Monday, 27 April 2015

Professional Advice on a Career in Journalism

Old Portmuthian, Ian Burrell, an editor of the Independent newspaper, spoke to PGS pupils last week about his experiences as a journalist and offered the following advice to those considering a career in journalism:

Ian Burrell
(source: Independent)

·        Journalism is not dying – it is more dynamic and exciting than ever, feeding a constant news cycle across multi-media formats, from instant tweets, blogs and vlogs online to long-form investigations, essays and documentaries in print and video. News media will always exist.

·        Working in the media can be a gateway to worlds that you would never otherwise have access to. You can interview the power players in the sectors that interest you and have a front row seat as history is made in world affairs, domestic politics, sport or other specialist fields.

·        Your working life can be extraordinarily varied and full of surprises.

·        Above all you should be driven by an innate interest in news and in uncovering and relating important facts. You should start to hone this interest now, devouring news articles and building knowledge of national and international politics and current affairs. A love of writing is important to those in print media. A love of story-telling is crucial in all forms of news media.

·        Develop practical skills and gain confidence by being proactive in contributing to school publications and blogs. Create your own blogs or YouTube channels to experiment with writing, filming and technology.

·        For example, creating a blog on a senior local amateur sports team by writing match reports, filming action on an iPhone or handheld camera, recording interviews with players. Creating a Twitter account and linking to the blog content. Such teams enjoy little media coverage and might welcome having their own specialist reporter.

·        Similarly creating a blog on fashion and taking your own pictures, or writing reviews of local theatrical productions and films. Critiquing plays can help you develop a relationship with the PR teams at the theatres, which is a valuable lesson in understanding the workings of the media and could lead to you being granted interviews with actors and directors and being given tickets for press night performances.

·        An understanding of the workings of the media has immense value beyond news organisations and is important to those interested in jobs in marketing, PR and communications, advertising and, indeed, business and politics. Who knows when you might have to deal with a social media storm or defend your company’s record in a television interview?

·        If you wish to pursue a career in the news media then certain degree subjects are obviously relevant, for example English Literature, History and Politics. But language degrees are immensely useful for the future foreign correspondent, as Economics qualifications are invaluable to the business reporter. If your great interest is in modern science or art and you love to tell stories then it is feasible to study those subjects at university and become a specialist journalist in those areas.

·        Many universities offer specialist Media and Journalism degrees, and among those with the best industry reputations are City University (London), Cardiff, Bournemouth, Sheffield and Westminster. An Oxford or Cambridge degree will open doors and the national news media continues to attract many high calibre graduates from those universities.

·        There are specialist post-grad courses, such as those run by the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) at institutions including Highbury College, Portsmouth.

·        Despite the structural difficulties faced by the news industry in the face of rapid technological change and recent economic downturn it remains a fiercely competitive jobs market. Positions are highly sought after in what is considered a glamorous and exciting work environment. The demise of the local news media has limited opportunities for career development.

·        Nonetheless, the Internet has ensured that barriers to publication have been pulled down and anyone can now contribute to what was once a very narrow debate. Opportunities to produce media content have never been greater – the challenge is to earn a living from it.

·        If you feel you have journalism in your bones, I wish you the best of luck. You are studying on a High Street where history was made, in a city with a wonderful literary tradition.

Ian Burrell, The Independent, i newspaper,, 2015

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