Almost everyone believes they can write, which makes this a competitive job to get into.
If you have a clear career path that you want to follow, then jump to that section and see what interests you. If not, feel free to explore this article.
Starting out in journalism requires a serious reality check. At university, every journalism student believes that they will go to work at a national newspaper or major magazine right off the bat. The truth is very different and normally there are many different stepping stones before you hit the big time. You will need work experience in the industry before you are likely to get full-time employment, and it’s best to get it at university. Student newspapers are also a nice addition to CVs. We’ve listed a few major routes into the industry to give you a taste.
Barring some miracle surge in the economy and revival of print titles, local newspaper journalism will still be tough to get into and tough to survive once you graduate. Competition is high, pay is relatively low and expenses can be minimal. However, graduates who do make it will gain a wealth of experience quickly and should have the opportunity to work around the office as needed.
Trainee journalists are normally expected to have basic National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) qualifications or a university accredited course completed before they join. Answering to an editor you will most likely be put to work reporting, writing, editing and anything else in the office that needs taking care of. Interviewing is still a staple of local journalism as is reporting, particularly for major (or just easy to get to events), but the modern reality is going to involve a lot more following up on press releases from an office chair and skimming through council meeting minutes. Good language and people skills and a razor sharp insight into current affairs are essential.
Trade publications (many now referred to as B2B) are perhaps the most useful and undervalued path into journalism. Students who mentally picture their name in lights have a tendency to sniff at the idea of something along the lines of recycling quarterly or pig insemination weekly. However, both of these fictional publications would require the same journalism skills set as a local newspaper and could also offer opportunities to interview high-profile sources like the environment minister or city mayor.
Trade publications also normally offer the opportunity to cover breaking news stories in important fields from different angles. A fledgling reporter can start out in niche areas like environmental and scientific reporting on a higher level of pay than at a small local newspaper and progress towards a similar topic area on a national newspaper.
A ‘writing job’ doesn’t mean that you get taken on immediately by Bloomsbury as a replacement for JK Rowling. Almost everyone believes they can write, which makes this a competitive job to get into. If you’re not going into journalism and are not an established author there are two main ways to make a living as a writer.
Freelancing can be tough if you are just starting out. It requires a network of contacts, a published portfolio of work to present to potential clients, a constant flow of ideas and sources of information to refer to. Work can range from full on reporting and writing to website listings, guest blogs and advertorial content. You will need to be driven, motivated, organised, creative, good with people and have exceptional English language knowledge and ability. Getting paid can take a while, and you need to manage your own taxes and invoices to avoid potential disputes with employers or the law.
In short freelancing as a writer is not a great way for a fresh graduate to make a stable living. However, if used to supplement another job, you can build your portfolio and contacts until you are ready to strike out on your own. There are a plethora of ‘content mill’ websites (such as PeoplePerHour.com) that offer to connect writers and those offering writing work. Jobs normally go to the ‘lowest bidder’ (the one who will work for least) and pay pennies, but it does offer something to put in your CV and portfolio if you’re willing to outdo all the other professional, amateur, aspiring and non-writers. The only drawback is that the quality of examples and acceptable finished work on these sites is almost universally poor, leaving you with little chance to improve.
Think Mad Men, without the whisky and domestic abuse. Copywriting can be an exceptionally well paid job – if you make it to the top. Copywriters produce work for advertising and marketing companies and write creative descriptions, ads or taglines. There is no specific degree required for copywriting, which relies more on creativity, ideas and a sharp mind. An excellent level of English or a related degree (journalism/English/writing) will go a long way to increasing your chances of getting work.
To break into this sort of job may require a little serendipity. You may be lucky enough to meet a professional copywriter who is taking on an assistant and they may throw you scraps of work that they don’t have time for, or more likely you will enter through an application to an advertising or marketing department looking for a junior or assistant. As with other writing jobs, you’ll need to be driven and creative to get above the competition, with a good portfolio and organisational skills to keep on top of the workload. If this route interests you, you can find out more at TARGETjobs Marketing, advertising and PR.