Is journalism still a good career choice?

Journalism as a sector is evolving and there are still plenty of job opportunities available. Clare Whitmell shares her advice on the skills you'll need to forge ahead

Despite the headlines, journalism is a relatively buoyant sector. In Routes into journalism John Tulloch, professor of journalism at the University of Lincoln, says we're seeing a renaissance in media. Ross Hawkes, senior lecturer in journalism at Staffordshire University, agrees: "One of the great things about the digital evolution of journalism is that it has opened up niche and specialist publishing."

Industry qualifications

A degree in journalism produces graduates with the three key elements that employers want, according to Professor Richard Sambrook, director of the Centre for Journalism at Cardiff University: initiative, training in how to write a story according to media law and ethics, and fluency in social media.

A course should provide plenty of practical training and experience, says Jo Price (who studied at Cardiff and is now editorial assistant at BBC Wildlife Magazine), while Elena Cresci found the course enabled her to cope with the demands of a newsroom. "I noticed how many adverts for trainee reporters wanted someone who could hit the ground running. Editors don't want to mollycoddle you – they just don't have the time."

Build experience

Barnie Choudhury, principal lecturer in journalism at the University of Lincoln, advises aspiring journalists to start building their CVs before university, and to gain experience with local and community radio, TV and papers once there. "You need curiosity and gumption right from the start." Employers want someone who can deliver, so experience is crucial.

Be prepared to start at the beginning. Oliver Perkins-Gibbons graduated from Lincoln with a good degree and CV, and a couple of national awards, but struggled to get into journalism. "Waiting for an unrealistic dream job to appear out of the ether" was counter-productive, according to Oliver. "Never think you're too good to do a job, but never think of yourself as a 'trainee' journalist," he concludes.

Carly Chynoweth, a freelance journalist specialising in management, business and enterprise, moved to London from Sydney, and spent a year in PR before a contact introduced her to someone on The Times who gave her a trial run. She says: "If you can get a shift, take it and make the most of it. Once I'd proved I knew what I was doing, it turned into regular work."

Keep skills updated

Core journalistic skills such as content creation and managing information are prized in other sectors where communication skills are important, says Richard Sambrook. Jo Price adds, "in a world where the internet has enabled citizen journalism to flourish, there's an even greater pressure for professional journalists to remain a trusted source of information."

Journalists also need multimedia skills such as film-making, editing, radio and online skills to work in a multi-platform sector, advises Barnie Choudhury. Jonathan Baker, head of the BBC College of Journalism, says: "No-one can afford to pigeonhole themselves as a print, online, radio or TV journalist. The BBC works in three of these four and our journalists expect to work across all three."

Staying up-to-date with technology is vital, according to Rachel Burge, director of Content Creatives Ltd. "The training you received can quickly become out of date." She suggests looking at job descriptions to see what skills are mentioned, and then going on a course to learn them.

Develop the right mindset

Successful graduates are self-motivated and don't need to be directed, says Richard Sambrook. Being focused and relentlessly curious is key.

The graduates who do well tend to stand above their colleagues, says Barnie Choudhury, through gaining an industry "seal of approval" (such as winning an award), or demonstrating the initiative to find, treat and sell a story. The ability to find things out is much more useful than witty bon mots or incisive political criticism, adds Carly Chynoweth.

Expanding your horizons will also become more important. As many writers become self-publishers, "the dividing line between bloggers and journalists will erode... with many more ways to get paid than commissions from magazines or newspapers" predicts Mark Hodson, editor at 101 Holidays.

Blogging, in particular, is a great way to show you can research and write copy for the web, understand search engine optimisation (SEO), and work a content management system, says Jo Price.

Future trends in journalism

The heart of journalism will still be people telling stories, says Carly Chynoweth, but the pathways are changing. Richard Sambrook flags up digital and community journalism, and there are also opportunities in niche, local and 'hyperlocal' journalism.

"People get really fired up about local issues," observes Elena Cresci, while Ross Hawkes says that hyperlocal journalism helps you learn entrepreneurial skills such as brand development, advertising and marketing.

Content curation and management is also a growth area, as people look for ways to create their own "buffet of content" says Barnie Choudhury.

To freelance successfully, choose an area you enjoy writing about and make a name for yourself, advises Rachel Burge. Set up and promote a blog until you get your first commission. "You just need one door to open to make contacts which can lead to more work." Think beyond the UK, as there are many sites and publications abroad that need content and could be interested in you.

This content is brought to you by Guardian Professional. To get more content and advice like this direct to your inbox, sign up for our weekly Careers update.


Clare Whitmell

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