London Letter: Newspaper journalism student seeks job on paper

The Guardian’s Roy Greenslade says that we are “marching slowly towards the death of newspapers”. The internet is awash with blogs such as ‘Newspaper Death watch’ and ‘Cynical journalist – Tracking the demise of the newspaper industry’. Figures show that sales of the newly launched ‘I’ paper, the first new national to be launched in years, have fallen by over half in the month since its launch.

So, what idiot would pay thousands of pounds to do a newspaper journalism course?

Well, I’m one of 37 idiots at City University London doing the MA in newspaper journalism. Call me naive, but I’m confident that I’ll come out the other end with at least some sort of job vaguely related to newspapers and journalism, and if I have to wait a year then so be it. I might not be on the Guardian news desk, or writing features for the Sunday Times, but even if I was, it surely wouldn’t be THAT outlandish or unbelievable, would it? The world wants news and trained journalists are needed to provide that news. Ironically, the aforementioned blog, ‘Tracking the demise of the newspaper industry’, is written by one of the students in my class.

If I have learned anything on the course so far it is that the word “newspaper” in the title is used rather loosely. Nowadays, at least on the nationals, where City students aspire to be, there’s no such thing as a mere “newspaper” journalist, and that is reflected in our course. The newspaper course is aware of the changing demands of the newspaper industry and for some students this comes as a frustrating surprise.

There is a huge focus on the internet, the importance of blogging and what we jokingly call “expanding our online real estate”. Not only are we strongly encouraged to have frequently updated personal blogs, but we are also writing group blogs about things such as infographics and data journalism, mobile journalism, online video journalism and user generated content. On top of that, the majority of students in my class either freelance for the nationals or contribute to various websites on a regular basis. We are taught about search engine optimisation and how to get as many of the right people as possible reading our online work. We are all striving to get our names out there and maximising our chances of impressing the nationals in a bid to get on to their editorial trainee schemes.  We are also practising what will no doubt be a huge part of our job when we get one.

We are given the opportunity to avail of the television equipment in City’s journalism department and have made news packages and edited footage in a variety of programmes such as Final Cut Pro and Window’s Movie Maker. Newspaper design isn’t abandoned either and we’re slowly working our way to becoming pros on Adobe InDesign. These skills make us attractive to employers who want multi-skilled journalists that they can depend on to handle new technology and deliver news fast.

Despite claims that newspapers are dead and that there’s no need for journalists in today’s world due to blogging etc, I firmly believe that the latter, at least, is a load of old tosh. Of course we need journalists. The thirst for news will never be quenched and there will always be a demand for quality journalism which only trained journalists can deliver to a high standard. Newspapers are not infallible and make mistakes here and there, but the public will always trust a known name before they’ll trust a miscellaneous blogger. For example, if I spotted an interesting piece of news on an individual’s blog, I’d immediately search reputable news websites in order to verify it.

If, or perhaps when, printed editions no longer exist, newspaper websites are flourishing and will continue to do so far and beyond the demise of the traditional paper format. Therefore, along with my fellow 36 idiots at City, I will hopefully have a job, which may not pay very well, but that I have worked towards since my early teenage years and which I will love going to every day.

I will be posting the London Letter every week with news and views on London, newspapers and journalism in general.

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  • Driftwood

    I’ll assume you have read this:

    http://english.aljazeera.net/focus/2010/05/201052574726865274.html

    ‘Newspapers’ will survive, but not on ‘news’. The print media are too far behind the instant gratification button. So investigative journalism is the key. But the portion of the marketplace you are aiming for is getting narrower. The term ‘foreign correspondent’ has largely been abandoned. Often, watching C4’s dispatches or Unreported World, you get the feeling you’re the only one watching.

    I presumed that ‘photojournalists’ were still in fashion, given the need for visual evidence? And no, I do not mean the Daily Mail and its ‘wardrobe malfunctions’. Good luck, you’ll need it.

  • Am I the only person losing comments on Slugger when submitting them these days? Pain. Anyway, to mostly repeat myself.

    “I might not be on the Guardian news desk, or writing features for the Sunday Times, but even if I was, it surely wouldn’t be THAT outlandish or unbelievable, would it?”

    Unless you were at Oxbridge, a British public school, or have family in that end of the business, the figures suggest it would be fairly suprising to get that far that quickly.

    As for the notion that news can only be properly delivered by trained journalists. What constitutes a trained journalists? How many of the current generation of leading journalists (never mind older ones) have professional qualifications in journalism as opposed to on the job training? Not very many I suspect. I also suspect that the same is true of a lot of the people who are in junior positions at the big papers for the reasons outlined above.

  • dewi

    Try and keep it small please,

  • joeCanuck

    Garibaldy,
    I have only lost one post and that was more than a year ago.. Since then, if it is a longish one, I copy it to the clipboard just in case. Sometimes you can recover it by going back one page.

  • Great article Catherine and I think you are right about

    In defence of my blog (http://cynicaljournalist.wordpress.com) I don’t ever say that journalists will no longer exist, I just think the days of the 9-5 one platform journalist who works on a story for 6 hours, goes to the pub and then goes home are over.

    Journalists are more and more going to have to know how to collate more than than ever before. That may sound like a depressing statement, but I don’t think so. If you disagree you will have to come to my blog

  • Great article Catherine and I think you are right about the need for journalists to learn skills on every possible format.

    In defence of my blog (http://cynicaljournalist.wordpress.com) I don’t ever say that journalists will no longer exist, I just think the days of the 9-5 one platform journalist who works on a story for 6 hours, goes to the pub and then goes home are over.

    Journalists are more and more going to have to know how to collate more than than ever before. That may sound like a depressing statement, but I don’t think so. If you disagree you will have to come to my blog and argue with me!

  • Just to clarify –

    I don’t ever expect to have a job at The Guardian or indeed The Sunday Times. I was merely using a bit of exaggeration to suggest that the pessimism around journalism as a career is often blown out of proportion.

  • Alias

    Well, 36 idiots is an exaggeration. But, as your course recognises in putting a focus on the importance of competitive self-promotion to securing a job in journalism, 18 idiots is probably closer to the mark.

    The region of Europe that is under EU rule is largely post-sovereign and post-democratic, so the role of the media in informing citizens about the shenanigans of those with power is largely irrelevant since those citizens no longer appoint those with power and those with no longer are no longer accountable to those without it.

    Of course, the failure of the media to properly perform the aforementioned role helped crate that post-democratic society and, ergo, helped create the conditions that led to their own irrelevance to those citizens.

    You’d be better off studying propaganda – more career prospects there.

  • Alias

    Typo: “…those with power are no longer accountable to those who are without it.”

  • Brian Walker

    Catherine
    Of course you’re right ot say there’s still a profession – or trade – of journalism. People cook, play instruments, play sport, paint and write etc without removing the need for the full- time skilled job. Radio survived television and both have survived the internet- indeed have been given new leases of life. Journalism does not have the refined skills of the lawyer or doctor but it does require a huge range of interest, ability to connect with people, research and write well quickly across that range. After your induction it would be advisable to consider subject specialisation in a couple of areas.

    It’s not quite right to say that 24/7 electronic news has supplanted newspapers.What new channels and webnews do is to compel newspapers and other text to adapt or die. This is a challenge they can meet.The pressures of greater accountability opened up by ICT has started to expand the range of what is available to report. Text is still the unrivalled medium for context and detail and a broader agenda. Also, it’s fine to segment but don’t discount big outlets, old and new..
    Good luck

  • Johnny Boy

    There will always be a demand for quality journalism, the problem is finding a business model to deliver content and make it financialy viable.

  • Same old story

    You will soon learn it’s not what you know but who you know in the media game. You could be the best jounalist in the world but unless you know someone on a newsdesk who will give you a start it can be quite hard.
    Have a look at some of the bylines in the Telegraph for example – or even local travel shows on the TV. The same names keep cropping up on a generational basis. Not that they shouldn’t have these jobs of course, it’s just their entry into the industry would have been a lot smoother.

  • JAH

    I note that Private Eye now clocks up about 250K readers, substantially more than its heyday in the Seventies and an indication that there is a demand for proper investigative journalism which is almost an endangered species.

    However PE chronicles the almost weekly culling in all newspapers of staff and I haven’t bought one in months…Maybe looking at another career option might be a good idea,

  • Framer

    The BBC employs 7,000 journalists. Little wonder newspapers are ebbing away.

  • S in DC

    As a journalist in the U.S., I wish you the best of luck. I, too, struggle with the idea that our business model is going down the drain.