Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Work experience - what about life experience?

Ed Caesar has put a stark light on what we already suspected, and knew if we did the sums, that we’re witnessing something of a volcanic eruption in journalism training against a backdrop of a steep fall in journalism jobs.

By his reckoning 1,870 students were on post-graduate journalism courses in last year compared with 763 ten years earlier. There’s an even steeper rise in those on undergraduate courses; from 1,972 to 8,095 in the same period.

It’s an interesting read as he cites eager youngsters trying to make a break and concludes with a breakdown of the essential qualities needed to do so; including the inclination and means to work for nothing doing work experience in London. All true in my experience but I’m not sure I find it so worrying.

Let’s put another shine on it.

I know from the lecture theatre that a number (let’s not get carried away, but I do mean a fair few) of those on these courses are not interested per se in jobs in journalism. They want a degree and the courses, combining as they do cool sociological aspects - and even cooler stuff their generation is interested in - offer a tempting pathway. That shouldn’t come as a shock.. Not all history students want to join Time Team and not all ecology students want to save rainforests.

A fair few of these will be from other countries – and be returning there with degrees from a British university which carry more kudos than any they could have got at home -and a fair few more will go on to further study, so the same names will be moving between the undergrad/postgrad categories.

I know that still leaves a fair few. It’s also worth noting that there are more students these days because there are more courses and course places as colleges have flexed to meet the demand in an increasingly media-aware society.

But I couldn’t help thinking that Caesar, like many who have covered this subject, seems to throw all his eggs at jobs in London and national newspapers. They very fact that so many he quotes actually got in there, I such a short time, straight from college is, in itself, bizarre.

I’m not saying this is a bad thing or a good thing, only that it’s stretching reality. The media is a bigger marketplace than national broadsheets for middle-class kids who think life on a smaller publication is an annoying hurdle.

One of languages student he quotes tells of breathlessly pitching ideas to the Guardian, being offered a job and having to think about whether she wanted to accept or go off and “build her own magazine empire” before actually saying yes.

Another, now in PR, told of leaving Hull, doing an NCTJ course, followed by work experience on local papers before coming to London - yes, straight to London – landing a few weeks of the same on the Observer, then the Inde, before getting a low-paid job and a short-term editing gig before being let go!

The odd unnamed exec is quoted as having ethical doubts about such exploitation. Well, here’s a named one, and one that's run a few grad schemes here in the smoke. I have no such qualms.

Anyone who imagines they can leave the classroom for a well-paid job on a national newspaper with virtually nothing in between cannot possibly possess the sort of down-to-earth awareness of what life is about to be able to say anything a reader would want to hear.