Pulse magazine looks like a great place for ambitious reporters to start their career. “You’ll probably get your name splashed somewhere on a national within the first year and you’ll probably win an award as well,” says editor Jaimie Kaffash. “That’s what has happened to our junior reporters before.”
But despite the esteem and above-average wages, over the past two years the medical trade magazine has had a problem – trying to recruit new reporters has been a nightmare.
“Last year, we were searching for a senior reporter and we had barely any applicants,” Kaffash tells Press Gazette. “And in the last couple of years, we’ve had a decrease in the number of people applying for entry-level roles.”
One features role Pulse recruited for saw the magazine get just seven or eight applicants, almost a quarter of the normal number of applicants it would get.
As the vice-chair of the British Society of Magazine Editors (BSME), he started speaking to other editors, who all told him – and eventually Press Gazette – that they’d been experiencing the same thing. Even Jem Collins – who runs the popular journalism jobs and reporting site Journo Resources – told him that far fewer people clicked through on job ads they posted for trade publications than for others, even if the wages were similar.
National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) data from 2019 suggests as many journalism graduates go on to work in the “wholesale and retail” industry as they do for “business magazines” (7%).
Recruitment challenges have also been reported in local newspapers. Gillian Parkinson, a former local newspaper editor and North West editorial director of then-JPI Media (now National World) recalled how after posting an advert for a historically popular role as a court reporter, they had zero applicants. They had had similar problems for more senior roles like news editors.
Meanwhile, national newspaper training programmes like the one run by The Telegraph can get upwards of 2,000 applicants a year for a handful of places.
The last year has seen the number of unfilled job vacancies across the economy hit record highs – but there may be other factors impacting journalism recruitment.
The number of trainees on NCTJ-accredited courses has dropped slightly compared to before Covid-19 (1,552 in 2018/2019 versus 1,163 in 2022).
Terry Kirby, a senior lecturer in journalism at Goldsmiths University, says that over half of the applications they get for their MA Journalism course were from foreign students, a share far higher than before Covid-19. He added that, for various reasons, those students have tended to be far less likely to end up working in UK journalism, often returning home after finishing the course.
Another factor impacting recruitment may be the decline of work experience post-pandemic.
“My students have found it very difficult over the past couple of years to get work experience because everyone was working remotely,” says Kirby, meaning many don’t have the basic experience needed to apply for many entry-level roles. And even when trainee journalists do get work experience at local papers or specialist titles, it’s still often done remotely and they don’t end up in an office absorbing the “culture” and atmosphere of the newsroom, Kirby says, something that often would lead to them applying for permanent roles.
Has the changing nature of junior local journalism jobs also impacted recruitment?
One previous Press Gazette investigation found as much as 79% of content on some sites wasn’t original reporting. And there can be an emphasis on frothy stories sourced from social media versus the more professionally-fulfilling shoe leather local reporting which has been more prevalent in the past.
Pay could be another factor. Staring salaries in journalism are typically below £25,000, far less than other graduate careers.
“I do freelance work on the weekends quite often, and it’s still not enough,” as one 25-year-old who currently works for a major B2B publisher put it. “All my friends are now getting promotions and pay rises, and I’ve never experienced that.”
“Journalism isn’t the highest paying job, but I know someone whose entry level salary was like £18,000 and then they eventually got a promotion to £20,000. For the amount of work you do that just isn’t attractive,” says Sama Ansari Pour. Part of the motivation for joining the Insider fellowship programme she now works on rather than a local newspaper, she says, is the fact that at £24,000 a year it pays significantly more than smaller titles.
One solution to recruitment challenges may be changing the way publishers promote vacancies.
“I know, in our motorcycling team, we were advertising for a role. I think as in the last year or so, in the last 12 months or so. They were advertising for a role. And they got a disappointing, relatively modest uptake,” says Tim Pollard, group digital editorial director at consumer and specialist publisher Bauer.
“And they then went and created a video job ad and promoted it, and after that they got over 200 applications. So I think there’s something about where you go fishing, how you promote the job ads and how you package it.” As we chat, he adds that two current staff writer roles in their motorsport trade titles already had 50 applicants with two weeks before they closed after they promoted the roles heavily.
Similarly, Pulse editor Kaffash says the number of applicants he had for a recent entry-level job at the magazine soared after he spent hours reaching out directly to journalism students, and promoting the job everywhere and anywhere he could.
There’s no surefire reason why the strategies worked – no “secret sauce” as Pollard puts it – but both agree that they’re now having to convince young journalists to apply for roles more actively than they have ever had to before
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