'We get paid less but we enjoy ourselves': Sixth-form student reviews News UK's Academy open day

Exeter College sixth form student Joanna Turvill attended News UK’s Academy conference in London last month. Launched earlier this year, the News Academy hosts conferences across the country for sixth formers interested in learning about journalism as a career. Here, she gives her take on the day and picks out some of the best quotes and advice from speakers at the event.

Simon Hughes MP opened the day with a discussion on the ‘importance of journalism’. He told us a touching story about a 17-year-old murder victim in Barnsley whose killer was captured because of the power of the media, and how without the publicity no justice would have been done for this teenager's friends and family, highlighting how journalism is vital in everyday life.

Over the day there were also discussions on the ‘future of news in a digital age’ and ‘the responsibilities of a free press’, an interview with John Witherow, editor of The Times, and talks from several journalists giving an insight into their jobs.

There were also plenty of ‘networking breaks’ giving the opportunity to talk to journalists, make contacts for future work experience and ask advice on how to break into the industry – I now have a placement lined up with Fabulous magazine.

We also got to take part in a mock press conference, which was one of the most exciting parts of the day. We became journalists working in a realistic environment questioning a police detective chief inspector about the murder of a (fictional) football player.

We were given the chance to ask questions and to get as much information as possible before having 20 minutes to write a news story about the incident (to be entered into a competition). This was followed by analysis and advice from journalists on the questions asked and the style of our writing.

During the ‘future of news in a digital age’ discussion, James Manning, social editor, The Sun, said: “This generation knows more at this age than any before.” And Joanna Geary, head of news at Twitter (and formerly of The Times and Guardian), said: “Great journalists interest without exaggeration.” I thought she was the most inspiring in terms of encouraging work experience. She also emphasised the importance of social media as a great way to get news across instantly.

We were given the opportunity to ask speakers such as Stig Abell, managing editor of The Sun, and Eleanor Mills, of The Sunday Times, questions during the free press debate. I asked what they thought of Page Three, leading to a discussion on whether it is “justifiable entertainment”. Eleanor Mills was clearly against it, whereas Stig Abell justified it as “what the readers want”. Mills went on to speak about the importance of women in media jobs.

Another highlight was Guto Harri (News UK’s director of communications) interviewing Witherow. We were also given the opportunity to ask questions, with The Times’s paywall being of particular interest. A video (below) of Witherow’s interview was posted on the News Academy website afterwards. Below are some of the things he said:

Journalists are in the most vilified trade around which is fine. I think we should be. We are down there with politicians and lawyers and we should not aspire to be anything other than that because we should be a constant pin prick in the side of authority.

“We should be holding them to account and I think by and large journalists in this country do. We expose wrongdoing, we try and seek out corruption, and prevent it. That’s not to say it doesn’t go on but I think the very fact we exist we inhibit it and stop it being much more widely spread and consistently journalists are getting MPs and members of the House of Lords for fiddling their expenses or wrongdoing and this acts as a curb on bad behaviour and I think that’s absolutely invaluable…

“The one great advantage of us being behind a paywall… is we have to invest in journalism. We have to hire the best journalists, we have to hire plenty of them. We can’t afford to cost cut. And if you are all looking into going into journalism that’s a very positive message: that there are sites where people are paying to read this content and they will continue to do so.

"If everything is free, the damage to journalism will be incalculable. There won’t be the financial model to pay your salaries to be journalists. So we have to make the paid-for model work in the interests of publications like The Times but also in the interests of the journalists who work on them.”

Guto Harri interviews John Witherow, Editor of The Times from News Academy on Vimeo.

The News Academy day was a great chance for me to get an insight into what being a journalist would involve, with talks from many journalists, such as (Times columnist) Robert Crampton and (Times deputy editor) Emma Tucker, who were my favourites. Crampton said: “The difference between this job and theirs (people in financial jobs) is that they get paid well for boredom, and we get paid less but we enjoy ourselves and love to work.”

It was also good for showing me how to go about breaking into journalism, with the key message being to get as much experience as possible – through college newspapers, blogs and work experience – and to take every chance given to you to demonstrate that you want to be a journalist to future employers.

I would definitely recommend the News UK Academy to any sixth form students considering journalism as a career.

For more information on the News Academy, click here. 

And here is a link to Press Gazette's journalism training guide.

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