of the new jobs are.

Getting in

Qualities and skills required

 

Few jobs in journalism are now specialised, particularly at the outset of your career. Journalists write copy, present and adapt for audio, video and social media: few specilaise in any one medium. There are only a few specialists in any newsroom and the most valuable journalists can cover any subject. Also few employers will now pay for your training. ‘Graduate schemes’ in journalism are for people who are not only graduates but who also have the NCTJ diploma and six months work experience. Without the NCTJ qualification most recruiters won't even interview you.

Learning to use desktop publishing software will greatly improve your CV for publishing and journalism jobs. Microsoft Publisher is part of MS Office and although basic, will get you started. Even better are In Design and Quark Xpress: you can download fully working demos of these professional packages which you can practice and then add to your CV. Adobe Photoshop (image manipulation) will also help, as will basic web page design skills as so much publishing is now electronic. See our Computing Skills page for more details of how to get these packages www.kent.ac.uk/careers/sk/computing-skills.htm

You will need a PORTFOLIO to showcase your work. This should ideally include several articles covering different topics and styles such as a feature, match report, hard news story with dates and publication details if you can. See our How to create a portfolio page

In a UK-wide survey by Skillset employers said there was a skills gap among graduates entering journalism. Traditional skills missing included finding own stories, use of language, writing, media law, shorthand and news gathering and using the Freedom of Information Act. The standard of written English among new entrants was a major cause of concern. 

Postgraduate courses

There is a range of postgraduate journalism courses that should improve your chances of entry, but there is strong competition for places at the best courses and you may need to apply early. A good course will normally be accredited by the NCTJ, BJTC, or the PTA (see below), but some excellent courses (e.g. the MA at City University) are not accredited. Costs of courses vary from about £1,000, to over £8,000 for the best Master's courses.

Editors are most interested in the evidence of relevant practical skills (see above), so valuable experience can be gained through taking an NCTJ course run by a local college.

Fast-track courses such as that offered by the Press Asssociation are short, intensive journalism courses lasting up to twenty weeks. These are very practical courses and you get the NCTJ Diploma in Journalism (the main requirement for most journalism jobs). Courses at Colleges of Further Education are often run 2 times a year in September, and again in February and course fees can be as little as £1,000 upwards. Some private companies run courses: fees are higher, but they may contain work experience on a newspaper or magazine. Course pass rates vary widely. They may not arrange work experience for you and may not have the resources to invest heavily in technology and therefore focus more on print journalism.

Work experience

It's difficult to get real work experience (as opposed to work shadowing0 until you have been trained. Editors are more interested in what you read/listen to/watch than in your journalism experience. Involvement in student journalism shows enthusiasm and helps you to learn how to write concisely and accurately and work to deadlines, but editors may be wary if students have written for a student union publication that limits their editorial independence. They are unimpressed by work that comments on national/international issues based purely on coverage in other media without first-hand knowledge. Pieces on local, student and personal issues count for more.

Most writers of literary and film reviews: are academics or other writers. Journalists working for review publications commission the reviews, design the sections and check legal issues etc. It’s only on smaller local publications that you write reviews, and this will be alongside other work.

Many top publications, such as Vogue, can commission the best freelance writers but staff journalists are largely editing and subediting.

A UK qualification won’t get you a job in another country without a deep understanding of the country, the publication and its audience. The most likely international opportunities are in overseas newsrooms of British media (the Daily Mail has newsrooms in New York and LA) or with media that has an international focus, such as Deutsche Welle (the German equivalent of the BBC World Service).

Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.

Napoleon Bonaparte

An MA will be more theoretical as you have to write a dissertation, however, many MAs include work experience, including the Multimedia Journalism MA with the Centre for Journalism at the University of Kent. An MA may also add more value to your CV for careers outside journalism.

 

There are VERY FEW formal company training schemes in journalism. Employers that do run such schemes include Thomson Reuters Competition for these schemes is even fiercer than for journalism jobs generally.

The MA in Journalism at Kent

What they look for when selecting students:

 

PROFILE: Newspaper Journalist

INVOLVES: Gathering, interpretation & presentation of news & other items of topical interest, involving some or all of the following tasks: Conducting interviews, attending events, constructing reports & stories, undertaking special assignments; researching the background to stories. Reporting the news (local, county or national); writing accurate, factual & legal stories; largely keeping stories within 200 words; getting both sides of a story.
EMPLOYERS: Local & national newspapers Magazines & journals, especially the trade press (see Benn's Press Directory for information). BBC & independent TV & radio, News agencies, Self-employment (freelancing) usually follows a considerable period as a staff journalist, building up experience & contacts.
RELATED JOBS: magazine/radio journalist; press relations; copy-writing in advertising agencies.
SATISFACTIONS: Variety on a daily basis; meeting people; writing news stories which are accurate, interesting & first.
NEGATIVES: Long & unsocial hours; low pay (generally, not completely, but especially in the earlier stages of a career).
SKILLS: written & spoken communication, working to tight deadlines, attention to detail, investigating, persuading, listening.
ADVANCEMENT: Typically: reporter, newsdesk, sub-editor, deputy editor, editor.
DEGREE: Any degree subject, but some areas may require a specialised background (e.g. science, economics). Can do one-year postgraduate course in journalism but not essential for entry.
VACANCY SOURCES: UK Press Gazette (weekly), The Guardian (Mondays), Willings Press Guide, Writers' & Artists' Yearbook Vacancies are limited in all types of journalism. Competition is fierce - as much so for places on postgraduate courses as for actual jobs. Speculative applications are essential!
TIPS: Start applying early - some training schemes have December closing dates - & persevere. Remember that WHAT you say in your letter of application, & HOW you say it, is a vital part of the selection process for prospective journalists, Get a good degree, develop excellent inter-personal skills. Overt enthusiasm, maturity & idealism are required.

 

PROFILE: Magazine Journalist

INVOLVES: commissioning articles, writing/rewriting articles, editing others' work, some news reporting.
EMPLOYERS: Reed, Haymarket, & many others (see Willings Press Guide for further information).
RELATED JOBS: newspaper journalism, broadcast journalism, advertising copywriter, public relations.
SATISFACTIONS: Combination of creativity & craft. Opportunity to be innovative/influence others. Flexible career.
NEGATIVES: "Flexible career (diminishing job security)."
SKILLS: written & spoken communication, working to tight deadlines, attention to detail, investigating, persuading, listening, commitment & persistence, curiosity, self-sufficiency. Versatility. Ability to strike up a rapport with all kinds of people.
DEGREE: Any degree subject, but some areas may require a specialised background (e.g. science, economics). Some postgraduate courses offer useful skills & experience (e.g. City University, Cardiff University, London College of Printing). Otherwise, training is mostly on-the-job & generally less structured than on newspapers.
VACANCY SOURCES: UK Press Gazette (weekly), The Guardian (Mondays). Willings Press Guide, Writers' & Artists' Yearbook.
TIPS: Vacancies are limited in all types of journalism. Competition is fierce - as much so for places on postgraduate courses as for actual jobs. Speculative applications are essential! Start applying early - some training schemes have December closing dates - & persevere. Remember that WHAT you say in your letter of application, & HOW you say it, is a vital part of the selection process for prospective journalists\Get a good degree, develop excellent inter-personal skills. Overt enthusiasm, maturity & idealism are required.

Detailed profiles of the following roles can be found at www.prospects.ac.uk/links/pubjournal

  • Broadcast journalist
  • Fashion journalist
  • Magazine journalist
  • Newspaper journalist
  • Press sub-editor
  • Scientific journalist

Useful journalism links

A student wanted to become a trainee journalist on her local newspaper. She decided to carefully analyse the content of the paper and compared it with similar local papers. She conducted a small survey of readers' opinions on the paper by interviewing passers-by in the city centre. Using this information, she drew up a list of possible changes to the paper, wrote a sample article to show what she had in mind and sent these to the editor. The editor invited her in to discuss her suggestions - they had a long discussion and the next vacancy that arose was offered to her without competition.

Sam ‐ Assistant Editor (French & History, degree). Graduate Career Story from HECSU

How did you become an assistant editor?

‘After I left university I alternated between the dole and temporary jobs while I considered my options and tried to find a full‐time graduate job in journalism. I’d made some plans to relocate to France, but when these fell through I decided to look into PR and in early 2007 I found a job with a small London‐based PR agency. I moved down to London, but quickly realised that I didn’t want to continue working in PR and after six months I decided to leave in order to concentrate on building a career in journalism. However, I’m still glad I did it as it was thanks to that short stint in PR that I was accepted onto the graduate training scheme of one of the UK’s largest financial trade publishers. I joined the company’s editorial team and after two and a half years I’d worked on a variety of titles and felt ready to take the next step in my career so applied to be an Assistant Editor. In my current role I write features, commission articles from freelancers, edit copy as it comes in, run the website, and work with the sales department to work out how the advertising will fit in with the editorial content. In the medium‐term I’d like to edit a magazine, but in the future I’m planning to start my own title or go freelance.’

How have you drawn on the experience you gained at university in your subsequent work?

‘As a journalist, the essay writing and research skills I gained at university have been really useful – there is very little difference between writing essays and writing features, you just have to tone the academic style down a bit. I’ve been able to use my French skills when working on magazines which have a more international focus. I also attend lots of seminars, press events and teach‐ins, which are surprisingly like university tutorials.’

Do you have any careers advice for the students who graduated this year?

‘Keep looking and don’t give up. If you want to get into journalism, a professional journalism qualification isn’t necessary – I know hardly anyone who went down that route. However, you have to be able to write and to prove that you are passionate about writing, so keep a blog, work on an e‐zine, or ask if you could do some work experience at a local paper. Whatever you do, don’t be disheartened by rejection.’
Graduate Career Story from HECSU

Sonja ‐ Magazine Editor (English & Politics degree). Graduate Career Story from HECSU

How did you become a magazine editor?

‘After I graduated I decided to move to a different city and got a temporary job as a personal assistant to earn some money while I settled into the area. I spend six months temping before securing a two‐week work experience placement in a publishing house. This then turned into a freelance writing position, and a few months later the company offered me a permanent position as the editor of one of their magazine titles. I’d like to stay here and gain some more experience, but once I’ve done that I’ll probably move to a bigger company where I’ll have more of an opportunity to progress. Eventually I’d like to manage my own company.’

How have you drawn on the experience you gained at university in your subsequent work?

‘I was the editor of the student newspaper at university, which has helped me a lot. Working in a position of responsibility meant that I had plenty of experience of attending meetings, dealing with difficult colleagues and delegating work. I don’t actually think that my course was as useful as my newspaper experience because it wasn’t especially business‐focused – but I think this varies across subjects.’

Do you have any careers advice for the students who graduated this year?

‘I graduated this year and found myself on the dole for three months and being rejected from jobs on a daily basis. The best advice I can give is to be optimistic, charming and persistent. I got my job through work‐experience – turning up everyday and establishing myself as a reliable worker who was hard‐working and enthusiastic. It is important to maintain a positive attitude and keep your spirits up because nobody will want to employ a negative character. In some ways I think the current economic climate is a blessing in disguise for graduates as it gives you some space to think about your next step. Plus it gives you a valid excuse as to why you don't have a ‘proper’ job when members of you extended family ask that dreaded question – ‘what have you been doing since graduation?’!’
Graduate Career Story from HECSU

John ‐ Freelance Broadcast Journalist (Social & Cultural Studies, 2005). Graduate Career Story from HECSU

How did you become a broadcast journalist?

‘While I was studying I hosted a show on university radio which led to a work experience placement at a local BBC radio station after I graduated. I then secured further work experience at radio stations in Nottingham and London and applied for lots of jobs but I couldn’t seem to get anywhere. After a year of casual work I had only been to one interview so I decided to do a postgraduate qualification in radio and television journalism in order to boost my CV. After I graduated, I spent a year working as a freelance journalist before finally securing a permanent job as a broadcast journalist with a local radio station in Yorkshire. However, after eighteen months with the radio station I decided to return to freelance journalism. At the moment I report on the news from around the county, but in the future I’d like to move into working on current affairs programmes and am hoping to take advantage of the opportunities that will become available when the BBC open their offices in the north.’

How have you drawn on the experience you gained at university in your subsequent work?

‘The research skills I gained from my first degree have been invaluable in my work as a journalist. My degree covered a wide range of topics (from ethics to visual culture) so I have a broad working knowledge of a variety of subjects, which I find very useful when working on news stories. Also, if I hadn’t worked at the university radio stations I’m sure I would be doing something completely different – and probably less interesting.’

What prompted you to undertake further study?

‘When I finished my studies I did work experience at a number of radio stations and applied for hundreds of jobs. When I only had one interview – which was a disaster! – I realised I needed to specialise and decided broadcast journalism was the area I wanted to work in.’

Do you have any careers advice for the students who graduated this year?

‘I’d say – don’t panic. Get as much relevant work experience as you can. Don’t worry if you don’t have a concrete idea of what you want to do. I ended up graduating from my post‐grad course when I was nearly 26 and at no point have I thought it would all have been easier if I’d known what I wanted to do from an earlier age. In fact, the life experience has really helped me make the most of my career. Take advantage of any contacts you have in the fields you’re interested in – people LOVE to help others who express an interest in following in their footsteps so you won’t be getting on their nerves!’
Graduate Career Story from HECSU

Photojournalism

PROFILE: Press Photographer

INVOLVES: Taking photographs for newspapers & magazines. Photojournalists also produce copy to go with their pictures.
EMPLOYERS Newspapers & magazines, Photo agencies, TV Companies
RELATED JOBS: photojournalist, medical photographer, police photographer, TV camera operator, audio visual technician.
SATISFACTIONS: Creative & technical satisfaction of producing a good picture. Seeing your work in print.
NEGATIVES: Often poor initial pay, much of the work is freelance.
SKILLS: creativity, entrepreneurial skills if self employed.
ADVANCEMENT: Can move into freelance work
DEGREE: photography, graphic design, English (for photojournalism), media studies.
POSTGRADUATE STUDY: Relevant course in photography will help if first degree not in this
VACANCY SOURCES: Jobs are rarely advertised. UK Press Gazette, Benn’s Media Guide & British Journal of Photography are useful sources.
TIPS: Talk to experienced photographers. Get together a good portfolio. Need to make speculative applications. Competition is fierce.

Writing

CVs for writers

CVs for writing would be similar to our media CV www.kent.ac.uk/careers/cv/mediacv.htm
and our creative CV may also help www.kent.ac.uk/careers/cv/cvcreative.doc

The writing style must be crisp! This will mainly be assessed in your covering letter but make sure your CV phrases are carefully worded. Give evidence of all your writing experience - you could always attach an example to your email, but you also should develop an on-line portfolio www.kent.ac.uk/careers/cv/portfolios.htm: you could always use a blog such as Wordpress to do this and make sure you have a LinkedIn profile as well.

You need to make sure that there is evidence of relevant skills on your CV such as :

Scriptwriting

  • No one but a blockhead ever wrote except for money. - Samuel Johnson
  • There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.
    Somerset Maugham
  • Most writers regard truth as their most valuable possession and therefore are most economical in its use. - Mark Twain
  • Doctors bury their mistakes, lawyers hang them, but journalists put them on the front page.

Send a script to a particular producer at the BBC. Take characters from a soap or regular drama and write scenes for them that develop current plots and move the story on, then submit them to the Producer. This gets your name known and practice in writing for a particular genre. You have to start somewhere, and the discipline of working within set characters and deadlines on a soap is extremely valuable. The Writers' and Artists' Yearbook, available for reference at the Careers Helpdesk contains a section on scriptwriting including advice on agents and their specialisms. Also look regularly at The Stage www.thestage.co.uk

A knowledge of scriptwriting software such as Final Draft would be helpful. You can download a free demo from www.finaldraft.com YOu will find a list by the BBC of free scriptwriting software at www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom/send-a-script/formatting-your-script

Travel writing

Professional travel writing is done by good writers who travel. It doesn't matter if you've sky-dived off the moon straight into a sinkhole in Oman; if you can't put together a good sentence, your experience will be lost on everyone else. Be a writer first, a traveller second (Roger Norum, BGTW)

It’s a good job but let’s be realistic: it’s more a case of being paid to collect brochures and bus timetable info — and to crack the ice-cold nerve of concierges the world over. We are info dumps: much of the job is gathering facts and figures and updating perishable and non-perishable information. (Simon Sellars, Lonely Planet)

Self-publishing

Self-publishing used to have a bad name. Often referred to as “vanity publishing”, aspiring authors would pay large sums of money to produce books that only their family and friends would ever buy. Many vanity publishing houses aimed to get as much money as possible from their authors while providing as little as possible in return. This still exists and you should beware of any “publisher” that asks you to pay to have your work published.

If a publisher asks you for money, this is vanity publishing. A reputable commercial publisher will pay you for publishing your work. (Scottish Book Trust)

However, the arrival of digital publishing has made it easier for unknown authors to publish their own work at no financial cost to themselves and to potentially reach a wide audience via Amazon and other online publishing sites. Although the spectacular success stories in some of the articles below are the exception rather than the rule, self-publishing is still a viable route. There are still issues which you should be aware of: the Society of Authors www.societyofauthors.net has useful advice at http://bit.ly/yAHC46

 

Brilliant personal statement written by Hugh Gallagher, this won the humour category of the Scholastic Writing Awards.

I am a dynamic figure, often seen scaling walls and crushing ice. I have been known to remodel train stations on my lunch breaks, making them more efficient in the area of heat retention. I translate ethnic slurs for Cuban refugees, I write award-winning operas, I manage time efficiently. Occasionally, I tread water for three days in a row.

I woo women with my sensuous and godlike trombone playing, I can pilot bicycles up severe inclines with unflagging speed, and I cook Thirty Minute Brownies in twenty minutes. I am an expert in stucco, a veteran in love, and an outlaw in Peru.

Using only a hoe and a large glass of water, I once single-handedly defended a small village in the Amazon Basin from a horde of ferocious army ants. I play bluegrass cello, I was scouted by the Mets. I am the subject of numerous documentaries. When I’m bored, I build large suspension bridges in my yard. I enjoy urban hang gliding. On Wednesdays, after school, I repair electrical appliances free of charge.

I am an abstract artist, a concrete analyst, and a ruthless bookie. Critics worldwide swoon over my original line of corduroy evening wear. I don’t perspire. I am a private citizen, yet I receive fan mail. I have been caller number nine and won the weekend passes. Last summer I toured New Jersey with a traveling centrifugal-force demonstration. I bat .400. My deft floral arrangements have earned me fame in international botany circles. Children trust me.

I can hurl tennis rackets at small moving objects with deadly accuracy. I once read Paradise Lost, Moby Dick, and David Copperfield in one day and still had time to refurbish an entire dining room that evening. I know the exact location of every food item in the supermarket. I have performed covert operations for the CIA. I sleep once a week; when I do sleep, I sleep in a chair. While on vacation in Canada, I successfully negotiated with a group of terrorists who had seized a small bakery. The laws of physics do not apply to me.

I balance, I weave, I dodge, I frolic, and my bills are all paid. On weekends, to let off steam, I participate in full-contact origami. Years ago I discovered the meaning of life but forgot to write it down. I have made extraordinary four-course meals using only a Mouli and a toaster oven. I breed prizewinning clams. I have won bullfights in San Juan, cliff-diving competitions in Sri Lanka, and spelling bees at the Kremlin. I have played Hamlet, I have performed open-heart surgery, and I have spoken with Elvis.

But I have not yet gone to college.

 

Last fully updated 2014