Former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie has some advice today for aspiring journalists, writing – unusually for him – in the Independent.
He says: “There are more than 80 schools in the UK teaching journalism. These courses are make-work projects for retired journalists who teach for six months a year and are on a salary of £34,000- £60,000. Students are piling up debts as they pay to keep their tutors in the lifestyles they’re used to. I’d shut down all the journalism colleges today. If you want to be a print journalist you should go straight from school and join the local press. You will have a better career and you won’t owe a fortune. Good luck.”
MacKenzie, like most people, favours those who have a similar background to himself, ie: straight out of school into a job.
One of the big problems with his advice is that most editors nowadays will have gone to university and taken some formal journalism training, so will favour candidates who have the same.
If you are lucky enough to know exactly what you want to do at 18, and somehow manage to get a job as a journalist straight out of school, then his advice is not bad given the ballooning cost of education.
But it would have to be a truly exceptional 18-year-old to bag one of the precious few entry-level jobs in the regional press when they are up against candidates in their early twenties with degrees, post-graduate qualifications in journalism and a stack of cuttings from work experience.
MacKenzie does highlight a looming problem for the journalism industry, and one which it desperately needs to address. On the whole journalists are nowadays expected to fund their own training (the industry used to provide it on the job via block-release schemes). With first degrees costing up to £9,000 a year, and post-grads another £10,000 on top, and with food and board added in, you are looking at spending £50,000 to to bag a job which, in the regional press, offers starting pay of £15,000.
How many aspiring journalists are realistically going to do that?
Many journalism degree courses are crap (if you see them as a route into journalism anyway), that’s what so many graduates with journalism degrees find they have to get a post-graduate qualification anyway to give them the practical training in things like shorthand and media law which editors require.
I suspect that in the future, first degrees in journalism which don’t offer genuine practical training and which don’t have a track record of getting graduates into journalism will fall by the wayside. I would be surprised if the current two-degree (BA and MA or postgraduate diploma) system will continue. Perhaps more 18-year-olds will opt to do what Jasmin Martin did, and take an NCTJ diploma before going straight into a job – in her case at the Johnston Press subbing hub in west Sussex. But my understanding is that she was a really exceptional candidate, so can’t be taken as part of a new trend.
The other big counter to Kelvin is, given the continuing turbulent state of the journalism industry, taking a degree keeps more options open. And any journalism or media degree worth its salt will include a great deal on the sort of new-media skills which will come in handy in many more jobs other than journalism in the future.