There are countless different ways of getting into journalism, but which is right for you? In light of freelance journalist Janet Murray's decision to take on an apprentice, Hazel Davis investigates an increasingly competitive – and somewhat confusing – career path...
Just what is the best route into journalism?
Last month, when freelance journalist Janet Murray announced her intention to take on an apprentice journalist, opinion was divided.
Many writers believed it was about time and would pave the way for other similar opportunities. Others thought there was no substitution for the cut-and-thrust of a busy newsroom or formal training; some others believed the profession should be reserved for graduates or postgraduates. Either way, the decision sparked a lot of debate about the best way into what has increasingly become a career beset with obstacles only navigable with money, a lot of spare time and good connections.
Says Murray, “There shouldn’t be any ‘one’ way of getting into journalism but unfortunately it seems the degree, postgraduate plus a lot of unpaid work experience/internships is the most common route for most.”
The apprenticeship, which will be filled on 19 September, is the first to be offered by a freelance journalist and will pay £6.08 per hour – above the minimum wage – and offer business administration training at Harlow College.
Murray’s apprentice scheme started in part because she was bogged down with work. She says, “I had a choice: I could either hire a researcher/assistant to help me or train someone on the job. The second appealed far more because I think we all should take responsibility for passing on our skills to the next generation.”
At the moment, these skills aren’t being passed on. With opportunities in newsrooms dwindling, rising tuition costs and little chance of a plum job at the end of an expensive course, unless you’re prepared to work for free for months while living with rich relatives in the Big Smoke (because we all have those don’t we) there has to be another way, Murray believes.
Freelancer Alex Gazzola runs the blog Mistakes Writers Make. He says, “You can go to journalism college, you can do work experience, you can do a correspondence course (as I did), you can just fall into it or get a bizarre lucky break of some kind, you can write and write and write and send it all in speculatively until someone notices, you can have an uncle who nepotistically puts in a good word for you.”
He adds: “Publishing is constantly changing – and with it changes the advice, and the endless reams of dos and don’ts... I wonder sometimes whether the sheer diversity of options and opinions ever causes confusion and paralysis among those on the early rungs of the ladder.”
If others follow Murray’s example, this should go some way to formalising the recognised routes in and ironing out some of the confusion. But, says Gazzola, how you enter the industry still very much depends on the person you are, the age you are, and what type of journalism you wish to do.
“I'm personally not one of these who thinks you need qualifications or training,” he says. “A keen and nosy interest in the world and its people are far more important. No bit of paper is going to get you anywhere if you don't have those.”
If you can’t afford a course or don’t yet have an apprenticeship available to you, he advises, “Ask questions, knock on doors, read a lot and develop a niche interest: become an expert in writing about something specific that can eventually act as a calling card. Offering something nobody else can offer is a terrific way to succeed.”
What route have you taken into journalism? Leave a comment below...
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Image: Fleet Street by Ard vd Leeuw, available under a CC BY-NC 2.0 license.