Broadcaster and former journalist Sir Michael Parkinson issued a word of caution to student journalists who crave celebrity for its own sake when he presented the National Assocation of Press Agency awards.
Parkinson, who started his journalism career 60 years ago on local newspapers in Yorkshire before moving on to the Manchester Guardian and then Daily Express, reflected on what he said was then: “a very different and rich time for journalists”.
In his opening comments at the awards evening in London he said: “Today I feel sorry in a sense for the younger generation – and I don’t mean that in a patronising sense at all. We all know how much this industry of ours has changed and changed for the worse in the sense that there are fewer opportunities.”
He said: “Young people today who go on media courses do everything we want them to do in the sense they are multi-skilled and multi-task, but yet you know that when they leave their place of learning in the majority of cases there will be no job for them to go to.
“I left school at 16 and went to a local newspaper, you knew in those days that if you went into an apprenticeship scheme and kept your nose clean and enjoyed it not only would you have a job but a job for life.”
Parkinson has been chancellor of Nottingham Trent University since 2007 and said he noted from talking to students a different philosophy from the one that he had when he aspired to be a journalist.
He said: ” I joined a newspaper because I thought it would be a glamorous job, glamorous in the sense that I thought I would be like Robert Mitchum with a trench coat and trilby and all that…Nowadays when I talk to students I get a sense that behind their ambition, is another ambition, that ambition is to walk down the stairs of a television talkshow and become famous, to be a celebrity.
“I try to tell them that being famous is not a profession. If it happens as a consequence of what you do that’s fine, but if you chase it as a dream and ambition as simply that it’s going to come apart in your hands.
“I was very lucky to become famous at 35. All that ever happened to me is three things: I had a race-horse named after me, a rose and a rhinocerous in Chester Zoo.”
He added, joking: “Be careful what you wish for. In the end my career as observed by the majority of people, they think the only thing that ever happened to me worth remembering is being attacked by an Emu. If that’s the kind of fame you want then you can have it, because it’s too silly for words.”