Journalism is changing.
In the 1980s people used to talk about alternative comedy. They don’t talk about alternative comedy any more, it’s just comedy.
In the same way, the demarcation lines between the traditional media and those pesky internet upstarts, Huffington Post, Buzzfeed or Vice, are gone too.
There isn’t social media or print media or broadcast media, there is just media. And while everyone with a smartphone and a Twitter account can be a citizen reporter, an insatiable thirst for content demands trained professionals sort and collate the news from the noise of the world wide web.
Journalists must now stay ahead of constantly shifting trends and be totally adaptable to the newsrooms of today, where writing a story is combined with curating social media, using a mobile phone to shoot a video, sourcing picture galleries and much more.
Editors want to take on graduates who create stories that can be produced across multimedia platforms and aren’t just agenda setting but also sharable.
Every year journalists tell hundreds of thousands of stories. Tales of success and failure. Triumph and despair. They will cover the inspirational and the corrupt.
You can bounce from airport to hotel room via dinner in a motorway service station. You can travel to scores of cities and never see the sights. You will know your laptop better than the back of your hand and how to ask for a receipt in 25 different languages.
If you’re lucky you might be feted – some journalists have their fan clubs – and you will be hated, because journalists certainly have their critics, who, in the digital age have plenty of options to voice their views that you are biased, incompetent, lazy or, more likely, all three.
Don’t take this too personally. After all, you will spend plenty of time in your career arguing you are entitled to your opinion and they are too.
Your stomach will frequently be knotted from the anxiety of an approaching deadline, which is why every journalist’s toolkit should contain a pack of paracetamol and antacids.
You will learn to hate the blank page and your failure to ‘nail the intro’.
Nothing is better than reading your copy and thinking it can’t be bettered. The times it happens can be counted on one hand.
Your heart will soar when you get your first byline and sink when you realise that you’ve made a mistake.
It’s competitive but don’t let people tell you that’s a bad thing – it means the job is worth having. And while brains are important, just as key is a determined streak and winning attitude.
A good degree from a university like York, working on an award-winning publication such as York Vision – where many of our most successful trainees have cut their teeth – is the perfect foundation.
You will also need to accept that further training is required – with a personal preference for the courses offered by the National Council for the Training of Journalists (full disclosure – News Associates also happens to be one of the UK’s largest journalism schools).
The internet and 24/7 news cycle has changed the way reporters work. The old ways are being challenged but you still need to learn the basics and develop your skills.
You need to practise your shorthand, hone your nose for a story, embrace the digital age and accept that the media no longer enjoys a monopoly on information.
And you’ve got to be prepared to work hard, stand out from the crowd in a job marketplace where editors can afford to be selective and deliver when you get your chance. A bit of luck helps too.
In truth preparing for a career in journalism is much like preparing for a career in sport – although, unfortunately, the transfer fees aren’t quite so astronomical, the hotels are more budget than five-star and there are no groupies.
Still, it beats working.
James Toney is the managing editor of national press agency News Associates, with special responsibility for all their major event coverage and their award-winning journalism courses – named the UK’s number one for the second straight year by the National Council for the Training of Journalists. He started his career in national newspapers – and has worked as a news, financial and sports journalist – and is a regular commentator on news and sports issues on television and radio. His first book was published by Bloomsbury in 2013. Follow him on Twitter @jtoneysbeat
Find out more:
Rachel Bull, Head of Journalism Training, News Associates, runs our Breaking News journalism workshop on Wednesday 4 February, 13.30 – 16.30 in G/169 – book your place in Careers Gateway.
Meet others working in this sector at Working In…Media, Journalism and Publishing, Thursday 26 February, 18.30 – 20.30 in the Physics/Exhibition Centre – book via Careers Gateway.