You’re the type of person who likes to know what’s going on in the world, and you’ve always wanted to be one of those hard-hitting reporters you see jumping into a crowded press room to ask that all-important question about some scandal or other.
Even though I didn’t always know I wanted to be a journalist, I did grow up thinking that if I got a good education then I’d be able to knock on any employer’s door and they would consider me. But then I came to university and realised just how many other people had the same, somewhat naïve, outlook. The line was always ‘which university are you going to?’ rather than ‘are you going?’.
I’m not saying that getting a degree isn’t useful. On the contrary, I think it’s a must for anyone who wants to enter that category of ‘young professionals’. But in comparison to say even ten years ago, if you want to get into journalism now, a degree is only the first step that puts you on par with every other applicant knocking on the editor’s door.
As a student journalist, I feel I have solved part of this problem. I’ve gained relevant experience in my field, and even managed to get some work experience with my local paper. Yet who hasn’t done this in pursuit of a career in journalism? I have had to admit to myself that having a degree will only let me be one of the graduate crowd, rather than stand out from it. The truth is that you need something more.
This is particularly true for graduates who haven’t got a degree in journalism. I went down the English Literature route, thinking it would be good to keep my options open - but to apply for a job as a journalist without any specific training, I believe, would only make me more apt to receiving rejection letters.
That’s where further education or training comes in. You could do an MA specific to journalism, with nearly every university in the UK offering a postgraduate course. But with the price of these ranging anywhere from £5,000 upwards (with another dissertation to write), I did not feel this was the option for me. Instead, I looked into the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) Diploma, a five month fast-track course that teaches you everything from shorthand to journalism ethics (something that the Leveson inquiry would probably recommend).
According to their website the NCTJ states that: “In very rare cases, some reporters and photographers are given trainee jobs straight from school or university,” and “If you can't get one of the prized traineeships, the best way to gain the multimedia skills to succeed is on an NCTJ-accredited course”.
Passing an accredited course shows that you have the skills to do anything an editor can throw at you and employers are increasingly starting to look for it on your CV if you’re applying for a job in journalism and for good reason. Why would they take on someone they have to train over someone who already has the skills? An accredited course is becoming the graduate passport to an industry which is already difficult to get into and with good reason. Without it we remain amateurs in the art and invisible in the industry.