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careers


disservice’, to content and driving reporters too hard. “There are still a lot of local stories that need proper exposure and investigation. That is becoming more difficult for journalists to do and I think that is a real danger. If you’re not getting the interesting work and not getting paid well, why should you stay?” Megan Baynes is on the executive committee of the


Student Publication Association (SPA), which supports young journalists. She believes graduates get a rude awakening. “Going into any job is a shock, but journalism demands


your entire life,” she says. “I think sometimes graduates aren’t realistic. In my last year, everyone was applying for the BBC and The Times graduate scheme and I was applying for local journalism jobs. When I got my job, everyone was like, ‘why aren’t you aiming higher?’ I said, you’ve got to go in at a local level. It’s great to be ambitious, but don’t turn up your nose at your local paper. Moving across the country to work on a local was the best decision I made.” Baynes didn’t do a journalism degree, but put as much on


think is one of the reasons people leave,” says Collins. “I think journalism training romanticises the profession


slightly, which makes it more painfully obvious when the conditions are bad. We’re told how to do on the ground reporting, how to get exclusives and allowed to take our time on stories and cover things we’re interested in. Sadly, there are few jobs in the real world which let you do that – often you’re churning out seven or more pieces a day. That’s not to say we shouldn’t do training, but we need to prepare those breaking into the industry for the reality.” A report in Press Gazette last summer said the ‘ripping


culture’ (re-jigging stories from rivals) at one national newspaper website led to more than half of its graduate trainee intake for the past two years leaving to work in PR. Professor Suzanne Franks, head of journalism at City


University in London, says: “Quite a number of our students end up in that situation and get disillusioned – you can’t do real journalism that way.” So are students leaving university with false expectations? “I don’t think so,” says Franks. “They’ve grown up in a very


digitally aware age. Some think they’re going to walk out and read the Ten o’Clock news the next week but, by and large, they understand. We have lots of career events with alumni coming back and talking about their experience.” Tim Holmes, senior lecturer in the Centre for Journalism at


Cardiff University, says the acid test is when students do work experience. While most come back enthused, some go to a big consumer magazine and end up photocopying or clearing the fashion cupboard with schoolchildren. “That happens rarely, but it does happen,” says Holmes. He believes the shift to PR happens when journalists want to start a family or need more financial security. Holmes says local newspapers have also done a ‘grave


her CV as possible – running her student paper and doing work experience at the Gloucestershire Echo, the BBC and Channel 4, as well as working for a paper in the US during her year abroad. So, when she graduated, she had experience. She is now doing an apprenticeship at the Isle of Wight County Press as a trainee reporter.


“I prefer it because you get on the ground experience while


you’re training,” she says. Feedback from students at SPA also found that editors don’t


always look as favourably on journalism degrees. “If someone said, ‘I’m applying for university’, I wouldn’t advise them to do a journalism degree,” says Baynes. “It’s hard because everyone wants that experience and a lot of the time publishers want the NCTJ, but they aren’t willing to pay for it. So you’ve got to put yourself in a lot of debt, then take a job where you may not earn much. I can see why students think, ‘What’s the point when I can take a job in PR?’ ” There are new opportunities at organisations such as charities and non governmental organisations. So are graduates being encouraged to take jobs in PR? “We definitely don’t want students to go into PR because


that’s not journalism and we train them to be journalists,” says Franks. “We want them to be independent minded and hold power to account. The reason we do this is to produce good journalists who will go out there, fly the flag and ask difficult questions. I feel a bit disappointed when I see people who have those skills and use them in the capacity of PR.” Holmes believes the industry needs to look at itself, including


at wage structures and career paths. “If they want bright young people to come in, there has to be some reward,” he says. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be pay – if they’re getting interesting work, there’s a balance. But if they’re expected to do fairly rubbish jobs and not get paid well, that is a recipe for disaster.” Franks says: “The bright ones and the determined ones will


make it in the end. Keep your skills, keep learning and find your niche.”


theJournalist | 15


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