Write Now: Reality bites

Write Now: Reality bites

By Luiza 03/02/11

Journalism is currently in flux, as it moves from old print to new media. The industry has never been more exciting, argues Luiza Sauma, but it's also never been harder to break into...

It’s time for a reality check.

For a few weeks now, I’ve been writing about how to pitch articles, the pleasures of long-form journalism, the importance of good grammar, and so on.

But there’s one thing I haven’t written about, which I really should (if I was aiming for melodrama, I’d say it was the “elephant in the room”, but you should never, ever succumb to terrible clichés in journalism).

The fact is: you can be a fantastic writer with a brilliant degree, excellent technical skills and a nose for a good story – and you still might not get a job in journalism. Ever.

As you already know, the industry is in a state of flux and newsprint is on its way out. Some old timers – those who can remember the good old days of liquid lunches on Fleet Street – might even venture to add that journalism is in tatters.

I don’t agree with that view, because what has replaced “old journalism” – blogging, online publishing, Twitter and citizen journalism (which is at its best when it works with “proper” journalism) – is exciting, efficient and, most of all, interactive.

Newspapers are no longer holy tomes from which information travels one way – from journalist to reader – and the dusty, edited arguments of the letters page have been replaced by the democracy (and, quite often, lunacy) of online comments.

Moreover, news – courtesy of both journalists and citizens armed with smartphones, cameras and Twitter accounts – now comes directly from the centre of the action. We’re all journalists now, which is good news for the spread of information and thought, but bad news for all the poor sods who paid thousands of pounds to go to journalism school.

Nobody could argue with the daily horror stories of redundancies, closures and unemployment across the industry, and the increasingly pauper-ish salaries earned by those lucky enough to be in employment.

Back in 2004, when I graduated, I embarked on a career in arts journalism because I thought it would be a bit more realistic and sensible than trying to write a novel. These days, deciding to become an arts journalist is about as realistic and sensible as running away with a circus. (At the start of your career, you’re better off as a generalist.)

It’s always been a tough gig. Even when I started out, seven years ago (pre-YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, when print still ruled the roost), getting a job involved a concoction of unpaid work, good education, balls, tears, networking, a small sprinkling of talent and a large helping of communication skills. These days, you need all that and more – and having connections never hurts.

If you’re a decent writer, even without a best mate/uncle in the industry, getting bylines in big publications is easy, as long as you’re happy to work for free (as demonstrated by last night’s excellent BBC doc, Who Gets the Best Jobs).

When it comes to securing a real job, though, you might as well turn to witchcraft.

I’m not trying to dissuade anyone from choosing journalism as a career. It may be badly paid and difficult to break into, but as jobs go, it’s still one of the best. If you’ve got the talent and the determination, you can make it happen. If you don’t, you won’t.

Or start casting those spells. Whatever works.




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