Tag Archives: Jobless Journalist

The Jobless Journalist: Post eight – Some lessons learned in 2009

It’s been a rocky year for journalists. I, like thousands of others, was made redundant from my staff post and it seems the cull is far from over. But, at risk of sounding too negative at this time of festive bonhomie, I thought I’d share some thoughts on the future of the industry and some anecdotes from 2009:

The future is online
After being made redundant I managed to get regular shifts on a national newspaper’s website. For a while I saw it as a stepping stone onto the paper, where I’d be rolling with the big boys.

Having worked on the website for six months, I now realise that the future really is online. Yesterday I saw a social affairs story appear in the paper that I’d written a whole two days earlier for the website. Print can no longer compete with the internet for news. The website is still looked down upon as the paper’s poorer cousin, but in five years’ time it will be king.

Write a blog
Sounds obvious coming from a blogger, but it’s a great way to practice writing for the web. If you learn about dealing with an interactive audience, SEO, linking, etc now, you’ll be streets ahead when everything goes digital.

Learn a language
An editor recently told me to learn a language. If you have a GCSE or A-level, it’s worth topping it up with a business language class. The French Institute offers reasonably priced classes and you can chose the evening you go in.

Keep in touch and be patient
It’s worth reminding your contacts every few months that you’re still there and still looking for work. Don’t be put off by radio silence from an editor – if they don’t immediately respond to an email or phone call, it’s not personal. I recently got a reply from an editor I’d emailed months ago. He’s asked me to call him in the new year regarding writing opportunities. Patience with a strong dose of persistence does pay off.

Wishing everyone out there a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

This is the eigth post in a series from an anonymous UK-based journalist recently made redundant. To follow the series, you can subscribe to this feed.

You can also read posts by our previous ‘Redundant Journalist’ blogger at this link.

The Jobless Journalist: Post seven – Shifting my job search

I started this blog as a recently redundant journalist, but, while not fully re-employed, for the past couple of months I’ve been doing shifts on the website of a national paper.

This has its pros and cons. Obviously, an income – albeit modest and inconsistent – is a welcome thing and the experience is invaluable. But the hours are irregular which makes it hard to plan when to do job applications (or write blog posts).

Working night shifts and weekends not only puts paid to your social life, it also tends to throw your body clock so that doing normal things things like buying toothpaste or keeping a doctor’s appointment become strangely impossible.

So when you see an advert for a job with a closing date in a week’s time, it’s an uphill struggle to get the application done when you might be working a five-day week with a couple of nights thrown in.

On the plus side, shift work affords you greater freedom and flexibility to take up other freelance jobs, and in the fallow weeks where you only have a couple of shifts it’s worth trying to cram in as many job applications and CV updates as you can.

The real beauty of shift work, particularly on a website where you’re expected to write, sub-edit and edit pages, is that there will be plenty of new skills to add to your CV.

Even if it feels like you’re treading water, the fact that you’re out there building on your experience will make you eminently more employable than someone who has been out of the loop for a while.

And talking of loops – as it’s been three months since I was made redundant, I’ve also decided to get out my contacts book again. It’s time to revisit all the editors and journalists I approached first time round to remind them that I’m still here and still available for work.

This is the seventh post in a series from an anonymous UK-based journalist recently made redundant. To follow the series, you can subscribe to this feed.

You can also read posts by our previous ‘Redundant Journalist’ blogger at this link.

The Jobless Journalist: Week six – Trainee scheme application forms

This is the sixth post in a series from an anonymous UK-based journalist recently made redundant. To follow the series, you can subscribe to this feed.

You can also read posts by our previous ‘Redundant Journalist’ blogger at this link.

The reason this post is late is because I’ve just finished filling in the BBC’s trainee scheme application form.

As anyone out there who has ever applied for one of these schemes will know – the forms are monsters.

The BBC’s was particularly time consuming and took me the best part of a week to complete. It’s the application questions that ask you to explain why you want a place on the scheme or to review a news bulletin that take a lot of thought.

The reason these forms can take so long is because you know how many people you’ll be up against. There’s no point in doing them at the last minute as you won’t do a good job.

A former blogger on this site, Amy Oliver, recently started on the Daily Mail’s trainee scheme.

As someone who has cracked the application process, I thought it would be useful to get her advice on the subject.

She says: “I felt, with the trainee scheme I applied to, my CV was crucial. I’d honed it beforehand.

“My absolute top tip for applying to any scheme would be to check out journalism forums for posts by people who have applied before. There is usually a reply from a person who works at the group giving advice.

“Determination is the key to any application. I applied once and got turned down. I applied a second time and got turned down, but then had to re-interview for a different position.

“I didn’t give up and neither should you. Follow up your application even if you get fobbed off by an HR person. Try and speak to someone about it. Get their feedback.

“Phone up the relevant person to get an idea of what you’re up against before you start filling in the form. Ask how many people usually apply, ask who got on it last year and try to get their details to speak to them.”

Was it all worth it? Amy thinks so: “It is absolutely worth applying for every trainee scheme going – even if you want to kill yourself by the end of it.

“If you get onto it, it’s a fantastic way of getting onto the ladder. In my experience you are nurtured and supported and will learn so much in such a short period of time.

“Never think, ‘I won’t bother applying for this because I won’t get it’. That road literally leads to nowhere.”

The Jobless Journalist: Week five – Temporarily re-employed

This is the fifth post in a series from an anonymous UK-based journalist recently made redundant. To follow the series, you can subscribe to this feed.

Six weeks after being made redundant from a staff post on a consumer magazine I’ve managed to secure some online shifts at a national newspaper.

I don’t consider myself permanently employed as it’s casual work, although it’s a huge relief to be earning again.

Shift work is a double-edged sword: you’ll never do a normal nine-to-five and there’s no guarantee of work, but you have greater flexibility to pursue other freelance work and time to keep up the job applications.

Casual shifts aren’t generally advertised. I got the gig through a friend who already worked at the paper and put me in touch with the managing editor. I sent in my CV and then hounded her every day for two weeks before she agreed to see me.

Mind you, constant harassment alone won’t get you through the door – you’ll need experience of using content management systems if you’re looking to work online or reporting experience for writing shifts.

You have to be prepared to work nights and weekends as these are the shifts that are unpopular and therefore available. As you prove yourself, it’s likely that you’ll be given a few day shifts.

Days involve more writing as you’re taking agency copy and re-writing and subbing it before publishing to the web.  You’ll need to keep your wits about you when it comes to legal issues as copy is usually subbed after the story goes live.

Nights are about uploading staff copy, so there’s less writing. They are also relentless.

Despite this, I’d thoroughly recommend taking up shift work. Not only are you earning, you’re also gaining experience.

Working for the online section of a national newspaper teaches you invaluable lessons in writing for the web, subbing, linking and dealing with reader comments. It will look great on your CV too.

A lot of my fellow shift workers also do casual work for other newspapers and you soon find there’s a circuit for this kind of work.

You could do worse than cold-calling a news desk and tracking down the relevant editor to see if they have any shifts going, but be warned: you will need relevant experience in the field as you have to hit the ground running.

The Jobless Journalist: Week four – Are subbing and reporting roles merging into one?

This is the fourth post in a series from an anonymous UK-based journalist recently made redundant. To follow the series, you can subscribe to this feed.

Last week I blogged about whether you should apply for subbing jobs if you’re a reporter or a features writer.

This week I’ve spoken to two journalists – one print and one online – about the ‘concertina effect,’ i.e. whether subbing and reporting roles are merging into one, particularly in an online environment.

Peter Sands is a veteran newspaper sub and director of PA Training and insists that the standalone sub is far from dead.

Even with web publishing where content goes live before it is subbed (meaning the reporter has to ensure copy is clean first), Sands says the role of the sub-editor is still vital.

“I would definitely say that you have to have a second pair of eyeballs,” he says.

Sands was editor of the Northern Echo in the early 1990s and admits much has changed since then.

At that time there was real animosity between subs and reporters: “In Darlington there was the Red Lion pub for subs and the Britannia for reporters and never the two should meet,” he says.

While Sands believes the sub is alive and kicking, he acknowledges that their role is being redefined. “The divide [between reporters and subs] has really gone now,” he says.

Sub, web editor and corporate blogger Fiona Cullinan agrees: “Divide?  What divide? The divide is less about reporting versus subbing and more about are you engaged or not, are you digitally included or not?”

“By not engaging more in online environments, traditional journalists are not developing their digital writing or subbing skills, let alone all the other skills that go with publishing to the web, like picture research under Creative Commons licences, image manipulation, linking skills, SEO knowledge, how to upload and promote content, and the big one: the ability to deal with readers talking back to you.”

Apart from the odd typo creeping in when you publish first and hone later, many reporters who write straight to the web can face serious libel issues.

Cullinan says checking factual inaccuracies and avoiding legal pitfalls is ‘perfect sub-editor territory‘.

“From what I’ve read, reporters in multimedia newsrooms are being asked to sub their own work; meanwhile subs are being made redundant,” she adds.

“How reporters are supposed to sub to old-school standards, perhaps with minimal experience or training, and 24-hour newsroom deadline pressures, should be interesting!”

Cullinan also points out that the comments section can act as a ‘rather more public second set of eyes, pointing out your typos and incorrect facts’.

The upshot? To keep up with the changing face of journalism a reporter needs to be savvy about subbing as well as having other web skills, but it is still the sub-editor who has the last word.

The Jobless Journalist: Week three – To sub or not to sub?

This is the third post in a series from an anonymous UK-based journalist recently made redundant. To follow the series, you can subscribe to this feed.

You can also read posts by our previous ‘Redundant Journalist’ blogger at this link.

So far I’ve applied for a total of seven jobs (that’s not including the CVs sent to editors on the off-chance they know of something going). Two of these formal job applications have been for subbing roles.

The question is: I am a writer, not a sub-editor – should I even be applying for these jobs?

I do have a year’s sub-editing experience on the magazine I was made redundant from as well as on a couple of nationals, but I have been warned by editors in the past that I should stick to writing if that’s what I want to do.

I’ve always been of the opinion that sub-editing sharpens your writing and being able to write headlines and standfirsts, for example, can only be a bonus.

What is more, I can see from the sub-editing I have done how this could lead to being an editor, which is ultimately what I want to be.

Sub-editing involves being aware of the overall look of the piece – from pictures to pull quotes – as well as having impeccable grammar and spelling.

What is more, the increasing importance of online journalism means a journalist must be a sort of Judge Dredd character: writer, sub-editor and editor, rolled into one.

But the question still remains – should I apply for sub-editing roles? Or does the fact that I’m even asking this question mean I’ll never get anywhere with an application for a sub-editor’s job vacancy?

After all, if I can’t convince myself, then what chance do I have of convincing an interviewer?

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The Jobless Journalist: Week two: CVs and style guides

This is the second post in a series from an anonymous UK-based journalist recently made redundant. To follow the series, you can subscribe to this feed.

You can also read posts by our previous ‘Redundant Journalist’ blogger at this link.

When I was made redundant my CV was a bit like an ex-race horse: out of shape and in need of attention. That’s the thing with CVs – after you get the job they get put out to grass and tend to become a little moth-eaten.

But, after two weeks of serious overhauling, I’ve finally got it to the stage where with each application I can just alter a few words to suit the prospective employer.

If you’re a reporter and there’s a features job going, what should you do? I’m trained in news and specialise in the arts and have developed CVs tailored to each sector.

Having spent a lot of time on both CVs I think I might be developing career schizophrenia. Should I concentrate on one or keep them both on the boil?

I’m not a big fan of self-help books or books ‘for dummies’, but a journalist friend recommended I read Max Eggert’s the ‘Perfect CV’. It’s a great guide to writing CVs and covering letters and offers neat tips such as ending a covering letter with the suggestion of a follow up call.

With hindsight I should have read this book before I even started applying for jobs. It would have saved me cringing at things I had written (and sent) that Eggert categorically says you shouldn’t include, like cracking a joke in your CV.

Now, I completely agree with this. Your CV is a formal and professional representation of you and your career. But what about your covering letter? This is where you’ve got to get yourself noticed and what better way to do this than with a bit of wit?

I suppose I have to come clean here. In a recent application to the Sunday Times I included a line about how I’d doorstepped Steve McQueen at the Venice Biennale with my dressed accidentally tucked into my knickers.

I thought it showed I had the confidence to approach anyone in any circumstance. And I did get my quote, although I didn’t get an interview, which makes me think that comedy is probably not the best policy.

I spent a lot of time on this particular application. When I’m freelancing or blogging I usually write to the Guardian style guide, but this time I matched my CV to the Times style guide.

A friend of mine has since confided that she thought I was going slightly mad and I have to admit I thought my attention to detail bordered on the obsessive.

The trouble is, when you’re applying for a job with a national where they might get 1,000 applications in one week [or a reported 1,200 – Ed], you really have to go the extra mile to get noticed.

If anyone who has had to sift through thousands of covering letters has any tips for what you should and shouldn’t include, I’d be very interested to hear from you.

The Jobless Journalist: Week one – An introduction and redundancy packages

This is the first post in a series from an anonymous UK-based journalist recently made redundant. To follow the series, you can subscribe to this feed.

You can also read posts by our previous ‘Redundant Journalist’ blogger at this link.

Week one:
As every hack out there knows, journalism is one of the toughest professions to crack. It’s up there with becoming the Pope, a pilot or a pop star. (I’m being glib – winning X Factor would be far easier.) But seriously, it’s a gruelling process getting a job in journalism.

Twenty-three days and four hours ago I was made redundant from a hard-won job I dearly loved as staff writer on a consumer magazine. The big ‘R’ meant the magazine lost its funding and we were all out on our ears in a matter of weeks.

To make matters worse, it was my first staff job following a backbreaking four months of NCTJ training. I guess it was a wake up call to the harsh reality of the industry.

There was a tortuous period of uncertainty when we thought we had a buyer for the magazine, but I received my P45 last week, and nothing says it’s over like a note from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.

As for a redundancy package… well, let’s just say I won’t be lunching at The Wolseley.

Think you’re not entitled to any money? You are. The government provides a certain amount of statutory redundancy pay, although it’s not readily advertised. I’d advise checking out this government website if your employer has also become insolvent.

It’s largely jargon-free and tells you who to contact to recover any outstanding wages and holiday pay, etc. It’s worth knowing that you are entitled to some sort of payout even if you haven’t been continuously employed by the company for two or more years.

Don’t expect miracles overnight – I’m still waiting for my forms from the insolvency practitioner, but I’ll let you know how I get on later in this blog series.

It’s daunting to think about going through the whole rigmarole of applying for jobs again. But while the process of sending off round after round of CVs is utterly depressing, it’s not half as depressing as the prospect of there being no jobs to apply for at all.

According to a story in Press Gazette published in May, the amount of journalists claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance from April 2008 to April 2009 leapt from 770 to 1,880. That’s an increase of almost 150 per cent in one year and only takes into account those on benefits.

There simply aren’t enough jobs to go round and with print media in freefall (thelondonpaper’s on its way out and the Observer’s future is under consideration) the outlook for us jobless journalists is far from rosy.

But if there is one thing I have learned as a journo, you must never ever give up, and with that in mind I’ve decided to use this period of redundancy as an opportunity to reflect on and improve my career.

This blog series will chart my search for a staff job – the applications, the CVs and covering letters, the calling on contacts, the rejections, the interviews and the various attempts to get my foot back in the door.

By sharing tips and anecdotes hopefully this blog will provide support for other unemployed journalists. And if by the end of the series I don’t have a job, at least I’ll know I went down writing.