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Daily editor ‘astonished’ at applicants’ lack of work experience

A regional daily editor has admitted he is “astonished” by the number of journalism students who undertake no work experience during their studies.

In an editorial offering future reporters advice on how to get into the industry, Derby Telegraph editor Neil White said he would choose a candidate with a good CV over one with a first class honours degree “every time”.

In the piece for the Telegraph, Neil warned high-quality media jobs were “not easy to come by” and expressed his surprise at how many job applicants hadn’t done anything during their time at university to “stand out from the crowd”.

Neil, pictured left, wrote of how he began his career in the regional press after interviewing the then Coventry Telegraph editor Keith Whetstone, while volunteering on hospital radio as a teenager.

After asking Keith if there was any part-time work available, he was paid £1.50 to cover park football matches for its Saturday sports paper.

Keith later moved to the Birmingham Post & Mail, where he employed Neil as a trainee journalist after he had finished university.

Wrote Neil: “Although the employment landscape has changed and our industry has been through a technological revolution, the importance of work experience and a sparkling CV is unchanged.

“I was asked, when speaking to students recently, whether I would employ a student with a first class honours degree with nothing on their CV or one who had a lower second-class degree with an impressive CV.

“I said I would go for the latter every time.

“I have recruited hundreds of young people over the last 20 years and those who have already participated in a work environment have always been better equipped.

“This is reflected in the fact that of the last ten I have employed at the Derby Telegraph, nine of them had already impressed during stints at the paper.”

He added: “I am astonished at how many potential applicants have undertaken no work experience during their studies.

“They haven’t worked out that they need to stand out from the crowd.”

21 comments

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  • April 29, 2015 at 8:17 am
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    Has he tried Facebook again to recruit opinion formers?

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  • April 29, 2015 at 8:46 am
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    Given the rubbish prospects, miserable pay and all-round shoddy treatment the local and regional press now offers its wretched editorial staff I think Mr White should stop being so precious and take whatever he can get. He should count himself lucky that there are still many young people who actually want to work in his increasingly moribund, unrewarding industry.

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  • April 29, 2015 at 9:35 am
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    Golam Murtaza is quite right. What on earth are the long-term career prospects these days? Precisely zero.

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  • April 29, 2015 at 10:10 am
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    Where are these “high-quality” media jobs that are “hard to come by” as opposed to the current local and regional press sweat shops?

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  • April 29, 2015 at 11:24 am
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    Excuse me, why should students give up their free time for nothing? If papers are willing to give them experience then they should pay them for their time. Too many papers use workies as a way of compensating for not having enough staff.

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  • April 29, 2015 at 11:36 am
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    I’m surprised there ARE any vacancies – although a new graduate would, of course, help the balance sheet above an experienced operator.

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  • April 29, 2015 at 11:38 am
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    Dear me, a somewhat outdated expectation by Mr White in view of the dire state that regional press finds itself in with much of it of its own doing
    Looking at some of the staff working On once credible papers in Norfolk the applicant sound over qualified!
    As long as the applicant can copy and paste, scrape Twitter and Facebook for stories and say ‘ yes’ a lot they will be perfect for the job.

    No prospects,little long term future, no print publication development plans, what do you expect?

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  • April 29, 2015 at 1:39 pm
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    Well one thing has changed, papers are now hiring these degree bods, instead of turning them away. I know of a large regional who are now training their only news reporter in the art of shorthand. They are very good on twitter though.

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  • April 29, 2015 at 3:16 pm
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    Agree, out of date beyond belief but there’s another thing. Why on earth would his readers be the slightest bit interested in his views on such a narrow subject? This website, yes, the NCTJ yes, but in the paper?

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  • April 29, 2015 at 4:20 pm
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    Think he is forgetting that most of the innovative moves in newsrooms and genuine digital developments are being provided by graduates who are coming armed with these skills, rather than the hollow buzzwords being trumpeted by senior managers who still pat themselves on the back for having a Facebook account.

    There’s also the issue that many can’t get experience because a newsroom snobbery still exists. Take a former student of mine who wanted to expand his portfolio and offered to work for several traditional publications for free – not one even replied to him. So he has taken his talents (and content) to a hyperlocal website.

    Newspapers need to use universities as sandboxes for innovation in the way many foreign publishers do, but that would mean admitting others might have the answers rather than those who hark back to a different era which isn’t coming back any time soon.

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  • April 29, 2015 at 4:49 pm
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    Sorry, folks, but I think Neil White has a point – but only up to a point.
    It is reasonable to expect those interested in journalism to make the most of opportunities at college such as the newspaper, radio station or website etc. White is right to say entrants should at least show some interest and willingness.
    However, it is unfair of any employer to expect entrants to have toiled away in an ‘internship’ for little or no money for months on end. A week or two work experience should be the maximum.

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  • April 29, 2015 at 5:25 pm
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    Correct Paul Kelly, but too many newspapers want to have their cake and eat it. The definition of experience is the issue – Neil seems to view it as doing the same as all others on his publication rather than seeking people with different experiences through training who can energise and broaden the reach of a newsroom. The old model isn’t working so why churn out more of the same when it comes to recruitment? Any journalism student worth his or her salt will have a portfolio of stories from wherever they can get them published and a fresh perspective on the evolving media landscape to bring to their new employer.

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  • April 29, 2015 at 6:25 pm
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    Spot on Jon Buss. Vanity publishing here, I am afraid. I always divide regional editors of my acquaintance into two schools in terms of their appearances in the paper – the Paul Dacre School and the Piers Morgan School. Too much of the Morgans here and elsewhere, I am afraid.

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  • April 29, 2015 at 9:38 pm
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    We have Peter Barron frequently taking issue with celebrities, Alan Geere’s ‘CVs in a Tweet’ and now some more self-indulgent ‘it’s not like it used to be’ nonsense from Neil White.

    How you select people for jobs at your paper is your business. Telling them what they ‘should’ be doing when you could probably learn a lot from most of them yourself is nothing short of patronising.

    Judging by the rate at which deputy editors and editors are disappearing these days, I doubt that there will be many of you left to make those decisions anyway.

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  • April 30, 2015 at 10:05 am
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    Paul Dacre or Piers Morgan. Now that really is a dilemma!

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  • May 1, 2015 at 12:31 pm
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    These are such bizarre comments, I felt compelled to respond. My column in the Derby Telegraph wasn’t about hiring journalists – it was aimed at the parents of any young person looking for a job. It was advice I have given to my children, one of whom is a maths teacher and the other is just about to start work in the travel industry. I used my own history merely as an example and helped holdthefrontpage embellish its story with Keith Whetstone’s name and that of the Coventry Telegraph. I used neither of these in my column. Frankly, if anyone disagrees with my assertion that it is imperative students build up a CV to enable them to be successful in job interviews, they are deluded.

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  • May 1, 2015 at 4:13 pm
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    On this occasion, Neil White is right.
    Work experience is not just for your CV – it gives something meaningful to talk about in interview.

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  • May 3, 2015 at 7:46 pm
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    I was chatting last week to an editor who said his young reporter had all the exams but no common sense and could not write properly. What are they being taught!

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  • May 5, 2015 at 9:59 am
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    @hackette
    I’m sure that if you spoke to a newspaper editor 30 years ago (or 50, or 100) he would have said almost exactly the same thing. Seriously, in any industry, in any era, when have bosses EVER said something like: “Wow, the youngsters coming into the job now are really hot stuff, so much better than I was when I started out. I might as well retire now and let them take over!”

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  • May 9, 2015 at 10:22 am
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    As the partner of a recent Journalism studies graduate who is now embarking on a year long trainee scheme at one of the countries biggest newspapers, I’m confused as to how so many people can say the idea of a university student obtaining work experience for free is so wrong?
    My partner worked in many, many different journalistic environments, anything to bluster her CV, sometimes for free, sometimes paid (mostly free!) whilst she worked towards the first class honours she achieved.
    The idea of having actual work experience on a CV as opposed to just a glowing academic achievement list, is favourable by pretty much every industry. Students should obtain work experience, writing essays and preparing short news stories in a learning environment does not prepare anybody for real life work.
    I agree with Neil White, Im concerned so many people say his thoughts of students obtaining work experience being a benefit, think otherwise.

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