Since the birth of the printing press, people have been getting their fix of news from the black and white gems that we call newspapers. Even now with the rise of the internet, people still crave that feeling of holding a collection of A3 sheets out in the air at the inconvenience of the people to their left and right.
The media is extremely powerful and the papers are one of the biggest influencing forces in the country. As such, careers in newspaper journalism are extremely sought after and are, therefore, highly competitive.
Newspapers have the power to influence elections and lead the public. If the papers start shouting about rising petrol costs, expect a protest. If they’re talking about the world cup, expect a surge in national pride.
How can I get into newspaper journalism?
With this power comes competition. Becoming a newspaper journalist is tricky as there are often hundreds of people competing for the same jobs. Successful candidates will usually have a portfolio, a blog, some ‘signature’ pieces in decent publications and a long list of unsuccessful attempts at securing a position.
In this business, having the academic credentials isn’t enough. You need to put yourself out there, meet the right people and constantly poke them for opportunities (not literally though!).
The good news is that there are tons of different papers that you can work for. We’re all aware of the nationals, the broadsheets and the tabloids, but head out of the big city and you’ve got hundreds of regional and local publications focusing on any news in their area. Trade papers are also present in some of the larger industries, where news is constantly created and needs to be written about.
All newspapers are competitive; however, local and regional newspapers are usually used as a stepping stone to the nationals. It must be stressed though that there is no set path to getting a job in newspaper journalism. Yes, the nationals have quasi-graduate schemes where they take on a small number of people each year. Usually, however, it is very rare for anybody to get a job without at least some experience. As a result, internships, often unpaid, are very common in this industry and will always be expected to appear on the CVs of any applicants.
To break into this industry, you don’t necessarily need to study a specific degree, take a specific course or apply using a specific application form. There is no set route. This is great in that there are many avenues for entry, but it’s also frustrating in that it’s often hard to see where you’ll get your ‘big break’. There is a long ladder to climb in the world of newspaper journalism. It’s anything but straight forward, but nothing worth doing ever is, is it?!
What does a newspaper journalism career involve?
Newspaper journalism is all about collecting information, chasing stories and investigating sources. Whether you’re a reporter, editorial assistant, sub-editor, columnist or editor, you need to be good at hunting down information. Most people begin as an intern. Everybody needs to have work experience on their CV, almost as a badge of honour, but more importantly as a statement of intent.
The first rung on the ladder usually begins as an editorial assistant or sub-editor. At this point, you’re extremely unlikely to be chasing people for quotes, writing snappy headlines and beating the print deadline. Administration, secretarial and generally ‘un-journalistic’ activities can often be the order of the day at this point.
It’s not all ‘do this, do that’ though! You will also get the opportunity to interact with PR consultants, work with writers and help out with the odd bit of writing. As a sub-editor, you can expect to begin as a proof reader; however, you can certainly progress quickly if you excel.
From here, you may climb up the ladder to become a chief sub-editor, a section writer, reporter or correspondent. However, you’ll need to be able to prove yourself before you get to this point.
Beyond here, you can progress into a deputy editor or editor role. These are the positions that will allow you to guide the direction and editorial focus of the paper as a whole.
If you were that kid at school who always had the latest scoop and who kept their ear to the ground for all the staff gossip, then perhaps you should consider a career in newspaper journalism – after all, it’s stuff that everyone should know!