Do you want to write for Vogue? Fancy freelancing for FourFourTwo? Hankering after a job with Heat? Do you want to write film reviews and expand your Empire? Or do you just want the thrill of flicking through a glossy magazine and seeing your name staring back at you from the credits page? Well then, you should probably think about becoming a magazine journalist!
Unlike newspaper hacks, magazine journalists work exclusively for magazine publications, including quarterlies, periodicals, business and trade journals, consumer interest weeklies, lifestyle magazines, web magazines (a.k.a. e-magazines) and similar publications. Rather than focusing on a broad range of topical news stories and current events, magazines cater to a distinctive target audience which is interested in a particular subject.
Magazine journalists may be employed directly by magazine publishers or work as freelance journalists, contributing original articles and feature stories on a speculative or commissioned basis. In-house journalists can also take up additional responsibilities, such as sub-editing, proofreading and layout design, as well as general administrative tasks, depending on the size of the publication.
Journalists with smaller or local magazines may have their fingers in all kinds of journalistic pies, doing a bit of everything, from sub-editing to production, whereas journalists employed by regional, national and international publications may have clearly-demarcated responsibilities (e.g. writing features and not proofing or editing their own articles).
If you enter this exciting profession, you’ll be conducting research, gathering material and writing articles or features assigned to you by the editor. Alternatively, you may be required to pitch potential article ideas for editorial approval before writing them.
Furthermore, you’ll be collecting information and carrying out essential fact-checking duties through face-to-face meetings or telephone interviews, gathering quotes and opinions from interested parties and sourcing appropriate photos and images to support certain articles. At all times, you’ll need to adhere to the magazine’s in-house guidelines in terms of style, format, word length and citations.
In addition to all that, you may also be required to play a part in designing and finalising magazine layouts for future issues, using tools like InDesign or QuarkXPress. Moreover, you may be asked to modify and revise articles in accordance with senior editorial comments or tailor them for additional media channels such as the internet.
In order to thrive in this industry, you’ll need to build up a network and forge relationships with industry professionals by attending conferences, workshops and trade events.
Salary & benefits
Annual salaries for magazine journalists in the early stages of their careers range between £16,000 and £25,000, while senior staff writers, sub-editors or features editors can expect to earn between £20,000 and £35,000. Magazine journalists with complete editorial control can earn up to £70,000 and beyond.
In the last few years, with the advent of new media, such as the internet, e-books and mobile and social media platforms, a significant number of magazines, both in the UK and overseas, have downsized staff positions, instead preferring to hire freelance journalists on an article-by-article basis.
Consequently, it makes sense to explore freelance opportunities, especially with online publishing businesses. Freelance rates are based on the number of words per article and the size of the publication. However, established magazine journalists are likely to receive between £300 and £1,000 for a 500 word feature.
Working hours are not usually fixed and journalists need to be flexible about working extra hours when it comes to meeting print deadlines. Travelling for certain assignments is also a common occurrence, especially for journalists working for travel and lifestyle magazines or high-end business, retail and trade journals.
Candidates with a degree or diploma in journalism, which is accredited by the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) are usually at an advantage, although graduates across a variety of disciplines can also apply for magazine journalism jobs.
The majority of graduates who work in this area tend to come from a humanities background. However, candidates with scientific or technical degrees, such as engineering, information technology, medical sciences or economics are highly-desirable for employers who need specialist writers for trade, financial, commercial and scientific publications.
Competition for entry into the magazine journalism industry is intense and the number of positions available for graduates is far outweighed by the amount of people vying for places. Therefore, it’s an absolute ‘no-brainer’ that you will need a decent amount of work experience and an awesome portfolio of written work under your belt.
This extra emphasis on work experience effectively means that candidates without a degree who have shedloads of experience may stand a chance. However, it’s always advisable for budding journos to get a degree. Some people even obtain postgraduate journalism qualifications to boost their chances of finding employment even further.
Training & progression
The kind of training that you’ll receive tends to differ across publications. Large magazines or publishing companies with various magazines, such as Condé Nast, offer structured training programmes for entry-level employees, while smaller, regional publishers may only provide ‘on-the-job’ training under the supervision of senior journalists.
Professional courses offered by the NCTJ may help you to develop niche journalistic skills, although, of course, these are by no means essential for becoming a successful magazine journalist.
Career progression and success is mainly dependent on the individual, as there is no fixed route or career path for magazine journalists. Exploring opportunities in new media or freelancing for several traditional magazines are the typical opportunities available for journalists with plenty of experience and an established reputation.