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Journalism

Leaflet PB 03
July 2011

Journalists report on what's happening in the world and may work for newspapers, magazines, radio, TV or online providers. Some cover international, national or local events; others specialise in different subjects, such as politics, sport, fashion or health. Most entrants are graduates.

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Journalists may work for local, regional and national newspapers, news agencies, press offices of large companies and government organisations, the vast range of weekly and monthly magazines and journals, radio and TV broadcasting companies and, increasingly, multimedia companies and internet news services. In fact, newspapers have become increasingly under pressure in the last few years, with the move towards providing news through the internet.

Journalists research information for reports and articles by various means – e.g. through face-to-face or telephone interviews, by going to meetings and press conferences, by following up leads from the public or by contact with the emergency services. They may then write up the story, ready for printing in a newspaper or magazine, publishing online, or reporting through the broadcast media. Journalists are sometimes required to take photographs or record/edit audio and video to go with their articles and scripts.

Entry into journalism is very competitive; most training places go to people with higher education qualifications.

A journalist:

  • is interested in local, national and international affairs

  • can talk with, listen to, and report the views of others

  • needs shorthand, keyboarding and possibly desktop-publishing skills

  • writes in a way that is interesting to read and easy to understand, with good grammar, spelling and punctuation

  • may work long days and during evenings and weekends when needed

  • has determination, drive and persistence
  • may have to travel, perhaps overseas

  • keeps cool under pressure and can meet tight deadlines
  • for some jobs, may require cross-media skills – to be able to research a story and then present it in different styles for print, broadcast and online, as well as perhaps maintaining blogs and other content on websites.

Newspaper journalism

Many entrants to newspaper journalism start on a local or regional weekly or daily newspaper; there are very few training opportunities with the national papers. There is little hope of being accepted by a national daily until you have gained significant experience as a qualified journalist and have proved your skills and reliability.

A good journalist fits in with the paper's 'house style' in order to produce what the editor wants – a paper that the public will buy, and in which organisations will pay for advertising space. Profit for local and regional papers comes mainly from advertising revenue, and it's the sole income source for free newspapers.

The following are the main routes into newspaper journalism.

Pre-entry courses

The National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) accredits pre-entry training courses in journalism at a number of colleges. Most people enter newspaper journalism this way. For entry to a course, you will need a minimum of two A levels or equivalent qualifications, plus five GCSEs, including English at grades A*-C. Some courses require a degree and many applicants are graduates. Most colleges expect applicants for pre-entry courses to have undertaken work experience on a newspaper.

Many pre-entry courses last for one year, full time (these are often referred to as academic year courses). There are also fast-track courses that cover the same content as the academic year courses, but in a much shorter time. All courses lead to the Diploma in Journalism. The Diploma consists of five compulsory subjects, such as reporting and media law, and a minimum of two optional specialist subjects, such as sports journalism and production journalism.

After a pre-entry course, you will need to find an employer. You will undertake a training contract, usually lasting 18 months. This is the minimum qualifying period of work experience required before you can take the NCTJ's National Certificate Examination.

Trainees on pre-entry courses may be sponsored by employers. Colleges can advise which newspapers sponsor trainees on their particular course, or you can approach newspaper companies directly. For a list of NCTJ-accredited pre-entry courses, visit their website listed at the end of this leaflet.

Higher education courses

There are a number of degree, HND and foundation degree courses in journalism. Many, but not all, of them are accredited by the NCTJ. Entry to a journalism degree course normally requires A levels, or the equivalent. Check entry requirements of individual courses, as they do vary. With further study, it may be possible to top-up from a foundation degree or HND to a degree.

For graduates of other disciplines, there are postgraduate courses in newspaper journalism, some of which are accredited by the NCTJ.

Taking an NCTJ-accredited course may help your employment prospects, as many editors, particularly on local and regional newspapers, look for applicants who have completed such courses. Some of the other bodies listed at the end of this leaflet also accredit courses.

Those with higher education qualifications should apply to editors of local or regional papers. Successful applicants usually enter an 18-month training contract.

Various institutions offer degree courses in subjects such as media studies, or include journalism amongst other modules. These could be of interest but, do not provide journalism trainingas such. A dedicated journalism degree course will include media law, shorthand, public affairs and the basic skills of journalistic writing and ethics.

Direct entry

Although pre-entry courses are the most common route into journalism, it may still be possible (although rare) to find a job as a trainee with a local or regional paper. Applications should be made directly to the editor. Those who are successful typically serve a probationary period, followed by a two-year qualifying period, during which NCTJ exams may be taken.

The minimum educational requirements are five GCSEs at grades A*-C, or their equivalent, including English. However, most recruits through this route are graduates.

Magazines

A huge range of magazines and journals, or periodicals, are published in Britain. There are three main types of periodical:
  • business, trade and technical periodicals (sometimes known as business to business, or B2B)

  • consumer magazines (those that are read for leisure, including women's magazines, teenage papers, comics and hobby magazines)
  • customer/contract magazines (published on behalf of another company, such as airline magazines).

Work on periodicals is similar to newspaper journalism, although the newsgathering covers a narrower field. Periodical journalists need:
  • journalistic ability

  • specialist knowledge of the subject(s) they are writing about

  • an understanding of their readership.

This can be a demanding combination, especially when it involves complex subjects such as medicine, law or science.

Besides permanent staff jobs, there are opportunities for freelancers with experience in a particular field to enter periodical journalism, writing about their own specialisms. Freelancers can gain membership of the National Union of Journalists or the Chartered Institute of Journalists.

Entry requirements and routes are generally the same as for newspapers – starting as a direct entrant or through a pre-entry course. The NCTJ and the Periodicals Training Council (PTC) accredit courses in magazine journalism; you can find accredited courses on the NCTJ and PPA (Periodical Publisher's Association) websites, respectively – see details at end of leaflet. Some people who move into magazine journalism are experienced newspaper journalists.

If you wish to apply as a direct entrant, select some suitable periodicals and write to their editors, briefly outlining your education, abilities and interests, and why you want to work on the publication. Enclose relevant examples of your own writing. Before an interview, study the magazine so that you can talk intelligently about it. Employers want people who can bring original and creative ideas. Training will be on the job, together with an accredited courses offered by the NCTJ or PTC.

News agencies

The daily press cannot afford to pay to have a correspondent in every place in the world where news items might be gathered. News agencies provide a service to the national press by covering events worldwide. Agencies, such as Reuters and the Press Association, provide a basic service that can be supplemented by roving foreign correspondents. There are also local and specialist news agencies. Thomson Reuters (the company that operates the Reuters news service) offers internships and a financial journalism training programme open to graduates of certain subjects; the Press Association provides training opportunities for A level (or equivalent) and graduate entrants.

Broadcast journalism

Despite many new radio, satellite and cable TV stations, this is a highly competitive area of work to enter. Most broadcast journalists begin their careers in a local radio station.

As with other fields of journalism, entry is either through direct entry or through a pre-entry course. Many entrants follow courses that are accredited by the Broadcast Journalism Training Council (BJTC). The NCTJ's Diploma in Journalism offers broadcasting as a specialist subject. See the BJTC's and NCTJ's websites (details at end) for accredited courses. A complete understanding of broadcast-based media, legal ethics, industry regulation and editorial policy is necessary, as well as mastery of broadcast production skills.

Keen entrants with experience of basic broadcasting techniques, gained, for example, through hospital or college radio stations may be able to get started as direct entrant, although opportunities are rare. A demonstration tape of an interview or report is helpful, but persistence will be called for. A few employers offer bursary/sponsorship schemes to support students through BJTC-accredited postgraduate courses.

All the mainstream broadcasting companies, including many in the independent production field, recruit trained journalists to work in their newsrooms – many also require journalism skills for jobs in other production areas. Look on their websites for information about news trainee schemes, sponsorships and bursaries, or check the BJTC website.

A few of the larger commercial broadcasting companies offer in-house training. Most TV companies prefer graduates for research positions. Many researchers, especially those working in current affairs, have a background in journalism or previous experience in radio or TV.

Experienced print journalists can also move into broadcast journalism.

Multimedia

The way that news and information are delivered is changing. For example, many people now get updates via mobile phones and other digital technologies. The internet and mobile phone markets are fast-expanding areas offering opportunities for journalists through websites with online news services etc. This kind of work is generally done by journalists working in multimedia companies that also operate in broadcasting or newspaper publishing.

There are specialist courses in multimedia journalism up to postgraduate level.

Getting started

If you are interested in journalism as a career, it's very important to get as much relevant work experience as you can and to build up a portfolio of any work you have had published or broadcast. This shows you are keen, have ability and introduces you to contacts who may be useful when you are looking for your first job.

There are various courses that provide a broad introduction to the media. The Diploma in creative and media is available at some schools and colleges in England; there are three levels. Students with four GCSEs at grades A*-C (or equivalent) could consider an Advanced Diploma in creative and media, an A level in media: communication and production, a BTEC Level 3 National in creative media production or an OCR Level 3 National in media. Some further education colleges run City & Guilds courses in media techniques, which cover a wide range of topics including broadcast journalism.

Specialisation, prospects and pay

With experience or qualifications in specific areas of journalism, you may be able to specialise. If interested in fashion or sports, for example, you could consider a taking a specialist degree course in fashion journalismor sports journalism. At postgraduate level, City University offers a full-time masters course in financial journalism. Medical students can take the University of Westminster one-year BA degree course in medical journalism, which is open to medical students who have successfully completed two years of a BSc (Hons) in basic medical sciences. If you have a specialist interest, find out if there are specialist courses available.

With significant relevant experience (or luck!), there may be limited opportunities to work as a critic– this involves giving in-depth analysis of films, plays, restaurants etc.

Large newspaper and magazine companies have promotion opportunities – for instance, you could progress to sub-editor or news editor. Many jobs are offered on freelance or short-term contracts. There may be the chance to work overseas.

As a trainee journalist, you are likely to earn around £12-16,000. An experienced senior journalist on a national newspaper or magazine, or in broadcasting, can earn £50,000 or more.

N.B. To encourage people from ethnically and socially diverse backgrounds to enter journalism, the NCTJ runs a Journalism Diversity Fund, offering a bursary covering course and exam fees and some living costs, as well as offering support from a mentor and help with finding work experience. The scheme is open to those of limited financial means who have either applied to, or have been accepted on, an NCTJ-accredited course. See:
www.journalismdiversityfund.com

Adults: Course entry requirements may be relaxed for those with relevant experience. Freelance work is an option for adults with specialist knowledge and writing experience.


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For Further Information

Young people can find out about any local training opportunities from the Connexions/careers service. Check with local and regional newspaper groups if they are recruiting trainees, or if they offer work experience. The Newspaper Society website (see below) has an A-Z of local newspaper websites, or look for addresses in Willing's Press Guide, which may be in your local reference library.

National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ)– tel: 01799 544014. Their website carries careers information, an accredited course search facility and you can download the NCTJ Journalism Careers Brochure:
www.nctj.com

NS (The Newspaper Society)– tel: 020 7632 7400.
www.newspapersoc.org.uk

Periodical Publishers Association (PPA)– tel: 020 7404 4166. Find the free careers guide app Magsceneand a search facility for PTC (Periodicals Training Council)-accredited courses (click on 'Training') at:
www.ppa.co.uk

The Chartered Institute of Journalists– tel: 020 7252 1187.
www.cioj.co.uk

Broadcast Journalism Training Council (BJTC)– tel: 01778 440025. For careers information, see:
www.bjtc.org.uk

National Union of Journalists– tel: 020 7278 7916. The NUJ's careers pack, Guide to Careers in Journalism,can be viewed at:
www.nujtraining.org.uk

Skillset– the Sector Skills Council for creative media. For information and advice about careers in broadcast and print journalism, call the helpline: 08080 300 900 (in England and Northern Ireland) or 0800 012 1815 (in Wales), or see:
www.skillset.org/careers

For vacancies and information about the journalism industry, training etc, see:
www.journalism.co.uk
www.holdthefrontpage.co.uk

Information about jobs, work experience and training opportunities in broadcast journalism and other areas within the BBCcan be found on:
www.bbc.co.uk/careerswww.bbctraining.com


For information about the BBC's Journalism Training Scheme, see:
www.bbc.co.uk/jobs/jts

A networking, campaigning and training organisation for women journalists:
http://womeninjournalism.co.uk

Journalism Uncovered
– published by Trotman, part of Crimson Publishing, £12.99.
© Copyright 2009, All rights reserved - Nord Anglia Lifetime Development SW Ltd
 
 

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