Barbara Rowlands is the Course Director of the Magazine Journalism MA at City University. She currently writes for The Observer, Daily Telegraph and Times as well as consumer magazines.
Running a magazine journalism MA programme isn’t easy. The ambitions of those who arrive every September range from wanting to be an arts editor on Esquire or a feature writer on G2 to becoming a specialist writer on Total Film/Car/NME. All want to be writers. Catering for that lot is challenging and rewarding.
On my course they learn pretty much everything – reporting, feature writing interviewing and research, print production, multimedia journalism – and alone among the journalism programmes at City, entrepreneurial journalism. This module has been so successful (the students pitch their magazine concepts to a “Dragons Den” of special projects editors) that it is being re-written a rolled out across most of our other MA Journalism programmes. The students learn about the importance of visual journalism and produce two print magazines, each of which has a digital edition. They learn about all aspects of the industry – few know about business-to-business journalism or customer publishing – and they learn to write, to really write.
It’s an intense nine months. It’s pretty much impossible to take a part-time job – even the vacations are loaded with work experience. The pressure comes not just from the workload, but from the swift and necessary change in mindset – from print to multimedia, from waffle to tight copy, from winging it to checking everything again and again – and, of course, meeting a deadline, every single time.
It’s pretty much the same at other programmes accredited by the Periodicals Training Council – courses/courses-currently-accredited. A postgraduate programme is the equivalent (easily) of a year’s experience in the industry, and that year would have to be under a great editor.
Graduates from programmes like City’s are in demand and most have a job within a couple of months. The magazine industry isn’t recession proof – the overall circulation for the UK consumer magazines industry in the year to July 2010 at just over 62m, was 13m fewer than in the last half of 2009. But its not in its death throes like the newspaper industry or having to radically reinvent itself. Based on building brands (look at Top Gear) and with an historic and acute sense of community, high-end glossies are doing well, as are the smaller niche magazines, like Rouleur, Selvedge and Little White Lies, which have extraordinarily loyal and global readers.
Do you really need to do an expensive course? Journalism’s not a graduate profession, but editors like graduates from our institutions and like the fact they don’t have to train their reporters and writers in the basics (and that includes multimedia). You’ll come out with a portfolio of coursework and published work, plus friends for life who will also be your contacts. The editors know us and they know our graduates. It is expensive, but breaking in by other means is possible, but it’s hard. You may have to do months of poorly paid (or unpaid) “internships” to gain a foothold.
Magazines are exciting. By working for them you can slip from one sector of the industry to another. Break exclusives on the newsdesk of a strong B2B like Property Week and you can move on to a national with relative ease; become a writer on a customer publication, such as Waitrose Kitchen and you can move over to consumer journalism. You can spend a career indulging your passion – and magazine editors always look for passion, whether that’s the arts, films, food, fashion, music.
And digital? Magazines embraced the iPad apps well before the launch of News Corp’s The Daily, the iPad-only newspaper. Conde Nast has developed apps for its bigger titles, but the one to really see is Richard Branson’s Project magazine.