I was one of the many trainee journalists who received a nasty surprise from the Press Association last week. Monday was the application deadline for the prestigious PA multimedia journalist training scheme. On Thursday, after I and every other trainee in the country had filed our meticulous cuttings and cover letters, an envelope landed on my doormat with the news that PA are cancelling this year’s scheme “in light of the current pressures being felt by the media industry”.
PA are still running their production scheme, so fingers crossed for that, and the Times scheme is still open, but after the Guardian, Telegraph and Trinity Mirror all cancelled their graduate intakes, the options are narrowing for the thousands of journalists graduating from training schemes this summer.
As trainee journalists we have been encouraged to start local before working our way up to the regionals and nationals. But Johnston Press, which has a monopoly on news in South Yorkshire, has a recruitment freeze, and every local news owner in the country is shedding staff faster than Gordon Brown’s advisory team.
Those of us with ambitions on the nationals hoped to bypass the traditional route via the agencies’ or newspapers’ graduate schemes. But although there are still one or two places left at The Times, and a few more on production traineeships here and there, competition is going to be even heavier than usual.
So what to do? Undoubtedly some who graduate with a journalism qualification this year will write off the £5,000 to £10,000 they’ve spent being trained, and go into PR or marketing. But for those who are still determined to work as reporters, despite the odds, what is the answer in an imploding industry?
As Michael Haddon, a journalism student at City University, puts it:
Thoughts of walking into one of the best graduate schemes are gone and the aim must be making sure we are best placed for that elusive job which should eventually show up.
Which means blogging, networking, keeping on top of new media and audiovisual technology and getting 100wpm. And there’s always the age-old tactic of going back to being a work experience slave, hoping an editor will notice your talents (it worked for Tom Meltzer at G2, and Cardiff student Hannah Waldram seems to have done pretty well at the Telegraph).
Charlotte Linter at journalism.co.uk says trainees may also have to be open to taking a bit of PR or copy-writing work until opportunities come up:
As well as making themselves available for new work opportunities, some students are being advised to be open to all work relating to journalism. In the age of online publishing, being a journalist doesn’t just mean working for a newspaper and students should be aware of these new opportunities.
So the options are either to work for free until you get lucky, or escape to PR and keep your eye on the jobs boards.
Not a lot is new then. There aren’t many jobs, old hacks (like Sara Lacy) are telling us that journalism degrees aren’t worth the paper they are written on, and it still requires a healthy bank balance to gain entrance to the fourth estate. It’s a competitive industry, and always has been.
But in the last week Britain’s chief anti-terrorism police officer and a senior Downing Street advisor have been forced out by stories dug up by journalists. News still matters, and journalists will always be needed.
So, for the persistent (or stubborn), there’s still shorthand to get, local governance to learn, and patch stories to dig up. Back to it.