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Best or worst of times for new journalists? by Mark Wray

Mark WrayJob losses and newspaper closures would appear not to bode well for those setting out on a career in journalism – but Press Association Training managing director Mark Wray, left, offers an alternative viewpoint.

The start of a New Year brings with it a tendency to look to the 12 months ahead and consider opportunities and risks. A sort of internal, unconscious SWOT analysis.

Chances are, at this early stage in 2017 we’re more likely to do that from an optimistic outlook, if only to imagine the days and weeks ahead as being better than those just past. Not to peer at the world and our own prospects through rose tinted binoculars but to toast the near future with a glass that’s half full rather than 50 per cent consumed.

Not that there aren’t reasons to be nervous from our news industry vantage point. In its recent submission to the DCMS consultation on Section 40 the News Media Association predicted additional legal costs of £100 million a year, with almost half that suggested burden falling on the regional and local press.

This, coupled with research quoted by my colleagues at the Press Association in their own Section 40 submission pointing to the net loss of 17 publications since the beginning of 2015 and, according to the Press Gazette, a net reduction of 198 local newspapers since 2005, would appear not to bode well for those setting out as journalists. Indeed, you might think it would encourage them to drain the contents from the mid-way point of those glasses and order another to drown their sorrows. Local newspapers are, of course, an excellent proving ground for the newly-qualified.

All this while the architects of fake news are having a field day from their digital bolt-holes in Macedonia and beyond living the dream of never letting the facts stand in the way of a good story (or multi-million clicks).

So, aspiring reporters, potential data journalists, wannabe presenters might be asking themselves: ‘Is this the best of times or the worst of times?’

In the light of recent events, those familiar with A Tale of Two Cities might go on to reflect on whether this is an age of wisdom or foolishness, an epoch of belief or incredulity, a season of Light or Darkness.

From my perspective and in apparent contradiction to the prevailing undercurrents, there’s more than a chink of light: the glass is beyond half full and is being raised aloft in a toast of defiance.

Our Magazine Journalism diploma course: has just kicked off with more than twice the number of trainees as this time last year. Not quite standing-room only but every seat is filled.

And in less than a week our NCTJ-accredited News and Sports Journalism courses: and will commence at our London training centre with the largest-ever cohort. Such is the interest in the course, and beyond it a career in journalism, that we’ve had to build additional facilities and recruit more tutors. A very nice ‘problem’ to have.

Alongside the core skills and values being instilled in the Classes of 2017 will be a healthy dose of expectation management. An objective assessment and dispassionate analysis of career prospects and opportunities for that first engagement, that initial ascent of the jobs ladder.

But in acknowledging the reality, we’ll point to those who’ve graduated most recently whose destinations are as diverse as the trainees themselves.

For each alumni embarking on a ‘traditional’ career path in newspaper or magazine journalism or broadcasting (and there have been plenty) there’s likely to be another setting off to less familiar or even uncharted territory. Perhaps to work with a digital provider that may not have existed in 2016. Others may take the skills they’ve learned, the contacts they’ve made and the inspiration they’ve absorbed to set up their own ventures. Who knows, some of them may be the Next Big Thing.

So, while those of us who are longer in the tooth and have travelled around the block and back may worry about the future of our industry and the various threats to it, maybe we can take some comfort from the standard-bearers and torch-holders of tomorrow that the quest to be a professional journalist, on whatever platform or outlet, is still alive and kicking.

* Mark Wray is Managing Director of Press Association Training which delivers accredited diploma courses for new journalists and a programme of scheduled and bespoke training for those already working in the news, PR and media industry:


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  • January 19, 2017 at 10:12 am

    This sort of article astounds and terrifies me – talk about the truth hiding in plain sight!
    Is the glass half-full or half-empty in the journalism industry at the moment? It is both.
    The half-empty side is the reality: newspapers closing, journalists made redundant, pay stagnant, hours and pressures increasing and the bottom line of less and less jobs available by the month.
    The half-full side? There are still hundreds of innocents being actively encouraged to pay money for journalism courses in the dream of filling jobs that either don’t exist or are dwindling by the day.
    Trebles all round – for the lecturers and the seats of learning!
    I’m staggered these institutions continue to let this happen – they must be dangerously close to contravening the Trades Descriptions Act. Or why not go the whole hog and start Astronaut Training courses – no jobs at the end of it but, hey, you want to see the take up!
    “Alongside the core skills and values being instilled in the Classes of 2017 will be a healthy dose of expectation management,” says the writer above.
    Better that that ‘expectation management’ was given before the candidates enrol, rather than after the deed is done.
    Several years ago, when I was about to leave my poorly-paid, over-worked job in journalism, I explored the idea of becoming a journalism lecturer and rang the University course leader for information. He was very helpful. But when I raised the question of how come these courses are so popular given that the reality is there are hardly any jobs around, and the jobs that are around will probably go to existing experienced journalists, I remember him chuckling. HE CHUCKLED! And then he said: “Well, that’s the elephant in the room isn’t it…?”
    Amazing. I don’t know Mark and I have no axe to grind with him personally. But I have to say that the argument above of 1) the industry is in free-fall, 2) but hey loads of young kids still want to sign up, and 3) who knows what will happen with them, they might become tomorrow’s Next Big Thing; is hardly a persuasive one to me.

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  • January 19, 2017 at 11:30 am

    A lot of people drift into journalism and the media because they cannot think of anything else to do. Some prove to be good, others utterly hopeless.
    I hope journalism colleges are honest with them all. There are far fewer jobs out there, and a hell of a lot of hacks are dashing stuff out as if they were serving fast food NewsMacs.
    But there are some who, never knowing what went before, possibly enjoy this. So good luck to them. But they should know it is tough on the streets before they sign up.

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