Ross Davies is a freelance journalist. His work includes bar and pub reviews for viewbirmingham.co.uk and album/gig reviews for thedetour.co.uk, a website dedicated to current music, fashion and art.
These are difficult times for young ,newly-qualified journalists looking for that first break.
In the UK, armed with a degree and preliminary NCTJ [National Council for the Training of Journalists] qualification, we have all pitched our ideas and sent expertly doctored CVs to a seemingly ever-expanding abyss that engulfs the modern day aspiring hack. Read the forums on sites such as this and you will find disgruntled tales of little opportunity, encouragement or reward – a mandatory concession that we have to make or is there a loophole?
Journalism has always been a notoriously tough profession to crack with high competition for trainee posts. We have all tried to garner as much knowledge as possible on work experience placements or articles for the university rag but there comes a time when your CV, rich with such flirtations, feels ready to be sent in application for that first role.
Here comes the problem – it doesn’t seem to be enough. You can picture the scene: you see a job advertisement for a trainee reporter so you scroll down to peruse the job description and specifications which are along the lines of ‘For first jobber with degree and preferably NCTJ trained’. You rub your hands with glee and get to work on a well-crafted covering letter demonstrating your dovetail perfection for the role. You then click send and wait for the good news.
Well, okay, job applications never follow such formulated paths, but you would think that if you are able to tick every box with regard to candidate specifications that you would stand a decent chance of at least gaining an interview. Wrong.
The global recession does not warrant any more attention than it has already received and of course is an entirely credible reason for job shortages and restricted opportunities, but young hacks must surely nod their heads in frustrated agreement that the familiar reply and opening gambit of ‘We are sorry to inform you but due to the current market..’ is predictable and disheartening. Perhaps worse is the further rationalization that candidates with prior journalistic experience take precedence – rendering the ‘first jobber’ job description disingenuous.
It seems to be that the prospective trainee journalist finds himself in the tricky quandary of being required to run before he can walk. It is accepted that times are tough, but is there much point in advertising trainee jobs if there is little intention of actually allocating them to trainees? Where are we supposed to gain our phantom years of experience if every role in itself requires experience? An even bigger puzzle – what constitutes as experience?
The answer is usually a burgeoning portfolio of articles that signify not only a writer’s depth and style, but also a dedication to journalism as most work experience is unpaid. The question of unpaid work is also a matter for contention creating a dichotomy between budding journalists that consider the byline as sufficient payment in itself and others that feel that any content provided should be financially rewarded, as it is effectively what keeps small magazines and websites in business.
I, like many others, have provided unpaid freelance articles on a number of occasions and in retrospect, have mixed feelings on the subject.
Yes, the leather wallet containing my published work has grown, but when it comes to a job application, is my piece for Poultry World, Heating and Ventilation News going to be enough? Many websites I have written for have long since vanished taking with them a few fading bylines, but still I feel it right to list them on my CV. Why? To demonstrate experience.
So, realising that your journalism career might take a little longer to ignite than expected, you are forced to review your situation whilst possibly taking on some menial job to pay the bills.
The next avenue could well be applying for an internship or work experience placement, again unpaid, at an eminent and respected magazine or newspaper that truly will look good on the CV. Unsurprisingly, there is much competition, but if successful it is worth the wait.
I completed a two-week stint at Record Collector magazine in November 2008 at its offices in West Ealing and came away from the experience with a great sense of fulfillment, knowledge and most importantly, a resolute belief that I truly wanted to be a journalist.
But what now? How many more internships do I have to complete before I have the sufficient experience that editors are looking for? How long will I have to go unpaid for the articles I provide? When will the markets pick up again?
Whatever the answers are, it is undeniable that the journalists of tomorrow are going to need a lot of patience… and luck.