The debate over tackling the increasingly elitist nature of journalism rumbles on – with Roy ‘working class’ Greenslade getting stuck in to the class debate over on his blog.
I think a large part of the problem could be solved with more openness and information being made available to young people at school-leaver age.
I was about 23 by the time I eventually worked out that a history degree from Newcastle University was worth bugger-all in terms of a career in journalism – and that I would need shorthand, media law and writing skills provided courtesy of an NCTJ course.
If I was 18 now, here are ten tips I would tell myself to help secure a career in journalism:
1: If you are going to do a journalism degree, make sure it is one which has a strong emphasis on practical skills (ie. where you learn things like shorthand, newswriting and preferably which is endorsed by the NCTJ).
2: If you do a general degree or a more theoretically-based journalism-studies type degree you are going to need a post-grad, which will beed to be NCTJ or equivalent.
3: If you can, you might be better off skipping the degree and just doing an NCTJ-type course and then going straight on to a lowly paid job on a local paper. (£12,000-a-year is a lot easier to take when you are 18 or 19 – and working on a local paper can be just as much fun as the undergraduate japes you would have had anyway).
4. Whatever course you do, make sure you get your 100-words-a-minute shorthand. This is essential for any news-based reporting job, and most first journalism jobs are in news.
5. Start a blog in a specialist area of news that you are interested in. It’s the best way to learn the technology, get your stuff noticed and and hone your writing skills. It’s also becoming a distinct and worthwhile journalistic discipline in its own right.
6. If you can, get in to Oxford or Cambridge. I had no idea what a difference it makes, but you just have to look at the CVs of journalists at most quality newspapers, the BBC, Reuters, the Economist and other places to realise Oxbridge still counts for a lot. So if you are in line to get good A-level results, apply to Oxford or Cambridge – it will open a lot of doors later on.
7. In terms of your post-graduate course decision MAs have a lot going for them kudos-wise. And the newspaper course at City in particular has become a bit of an elite in itself, with former graduates from it now doing the recruiting at many newspapers. But if you just want the core skills of newswriting, media law, shorthand and a good knowledge of public affairs – an NCTJ fast-track course is a much cheaper way of doing it.
8. Learn a language, preferably Chinese or Arabic. This will go along way to getting a job at somewhere like the BBC or Reuters.
9. Keep the faith. The chaotic nature of journalism as a profession means that there are an awful lot of cowboys around. If you are good, hard-working and have the right skills you will succeed.
10. Read Press Gazette’s free guide to journalism training. There are a lot of useful tips in there, and a fairly comprehensive listing of courses.