It’s an exciting time to be entering journalism. Not just my opinion, but that of Brian Flynn, investigations editor at The Sun, who came and offered advice to NCTJ students at the annual Student Council forum on Friday.
The once-a-year event is a chance for NCTJ students to network, ask questions of the organisation and talk to editors about careers. And this year’s forum seemed to be received better than ever.
Despite the stories of redundancies, cut-backs and regulation, the forum was full of enthusiastic students all eager to break into this competitive industry. All with ambitions to seek out the truth, hold the powers that be to account and generally change the world one story at a time.
And their enthusiasm wasn’t dampened after hearing real-world stories. As well as Brian, students heard from Joanna Wilson, a new recruit to Sky Sports News, talking frankly about her training and job search, and Ben Woods from the Eastern Daily Press, sharing what life is really like on a regional newspaper.
No student listening on Friday can have any illusions about the challenges of becoming a journalist. Joanna shared stories of working 30 hours per week in Pizza Hut while also completing her journalism training and putting in regular shifts at her local paper for experience.
Brian began his career on a salary of £7k a year and, during the 90s, spent time doing both day and night shifts on papers, going two days without sleep as he transferred from his day job in the regionals to a late shift on the nationals.
For all the speakers, the hard work has ultimately been rewarded – sports-mad Joanna secured a position with Sky Sports News; Ben has travelled to Canada, amongst other places, to cover stories for the regional press; while Brian managed to be the first reporter on the ground at 9/11. All thanks to determination and a willingness to go the extra mile.
The overall message from the event was that the industry may be changing but there are still opportunities available for those who work hard and put themselves forward. Universally the advice was to take as much varied work experience as you can get, take every possible opportunity that comes your way, even if it’s not completely relevant to your end goal, and try to adapt your skills to what is happening in the industry – having digital expertise for example. Many students commented that the event was a great morale-booster in tough times for journalism.
The Student Council isn’t about looking at journalism through rose-tinted specs, it is designed to give students a realistic view of the world they are about to enter. It may be difficult to break into journalism. Wages may be low and hours long. But still for some, no other career will do.
- Emma Clark is Marketing and Communications Manager for the National Council for the Training of Journalists.