Want to be a journalist? Be prepared to work in London for nothing

Ed Caesar has had an in-depth look at the employment prospects for the current crop of journalism graduates for the Sunday Time magazine – and the results make sobering reading.

He reckons that 1,870 students were on post-graduate journalism courses in 2008/2009 compared with 763 a decade earlier. And he estimates that the number of students on undergraduate journalism degrees has increased from 1,972 a decade ago to 8,095.

So there has been an explosion in journalism training which mirrors a fairly steep contraction in journalism jobs.

Press Gazette reckons that in the regional newspaper industry alone, around one in five journalism jobs may have been axed in the last two years.

Caesar looks at the British Press Awards young journalist of the year nominees for 2008 to find out how they all got in to the national press.

He concludes that as well as dogged persistence, aspiring journalists will need to be prepared to work for nothing if they want to get on to the nationals.

He writes: “Journalism remains a meritocracy only for those who can afford it. Because work experience is so important, almost all aspiring journalists need to work in London, for free, at some point in their careers.”

As Caesar’s piece shows, it remains something of a scandal the way national newspapers exploit the dreams of aspiring journalists on the work-experience treadmill.

Two-week work placements are a two-way street, with the trainees contributing their time and effort in exchange for a certain amount of mentoring and the chance to see their name in print (that’s the way it works at Press Gazette).

But if they are good enough to warrant having around any longer than that – they should be paid. And all reputable news organisations should have guidelines in place to make sure this happens.


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