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August 25, 2021updated 07 Nov 2023 11:36am

Breaking into UK journalism: Advice, training and resources

By Jenna Colaco

Getting into journalism can be a daunting prospect in the UK, especially when considering the cost of gaining qualifications and experience in the sector. 

From paying hundreds of pounds for a “masterclass” on pitching stories, or being offered work that gets you experience but doesn’t pay, it’s hard to get your foot in the door. 

As a young journalist, I’ve heard friends and colleagues speak of not being paid for articles they’ve spent hours working on, having to chase up invoices for work done, and feeling excluded because people in newsrooms don’t look like them or they just aren’t based in London. 

Diversity in the news industry is still sorely lacking at many titles, although this is beginning to change. Part of this change is coming from charities and social enterprises offering opportunities to young people, many of whom may not be aware it is a career option at all for them.

London-centrism is ‘big barrier’ 

Jem Collins, founder of Journo Resources, a website dedicated to providing resources and support for journalists, says journalism can seem exclusive.

If you’re “slightly outside that kind of white middle-class face that is journalism, you’re not having that kind of base layer of knowing what you need to know or where to go to get it”, she says. 

“One of those biggest stumbling blocks is making sure that there is equal access to information and opportunities.”

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Journo Resources helps distribute information to those trying to get into the news industry, running workshops aimed at developing the skills needed to be a journalist. It also provides an extensive list of expected salaries for different roles within journalism and a list of previous rates for freelance work that others have reported to them.

Collins’ own experiences of being from Devon and not knowing people in the industry to help her find opportunities made her aware of the challenges facing new journalists, so she created a list of all the graduate schemes and traineeships that she could find.

Many jobs in journalism tend to be located in London, which Collins says is a “big barrier to get work experience” for journalists starting out who are not already based in the city.

The concentration of the media causes “a lot of problems” because many people get caught in an endless cycle of needing experience to get experience “but in order to get that kind of experience you have to be near somewhere that offers it”, Collins says.

Press Pad is a social enterprise founded by Olivia Crellin, a journalist who saw the issue of young journalists needing accommodation to carry out internships in London and matched them with more established journalists who had a spare room they could stay in.

Press Pad do charge for this service, something they have faced a backlash over. Camille Dupont, head of programmes and content at Press Pad, said the criticism was unfair. “We don’t think changing the industry should be a charitable thing, it should just be the done thing.”

[Read more: Press Pad founder defends scheme’s £600-a-month rental fees for interns after backlash]

Press Pad has a sister organisation called the Press Pad Charitable Foundation which offers bursaries to applicants who do not have the means to pay for the service themselves. Through Press Pad Remote, a series of online workshops set up during the pandemic, anyone interested can access free webinars, CV clinics, peer networking and Q&As with journalists.

Qualifications and funding

The expense of getting formal qualifications in journalism can be hard to manage for some. Courses accredited by the National Council for the Training of Journalists can cost around £5,000, while a masters degree in journalism could be upwards of £10,000.

Of journalists who began their careers in 2013, 2014, and 2015, 98% have a bachelor’s degree and 36% a master’s, according to a 2016 City University Report on Journalists in the UK.

 Whilst it can be expensive to gain qualifications in journalism. The Journalism Diversity Fund aims to give opportunities for those from diverse backgrounds who need help funding their NCTJ training.  

Bursaries are awarded four times per year and can be used to help cover the costs of course fees and/or living expenses. Bursary recipients will also be paired with a working journalist to mentor them throughout their studies.

The JDF is not just for young journalists, but also “for people who perhaps want to change careers, or get a second chance in life – but who don’t have the means to do a qualification without assistance,” the NCTJ says.

“There is still much to be done to make journalism more representative of the audiences it serves – the JDF will continue to play a part in helping to break down barriers so that diverse talent can thrive.”

Georgia Chambers, newsletter editor at The i paper and a former JDF bursary recipient, says receiving the bursary had a positive impact on her development as a young journalist.

“I realised many journalism jobs asked for a NCTJ qualification, and even in roles where it wasn’t necessarily a requirement, it was definitely preferred. 

“The only thing holding me back was the cost – I knew there was no way I could afford the expense of undertaking the course and potentially living in London – especially with the new hefty student debt I had acquired. 

“That’s when I came across the JDF bursary – aside from the obvious benefit that they were going to fund my NCTJ course, I was attracted to apply because I thought they had a good ethos. 

“I had long commented on the lack of diversity in journalism, so the fact that they were actively encouraging people from diverse backgrounds to apply, who would have otherwise not been able to afford it, was admirable and inspiring.”

For those with an undergraduate degree, funding for a masters in Journalism is also available, but can be competitive. The Scott Trust Bursary gives three applicants a bursary to study an MA in Journalism with tuition fees paid and £6,000 to cover the costs of other expenses. 

The bursary is aimed at those who face financial difficulty getting the qualifications needed to pursue a career in journalism, and who come from backgrounds that are underrepresented in the media, such as those who are from a lower socio-economic background, BAME, LGBTQ+ and those with a disability. 

The BBC also offers advanced apprenticeships in journalism for applicants with degrees. Apprentices receive an NCTJ National Qualification in Journalism, the senior industry qualification, on completion of the two-year programme. They also get paid while they learn and train.

They also offer a fast track apprenticeships for those without degrees or an NCTJ Journalism diploma who are aged 18 and over. These are also paid and those on the schemes earn the NCTJ  Diploma in Journalism, the entry-level industry qualification, over the two-year programme.

Should I write for free? 

The question of whether young, aspiring journalists should write for free is a complex one. Many aspiring journalists want to learn and gain experience, but find themselves unable to afford to do so because of the lack of paid opportunities for internships and an expectation they will write for free.

Collins says whether you should fight to get paid or not depends on who you are working for. “It’s very different if you are writing for free for a grassroots-led organisation that’s doing something different for a community and no one’s making any money out of you and you’re doing it because you’re passionate about it. That’s very different to a national paper exploiting you and not paying you”.

She advises young journalists to get into the mindset of questioning what they are getting out of each opportunity. They should consider whether it is furthering their career.

Journo Resources refuses to publish job advertisements on their websites which do not have salaries listed.. 

[Search and post the latest media jobs]

Help and advice for aspiring journalists

Dupont says that if she could go back and give herself advice as a young journalist she would tell herself to be more persistent and confident in her skills, even though English is her second language. 

Collins advises young journalists not to worry so much about what their first job in the industry is because “there is actually a lot more flexibility than you think, in that you can move around, you can change direction, and not to stress too much about being tied to an opportunity”.

Chambers says: “Never underestimate the power of social media – almost all the journalism contacts I have now are those who I’ve DM’d on Twitter and asked their advice. So definitely follow all the journalists whose work you admire, and ask (nicely) to pick their brains.”

She adds: “Sometimes it is not who has the best work, but who can shout about it the loudest. I started in journalism as a freelancer, mostly writing opinion pieces or features, so I’m also a big advocate for that as a good way of getting your name out there.”

Dupont says a great way to help young journalists into the industry is mentorship – making sure to answer young journalists’ questions and being kind to them on Twitter. She reminds people: “Even if you’re not as experienced as you think, you always have something to share.”

How to get into journalism in the UK: Schemes and resources

Organisation Where to find them Who’s it for?
We Are Black Journos Black journalists, aspiring and established, who want a community
Creative Access For people from groups that are under-represented in terms of ethnicity, socio-economic background and disability, or facing significant barriers to employment looking to work in creative industries
John Schofield Trust Online mentoring programme for 16-18 year olds from sixth form colleges and schools in Cardiff, Cornwall, Nottingham and Sheffield
Face to face mentoring for early career and apprentice journalists
Arts Emergency Mentoring and support network for those seeking careers in creative industries
If you are under 18, you can apply if you live in London, Manchester or Merseyside. If you are 18-25, you can apply from London, Manchester, Merseyside, Thanet, East Midlands, West Midlands, Leeds, Bradford, Newcastle and Gateshead.
I like networking A platform which aims to support women and non-binary professionals looking for a career in the creative and cultural industry and those who already work in the field but feel stuck. They offer a mentoring programme.
Journo Resources Website with lots of advice for journalists starting out. They also offer journalism workshops priced at £4 or free if you cannot afford them.
Press Pad Social enterprise which helps find interns accomodation with journalists in London. Press Pad Remote offers free workshops and CV clinics.
Journalism Diversity Fund The Journalism Diversity Fund awards bursaries to people from diverse backgrounds who need help funding their NCTJ journalism training.
Scott Trust Bursary The Guardian Foundation offers three bursaries each year for aspiring journalists to study for an MA in journalism to assist students who face financial difficulty in attaining the qualifications needed to pursue a career in journalism, and who come from backgrounds that are underrepresented in the media.
BBC Apprenticeships The BBC offers advanced and beginner level apprenticeships that are paid and offer formal journalism qualifications.

There are many charities and organisations that help match young journalists with mentors. The John Schofield Trust has an online mentoring programme for 16-18 year olds from sixth form colleges and schools in Cardiff, Cornwall, Nottingham and Sheffield, helping younger people normalise journalism as a career path after college and school.

It also runs an early career and apprentice mentoring programme for journalists which lasts 12 months and aims to help young journalists develop their professional skills.

Arts Emergency is a mentoring charity which helps young people get into arts and humanities sectors. They have journalists in their mentoring network and accept annual applications for mentorship of those between the ages of 18-25. Those based in London, Manchester and Merseyside can apply under the age of 18.

I received mentoring by Arts Emergency, during sixth form to help me with my university application. The mentor I was assigned just so happened to be a journalist, exposing me to the possibility that I too could be a journalist.

Picture: Shutterstock

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