It is fair to say that I am not yet fully ‘immersed’ in the journalism industry. I have not yet grabbed my first, fully-paying, journalism job, and I am yet to gain a national byline, but this doesn’t stop thousands of expectations of the industry running around in my head; How much will I be paid? How often will I work? What sort of journalism will I be involved in? Who will I meet? I’m also positive that other aspiring, and existing, journalists, have had some sort of expectations. For this reason, I asked a whole range of journalists ‘How different is the reality of the journalism industry compared to your expectations?’. The results were not only diverse, but also showed an insight into the many ways in which the following journalists found their feet in journalism.
“When I was starting out people still talked about digital journalism like it was this thing that would happen in the future. Yet, when I actually got my first job three & a half years ago it was entirely a digital role and I have built a career out understanding and making the most of digital opportunities.
I also believed there was endless opportunity to be creative and to work with people to help deliver an even better news experience for readers. I was right about the opportunities, but not prepared for how timid and scared many people would be in chasing after them.
I felt there was a transition about to happen – to more modern news operations that still have journalistic values at their core, but are more agile and able to experiment with how they tell stories. I now understand that this transition will be ever-ongoing and never finish.”
“The one thing I didn’t realise is that there are at least dozen people behind every byline. A lot of the glory goes to the reporter or writer (often for good reason) but there is a gamut of people who help to that end: editors, sub editors, people who oversee the budget, copy
tasters, people that sort rotas and important people’s diaries, designers of all disciplines, people who send the pages to print, lawyers to check stories and people who book flights and organise kit for trips abroad. Lots of people go without being name checked but every single one of them helps get a paper out, an app available each day and a website updated. It’s a huge team effort and just to be part of that is a special thing.”
“When I got my first graduate job in 1988, I think I expected that journalism would be competitive, exciting, collegiate, cynical, sexy, and rewarding spiritually. All this has proved true. I’m still never happier than when I am on a job, perhaps abroad, sharing a laugh with colleagues, after (if my editor is reading this) getting that story filed. However, I’ll be honest and say that I came into journalism with the start of Apples and desktop publishing, but I don’t think I saw how much the industry would change in terms of technology – or how it would be challenged in terms of external reputation (especially in light of Leveson and the Hacking Trial). And I certainly didn’t see how much more intense it would become.
When I started out, long Fleet Street lunches were still the norm, and journalism was a caper as much as a career. But now, for many, this is close to a ‘normal’ profession with the concomitant demands around long hours, working lunches, preparing reports, and career management etc. I hope we don’t become a profession though, I’d hate to see all would-be journalists needing first degrees or Masters. There should always be room for journalists who can make it to the top by combining natural talent, unquenched curiosity, and hard work, even if they don’t go to university.
And yes, I expected to love my job a lot – but the reality? Despite hacking scandals, the emergence of ‘celebrity journalists’, 24-hour deadlines, swapping shorthand for coding, oh, and did I mention the pay?, I am as besotted with journalism as I was on Day One. I’d still recommend it to anyone.”
“I read Broadcast Journalism at the University of Leeds where we fortunate to have many good tutors with industry experience. Thanks to them I think the expectations that I had were fairly realistic in many ways, e.g. I had a good understanding of what would make a good story and how to tell it for TV and radio. Where there were perhaps disparities between my expectations and reality was in the nature of how to actually get a job, that said things have turned out pretty well so far, so I must have done something right.”
“I’d argue the big thing I’ve learnt is how absurd a lot of criticism sounded off against the industry is. By that, I mean that when I decided I wanted to be a journalist, while there are always people who tell you what a great profession it is (listen to those people!) there are ten others who say any combination of:
– Journalists lie
– There’s no jobs in journalism
– None of the jobs have any money
– You’ll have to work for free for ages
– Journalism is dying
– You can only get into journalism through family/friends
I’m sure every young journalist has heard the same. It’s rubbish. Every word of it. When I was starting, all of this tainted my expectations. In reality, journalism isn’t easy, but it’s not the nightmare it’s made out to be. It’s a lot of hard graft, lots of talking to people and lots more hard graft. [Upcoming journalism talk cliché] This is a great time to be getting into the industry. There are loads of opportunities. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you otherwise.”
“It is vastly different [the reality of the industry compared to expectations] – but that is because the industry has evolved so much since I did my PGDip back in 2005/2006, half a digital lifetime ago. I did the Broadcast Journalism course at City and expected to go into the one-way broadcast of radio news. I spent a year as a breakfast newsreader and radio producer in 2006/2007 (at KMFM in Kent) and through the process of getting text messages from listeners to the radio station, realised that news was a two-way, social process, with both sources of stories and reaction coming in from listeners.
Fast-forward seven years and I’ve worked in TV, print, online and now social. Gone are the days when you hit publish and walked away from the story; publishing is now the start of a new chapter of the news story’s life cycle. Once published, the story then develops through reaction and engagement with readers in the comments section and on social media.”
“I’d been picking up the odd freelance job and writing a few guest articles since leaving school, so when I graduated with the ubiquitous 2:1 I thought I knew what all of the ups and downs of being a freelance journalist would be like. I knew at the beginning I’d have to move back in with my parents, and that it would be tough. I was expecting the positives of being able to work from wherever I had my laptop and an internet connection, and work my own hours to be balanced out by the uncertainty of not receiving a monthly pay cheque, and I was prepared to hear the word ‘no’ a lot. I actually have no problem finding writing jobs, it is actually much easier than I expected. However, the one thing I did not expect and I was in no way prepared for is how few editors are prepared to, or even have the budget available to pay me for my work.
I fully appreciate what a problem it is for graduate writers to find journalism jobs without completing endless unpaid or expenses only internships, but I have found as someone who does not physically show up in an office every day it is even harder to get paid, even with my fair share of Westminster internships, national newspaper experience and a successful food blog under my belt. The real problem is that for every freelance journalist who needs to make a living, there are at least 20 other capable student journalists willing to do the same work for free. So many of these young writers have something important to say; I used to be one of them, and I valued the experience. However, I wish that editors would put more value on experience, and be willing to pay for perspectives they can’t get in house. So far my experiences in the journalism industry have made me question why I bothered to get a degree in the first place.”
“When I chose a degree in Journalism, I knew that it was an incredibly difficult industry to get into. Now that I have graduated, I realise it even more so. The reality is that nothing is going to get handed to you on a plate and you’re competing against so many others for a job. I didn’t realise when I started my degree how many jobs I would be applying for, how many contacts I had to make and how much unpaid work I’d have to to. I’m still looking for paid work and expect to do so for a while yet. I don’t mind not getting paid for my writing at the moment because I enjoy it and it’s great experience, I expected it too because that’s how you get noticed. However I thought I would have a few more prospective opportunities by now, or would have a little more experience, but it’s proving hard to come by. But I love writing and will continue to try and make it my career and I will work hard to do so.”
“I recently just finished my degree. In short, I have not seen much difference, however the nature of the industry had been (and still is) at a crucial point as I begin my degree.
We have seen within the last few years an industry that has required those who aspire to be in it to do more to stand out. Indeed, some have suggested that journalism is a dying industry, a claim that I adamantly reject. You can still get into journalism and still be able to get a career out of it, but know going in that you are going to have to work more and put the hours in to prove yourself. You are now in an environment where you will need to do as much as possible to stand out.
As I worked on my degree, I did work at my student paper as well as Kettle, in addition to several online outlets, based in the UK and in the US, however most of the work I did outside of university was with Kettle. I do not for a second regret putting in the hours, as I knew the competition to stand out in the industry as I finished my degree was fierce.
There will always be a need for journalists, despite the changes in how it is consumed or how one’s craft is practiced.”
“I had never worked in local news before but had some idea of what to expect: council meetings, charity fun runs and small-scale road accidents were all par the course. What I didn’t expect was how much I would enjoy getting to know the ins and outs of my patch’s community and how, in turn, its people would familiarise themselves with me – trusting me as a reliable news source. Chasing leads can be a thrill in itself but sometimes it’s even more satisfying (and easier) when people already believe you are the person to tell their story.”
“I set my sights on a career in journalism at 15, in 1999, and by the time I finished my education at 23 the internet and social media had changed much of the landscape, and paid entry-level jobs, especially on arts and culture sections, were dying out. Something I’d never specifically thought about were the emotional consequences that talking to people about their lives could have for me or them, beyond obvious trauma-reporting. Until it happened, I didn’t appreciate how quickly a simple conversation could escalate into something deeply sensitive and personal. As a journalist, even in relatively ordinary situations, you’re often tapping into people’s vulnerability and nostalgia, and encouraging them to reflect on their lives in ways they haven’t previously. Before you know it, someone can be offloading very sensitive things they’ve never spoke to anyone else about, far beyond the original scope of your conversation. Unhappily-married men particularly seem to see a young woman writer wanting a chat as a combination of a free call-girl and free therapist.”
Have you got anything you would like to add about what you expected of the journalism industry was met or nowhere near the reality? If so you can find us on Twitter @WannabeHacks, search for us on Facebook, or comment below.
Main image courtesy of Sarah Gilbert on Flickr.