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Overview

Entry into a journalism graduate career is fiercely competitive. If you have not yet undertaken any activity related to journalism, the first thing you need to do is find something relevant to get involved in. If you are still at university there are likely to be many opportunities open to you via student newspapers, magazines, radio and even internal television circuits. If you have already graduated, you will need to work that much harder to get some useful experience.

Every year, graduates with the right qualities and experience do compete successfully for entry on to courses and jobs in journalism - be it in print (newspapers and magazines) or broadcasting (radio or television). The Internet is rapidly taking its place as a third branch of the media. There are also other related jobs - industrial firms and major charities often produce regular publications and employ journalists to work on them. Later possibilities occur in press agencies, public relations and media liaison, and around 30% of journalists work on a freelance basis.

Journalism influences the way we perceive and think about social and political issues. It is important to remember that although journalism may seem to offer a glamorous career the reality is quite the opposite. The work can involve irregular and often anti-social hours and some positions may include a high element of risk (i.e. foreign correspondents reporting in an area of conflict or an investigative journalist working undercover).

Many journalists are concerned with hard news, for example politics, economics, war, terrorism, crime and disasters, or with various aspects of current affairs such as technology and science, business, culture, race, religion, education and sport. The stories to be presented can be divided into spot news, comprising occurrences such as crime, accidents and natural disasters, and anticipated or diary events such as budgets, conference and anniversaries.

The broad aim of journalism is to 'inform, educate and entertain', though the mixture of objectives may vary considerably. Journalists' tasks range from the presentation of hard news, through the preparation of features giving the background to the news, to the preparation of features which are simply meant to entertain. In the course of a career, and in indeed in the course of one job, journalists may do all these things.

Journalism exists in several forms and can be divided simply into written and non-written forms of communication. Predominantly, employers are within the newspaper and magazine industries. However, the growth of the Internet as a viable communication medium has allowed companies to expand their interests online.

Average Journalism Graduate Salary

Journalism Graduate Career Path

Rapid technological change and the impact of globalisation have both affected journalism. In many ways a journalist’s job has become research which can now be carried out at the click of button. It is now possible to download digital photographs of newsworthy events onto computers and send via email to appear in newspapers and on television screens all over the world.

A predominant change within journalism is the rise of multimedia groups that own both print and broadcasting interests, and the consequently closer relationship between them. Within journalism there are a multitude of specialisms - sports, finance, medicine, science and fashion to name but a few. However, the industry is characterised by a move away from specialisms and towards a diversified skill set as there are more opportunities for personnel to move between media. There are many skills which are specific to particular branches of journalism, but there is an increasing tendency for journalism courses to teach so called bi-media skills which relate to both branches of work.

Journalists work in newspapers, magazines, in broadcasting and online. Aside from gathering and reporting information, journalists can also get involved in the design, layout and editing of features. Editors and sub-editors are responsible for what actually gets printed – making sure that the content is accurate, that there are no errors and that the articles comply with the style that the readers are normally accustomed to. Journalists can also find themselves writing captions and headlines, and in some cases conducting picture research.

Broadly speaking, the two main entry routes are direct entry (that is into a trainee position with a media provider) or via a pre-entry or postgraduate course. Very few graduates will find a position on a national newspaper straight from university, owing to the small number of jobs available. However, some of the major players have training schemes. It is vitally important to get your foot in the door and to do this you need to be flexible and willing to take any opportunity to get into a media environment. If you have talent and are enthusiastic you will move on swiftly and build up a significant reputation. Most journalists, editors or correspondents have worked their way up from the vast number of specialist or trade magazines, commonly referred to as ‘business to business’ magazines. Finding a position on one of these titles is possibly the best route into journalism and it can also provide a great on-the-job apprenticeship. Career development depends on your performance and initiative. The skills learned are basic to reporting in all media.

With large numbers of people looking to begin a journalism graduate career, having a formal qualification under your belt can raise you above the pack and improve your chances of finding a job as a journalist. As a result, formal training courses for journalists are becoming more popular. However, as most require you to pay sizeable tuition fees it is worthwhile ensuring that they are recognised by the journalism training bodies - either the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ), the Periodical Training Council (PTC) or the Broadcast Journalism Training Council (BJTC).

Qualifications and Skills Needed

What proportion of candidates as a percent we place into Journalism graduate careers and the typical qualities graduate employers look for.

GRB Placements for Journalism by Degree

Typical Candidate Attributes

Graduates of any discipline can enter the profession, with those pursuing roles in specialist areas likely to benefit from having studied a related subject (e.g. economics for business journalism). 
Apart from the knowledge gained during your course the key qualities needed to be a successful journalist rest on your personal aptitude to do the job. Key skills and abilities for a potential applicant to journalism will include: 

  • Be able and willing to present information clearly and simply
  • An interest in events of all kinds and in humanity in general. You must want to learn about human behaviour and motivation
  •  A sound judegment and be able to write objectively
  • Flexible attitude to working and hours and deadlines
  • Be able to work accurately and against the clock
  • Sensitive enough to appreciate changing situations but tough enough to refuse to take no for an answer
  • Be a good listener and show examples of where you have used perceptive and tactful questioning
  • Ready to deal with moral dilemmas
  • Be able to appreciate the need to conform to editorial policy
  • Possess excellent shorthand, word-processing and desk-top publishing skills
  • Have plenty of creativity be able to generate lots of new ideas

Since the widespread use of online platforms, particularly in the magazine industry, journaists are now expected to have web programming skills such as HTML, Java and Perl because they may be expected to write online for websites or TV at some stage. The ability to use packages like QuarkXPress and Photoshop are also desired.

Experience is absolutely critical as most people who go into journalism will have developed considerable amount of relevant experience before they graduate. Work experience can help establish a good portfolio of work to show any prospective employer and also to form a useful network of contacts in the industry. Employers will expect applicants to have a good command of the English language.

Sources for Further Information

British Journalism Training Council www.bjtc.org.uk
National Council for the Training of Journalists www.nctj.com
Chartered Institute of Journalists www.ioj.co.uk
National Union of Journalists www.nuj.org.uk 
Newspaper Society www.newspapersoc.org.uk