There are as many ways to get into magazine journalism as there are magazines. At the same time, there are few direct routes to a job. Some publishers hire for entry level positions on an annual basis, but most don’t; it’s a case of trawling the internet job sites and writing speculatively to magazine editors and publishers.
Unfortunately, it’s a highly competitive industry and the number of applicants for most jobs is considerable, particularly at popular consumer titles. That said, there are ways to improve your chances.
What training can I do to prepare me for a magazine journalism career?
Before the 1970s there were no training courses whatsoever for journalists; now there are scores. Some qualifications are not worth the paper they are written on, but those accredited by the PTC (the Periodicals Training Council) offer an up-to-date, thorough introduction to the skills required to become a successful journo.
The ‘Oxbridge’ of journalism courses are considered to be offered by Cardiff University and City University, both of which have postgraduate employment rates close to 100%.
Not everyone has the money to pay for such a course though, and other shorter, more specialised courses are an alternative option, such as the short course in sub-editing at the London College of Communication. I know the chief sub-editor at a national men’s magazine who completed this brief course and managed to get his foot in the door as a result.
In any case, such courses are a means to an end. Gaining work experience is crucial, as there is little chance of an editor taking a punt on someone with zero experience. If you impress on work experience you might even be offered a job or freelance work. At the least, you should get a by-line or two to add to your portfolio.
Independent work is also important. If you maintain a blog or write for a local newsletter, for example, it will not go unnoticed. Try to do as much writing as you can to demonstrate your passion.
What will I end up doing in a magazine journalism career?
As with most lines of work, how you get in and where you end up depends on how hard you work, what breaks you get and how well you understand what the employer is looking for. There are no guarantees, but if you immerse yourself in the industry and get as involved as you can, opportunities will most probably come your way.
Journalism is very much a trade that you learn as you go along. You can be taught how to write a story, how to take notes in an interview or how to avoid getting sued, but it is practice that makes you act (and feel) like a journalist.
In the same way, the job that will get your foot in the door might not be particularly well defined. Two of the most common entry level roles are editorial assistant and sub-editor, but both can encompass a huge variety of tasks.
An editorial assistant can sometimes be a secretary with responsibilities that are limited to administration and frankly un-journalistic jobs. However, they can also be the go-to person in the office, through whom all enquiries go and with whom PR consultants and writers liaise. Furthermore, they can be the person who ensures the flow of the magazine is spot on when it is formed every week or month.
Similarly, a sub-editor, who traditionally would simply edit all the features going into the magazine for spelling, grammar, punctuation and readability, might well be involved in writing features or going out on the job; visiting exhibitions or reviewing films. It really depends.
Showing enthusiasm and willingness will open up opportunities that might not have been listed explicitly in your job specification. If you work on a smaller magazine, you will probably get more responsibility, simply because there are fewer people to divide the workload between.
Despite the fluidity of job titles, it is also true that journalism roles are fairly hierarchical. A sub-editor might graduate to the position of chief sub-editor, then production editor (the person in charge of the physical creation of the magazine, i.e. getting the pages together in the correct order and ensuring congruity), then deputy editor and eventually editor.
An editorial assistant could follow a similar route, or they might become more involved in writing as a junior writer, then a features editor, then perhaps news editor and so on up to the more senior positions.
Of course, many magazines don’t offer this wide variety of roles. The magazine that I work for has only three full-time editorial staff and the majority of features are written by a trusted group of regular freelancers.
It really does vary from magazine to magazine, from publisher to publisher and from job to job. In this respect, any job interviews you go for are really important, not only to secure employment (obviously!), but also so you can ask questions and figure out what your job really entails and what opportunities might follow.
Written by Vincent Forrester
Freelance Magazine Journalist