Breaking into new journalism
Traditional print sales may be in decline, but the Internet has made up for lost ground opening up a wealth of fresh prospects for tomorrow’s journalists, whose skills do not stop at the written word. But what does this mean for graduates, heart set on a career in the industry? Robert Colville talks to the experts.
Journalism is changing rapidly. The Internet has acted as a catalyst for change, providing the platform for newspaper and magazine titles, national and regional, to plunge into the world of blogs, vods and podcasts – all in the name of telling a good story whilst keeping attuned to the new ways audiences now consume their news.
"Increasingly, journalism graduates are expected to have multimedia skills – to be at ease producing and editing a video item, creating a podcast, writing a story or blogging," insists John Thompson, creator of Journalism.co.uk and Managing Director of Mouse Trap Media. "If you appear to know more about this ‘stuff’ than the middle-aged and panicking publisher, then you will already be halfway through the door. But don’t forget you still need basic journalism skills." So popular the electronic mode of address has become, the New York Post is rumoured soon to be replacing print with an electronic format accessible online, whilst Sweden’s oldest newspaper title, Post-och Intrikes Tidningar has already done so after a 362 year-old print run.
While the future does not promise digital formats across the board, the majority of titles offer a sister website to accompany their shrinking print editions, accessible to a world audience, heralding no limits on how content is presented. Online, stories can now be told by video and audio formats as opposed to the traditional static print. Trinity Mirror is no exception. With a combined circulation of 14m for their 230 regional titles, amounting to a fifth of the total circulation in Britain, each title has a web and multimedia presence complete with video and audio applications. This technological shift has had a knock-on effect with what is expected from those eager to go into the news business.
"The move towards multimedia has opened up great opportunities for aspiring journalists, and for journalists of any vintage. There is much more media available, in a wider variety of channels, than ever before. They all need quality content, and that spells opportunity for journalists," reports Neil Benson, Editorial Director of Trinity Mirror. Multimedia innovation appears to be taking over but, according to Neil, print has not lost any of its raison d’être – nor has a traditional grounding of experience accompanied with a genuine zest for a career in the news business.
"We haven’t redefined fundamentally what we want from our new recruits – we’re still looking for bright, inquiring, enthusiastic, committed people," Neil advises. "We insist that candidates sit a series of papers which we have designed to test their general knowledge, English skills and news sense." But in a thriving industry where competition is fierce, he recommends that a portfolio of work which demonstrates the candidate has gone the extra mile can pay dividends. "If a candidate passes the tests and can produce a portfolio of work that includes multimedia as well as print, that would certainly help to set them apart in a very crowded market," recommends Neil. This could include keeping an online blog – many of sites allow you to do this for free (www.blogger.com), experimenting with recording a podcast or even homing in on the latest technology to make a web-based documentary.
Places for the prestigious Mirror Group Journalist Graduate training scheme are highly sought after. Regarded to be the "gold standard" for the industry the scheme runs for two years and four places are offered for the best applicants. However, with hundreds of applicants per place, the selection process is rigorous. For the privilege, selected candidates who make the grade are asked to give it their best. The scheme, usually undertaken by graduates hungry and fresh from university, offers a 16-week stint in Newcastle where trainees receive multimedia training in addition to the more conventional tools of the trade, including journalism law, and bringing the dreaded shorthand to 110 words per minute. Upon completion, trainees will be then sent on three month "attachments" to Belfast, Glasgow and London, enabling them to work on a multitude of Trinity Mirror titles.
With over 8,500 established specialist and consumer titles available, Britain is still something of a magazine powerhouse in Europe, signalling that print is still going strong. The recently launched lads’ publication, Monkey Magazine is hot but not off the press. Breaking convention, the title is only available in digital form, and is sent by email to subscribers. Stories told by video and audio have taken centre stage over text, striking a popular chord with its readers. Receiving in excess of 200,000 hits a week from an international audience, it is outperforming its print competition – receiving more hits in a week than the subscribers rivals attract in a month. But despite Monkey’s digital ambitions, the editor, Eoin McSorley insists that for candidates keen on entering the industry knowing the technical side is a bonus, but the most attractive qualities are willingness to learn, fuelled by a keen attitude. "You’d have to be passionate about what you’re doing and display and aptitude for the Internet because it’s a place where you can get found out very easily," he says.
For the Monkey team, writing stories for each issue is merely the beginning. From week one, the prospect of adding sound to their films was beyond them. Currently in week 21, a wealth of on-the-job learning has given them the skills to make and edit their own films, music and getting creative with voice-overs – something they did not foresee from the outset. "With something like Monkey, nobody knows where the parameters are because you’re constantly inventing them and they’re constantly evolving," explains Eoin. Despite its success, Eoin admits that in a rapidly changing and increasingly digitalised world, there will always be a place for print. "Things can exist hand in hand – TV didn’t kill radio and DVDs didn’t kill the cinema. We are just another form of media."
ARE YOU EXPERIENCED?
While Monkey Magazine represents one of a handful of online examples, the abundant selection of print and electronic titles strongly positioned both on the magazine stand and in cyberspace gives as much choice to writers as the consumer. Whether it’s a fanzine showcasing the latest up and coming musical talent or a needlework and embroidery weekly, someone has to fill all of those glossy pages, even if pay is not promised. For those yearning for a career in the magazine industry, a serious commitment will have to be demonstrated by undertaking work experience and maintaining the portfolio of published words – even if you are not paid, according to Kerry Thomas, co-editor of Fused Magazine: "Without a portfolio of published work, you’ve got no chance of getting in anywhere. Get as much experience as you can – even if it’s free experience, do it."
With so many titles available covering subjects ranging from the serious, the bizarre and sublime, finding your specific interests and sticking to them will soon equip you with specialist knowledge and a reputation. The rest will soon follow. "People who have succeeded the most from the people we know are those who have specialised in a certain area. So they find something they’re really good and knowledgeable about, and stick to it," believes Kerry. Fused, like many small independent titles, cannot afford to pay their writers, designers or photographers. But Kerry insists that writing for free is essential, acting as the stepping stone from leaving college and getting larger, paid commissions in addition to increasing their potential for possible employers. "Our contributors have gone onto some really exciting work with some really big international magazines and newspapers," said Kerry. We’ve had people who have gone onto write for Art Review, to edit Flash Art in Milan, to work with the Guardian Group – lots of different things really".
Whether you fancy yourself as a hard nosed newshound or more of a full-time feature writing fanatic, knowledge of multi media will give you the advantage in a competitive marketplace, but beware not to overlook the importance of the more basic journalism skills.