Skipping university is no barrier to a job in journalism

28 08 2012

At 16 some people are ready to commit themselves to a career.

Brighton Journalist Works graduate Caroline Wilson knew she didn’t want to go to university at 16, and shocked her teachers and family when she took up an apprenticeship.

By the age of 16 I’d had enough of feeling pressured by those around me telling me to “study hard” and “think about what you want to do when you grow up”.

So I decided to “rebel” against them all by dropping out and doing an apprenticeship in hairdressing.

This was much to the disgust of my school who even called me into the headteacher’s office to discuss the “shocking” career choice of this grammar school girl.

In her comment piece A degree is not the only way to a goal published in Brighton’s Argus newspaper on August 20, Caroline explains how work experience at her local newspaper confirmed the  feeling  journalism was the right career.

She was surprised to land a place on the Journalist Works fast-track NCTJ course in April this year without an A-level to her name, but now she has a string of gold standard results behind her without a degree.

If I’d stuck it out at school as the teachers had wanted and gone on to university I would have probably picked a completely random subject and after a lot of wasted time and money, still been none the wiser about what I wanted to be when I came out.

It took me until the age of 25 to know for sure what I wanted and though I appreciate everyone is different, I know a lot of people who have gone to university and either come out and not been able to get a job, or, ended up getting a job doing something completely irrelevant to their pricey university course.

Caroline is not an isolated case. Back in April tabloid journalist Fleet Street Fox told BJW students how she camped out at her local newspaper offices from age 14 until they gave her a job at 18. By the time she was 20 Foxy was chief reporter.

Hard work and determination saw her hit Fleet Street in her early 20s after studying for her NCTJ exams while working.

Another example of early drive is Suzy Talbot, who took charge of her first newspaper as news editor when she was 22.

Now aged 27 she is a deputy editor at Trinity Mirror Southern, with responsibility for the Harrow Observer, Buckinghamshire Advertiser and Bucks Examiner.

Both Suzy’s parents worked for the Bucks Examiner, which meant her face was known around the office when she had her first work experience placement at 15.

“I never wanted to do anything else, I knew from primary school I wanted to be a journalist,” he said.

During her school holidays Suzy returned on work experience placements and settled into a long-term stint during her year out from university.

She worked hard and the news editor encouraged her to apply for a trainee position where Suzy impressed the editor-in-chief during her interview.

I learned the job by doing the basics – it was a good way to start. I was lucky my colleague where I was based was a really good mentor and really helpful.

Everyone at the paper was really supportive. People might have viewed me as a burden, but everyone was supportive. Everyone mentored me.

A trainer told me before my NCE I wouldn’t pass because I was too young, now I sit on those editor’s panels and I’m at same level as the editor-in-chief who first interviewed me.

Suzy does not regret going to university as she isn’t saddled with an extensive debt and she has progressed further up the career ladder.

Her advice for future journalists is:

You don’t need a degree, but you do need your NCTJ qualifications.

You certainly don’t need a degree in journalism, do something else if you’re not sure, history, English, science, because if you study journalism and decide it’s not what you want to do, you’re stuck.


Outstanding work experience helped Sarah Morgan get a job at Elle Decoration

16 08 2012

Making a good impression during work experience can pay dividends for journalism students, as Brighton Journalist Works graduate Sarah Morgan discovered after her placement at Esquire magazine.

When a sub-editor vacancy came up at Esquire’s sister publication Elle Decoration, members of the production team at Esquire encouraged Sarah to apply for the post.

Sarah said:

“I was recommended to apply by the subs at Esquire and was told at Elle Decoration that I did the best in the subbing test (out of candidates who were more experienced than me), so the Production Journalism course and my work placement clearly gave me the skills I needed.

“I think I was quite a quick worker and always asked for things to do, which I did to show my enthusiasm but it seemed to act as a reminder that I was getting through things quickly.

“I read the pages I was given through very thoroughly and would then look at the paragraph to see if I needed to move any words around to even up the alignment/get rid of ‘I’s on the end of lines.

“I was recommended for the job in the first week but assume I did well in the second week, too. I felt much more comfortable going in and picking up things to work on.

“To be honest it was very lucky that I was there when a vacancy was open.

“I would advise anyone on work experience to absorb as much of the feedback and edits to their work as possible, because the reason I got the top mark in the subbing test at Elle decoration (which got me the job) was that I had worked on pages the week before and watched how the other subs moved copy around and cut it.

“In terms of interviews, researching the publication is really important – if it’s a magazine look up the rate card as that has information on the circulation, competitors and readers.

“I wanted to thank Brighton Journalist Works for setting up the work experience placements – I think my recommendation from Esquire was the reason I got through to the first round of interviews.”

Top tips onhow to stand out on work experience:

  1. Listen to feedback from mentors.
  2. Show you are enthusiastic about the work.
  3. Make yourself useful.

Sarah isn’t the first BJW student to land a job after impressing senior editors while on work experience placement.

Scarlett Wrench learned the lingo and worked hard to land a job at Men’s Health magazine.

In her blog post My work experience got me a job – here’s how Scarlett gives seven points of advice on how to succeed on a work experience placement.

Journalist Works students take gold

6 08 2012
Brighton Journalist Works students April 2012

Brighton Journalist Works April 2012 student intake have achieved gold standard success in their NCTJ exams.

As Olympic fever hits new heights with team GB bringing home a stack of medals, Brighton Journalist Works (BJW) students have also struck gold as the latest exam results come in.

Forget about Usain Bolt, for NCTJ students the big sprint is the 100wpm shorthand and 11 of the 12 students who started their course in April 2012 achieved the gold standard speed within 14 weeks.

Students achieved a clean sweep in their Essential Media Law exam with each of the 12 attaining the gold standard pass mark.

There was an equally strong showing in the reporting exam as every student passed, with ten taking gold in this challenging test.

Marathon study for the Crime Reporting and Essential Public Affairs exams also paid off as 11 of the 12 students took home gold, putting BJW at the top end of the medal table for this year’s NCTJ results.

Urbanora's Olympic image

Spirit of taking part – Image by Urbanora on Flickr, some rights reserved.

Still to come are the Production Journalism, Business of Magazines and Portfolio results, but with a long tradition of success in these fields, BJW expects another gold run.

The January 2012 intake swept the board earlier this year with a 100 per cent gold standard in production and magazines with 14 of the 16 students achieving top grades for their portfolios.

Back in September 2011, there were top marks all round in Business of Magazines, with 20 of the 25 students taking gold for production and 18 of the 25 hitting the highest marks for their portfolio.

Just like Team GB athletes taking home gold, great results in the NCTJ exams is all about hard work and dedication, as well as great coaching.