Journalism – a profession in flux

15 10 2012

We’re not sure if there could be a more fascinating time to enter the world of journalism. The dust has only just settled on the Leveson Inquiry and now we are witnessing the Jimmy Savile/Newsnight row explode over at the BBC, with executives scurrying for cover as questions are asked about who put the kibosh on a simply huge and wide-reaching expose that  ITV must now be feeling rightly proud about airing.

Then there’s the ethical debate raised inadvertently by Sky NewsKay Burley, who shocked views across Britain during the April Jones abduction case when she told locals, fresh from the search for the five-year-old,  live on air that the case had turned into a murder enquiry, prompting entirely understandable tears and shocked silences while the camera continued rolling.

And just look at the vast array of opportunities in journalism that online editorial offers – who knew that the internet, instead of spelling the end for job opportunities offline, would actually open up a whole new vista of vacancies for writers.

The job just got more interesting too – when I was a journalist starting out in 1992 I could never have dreamt of the likes of Twitter and Facebook, now such a fertile spot for the sourcing of interviewees and stories.

There are few industries that come under the spotlight so frequently and are scrutinised by so many. Why? Because what journalists say and do during their careers can have such a huge impact on so many lives. That’s a big responsibility.

Here at Journalist Works, we watch our students arrive fresh and eager to learn the many skills that will equip them with the ability to work effectively in newsrooms and magazine offices up and down the country and internationally. They’re keen and a bit green. By the time they leave, we think our tutors and guest lecturers have opened their eyes just a little bit to what they can do with their careers, whether it’s about breaking the big stories or reporting on the runways at Paris Fashion Week.

From day one of the course, BJW staff love watching students immerse themselves in areas they might have known nothing of before. One day they’ll be sitting listening intently as a murder trial unfolds at crown court, the next vox-popping the locals on their thoughts about The Seagulls’ latest performance on the pitch. Tomorrow a national journalist might regale them with tales of the newsroom followed by a session to sharpen up their shorthand and then off to an art gallery to learn reviewing skills.

Tell anyone you’re a journalist and whether they claim to hate the profession or love it, they’ll always want to know more. And who can blame them?



Booze, SM cafés and go to the opening of an envelope – How to succeed in journalism

3 09 2012

Know your patch is an essential rule for all journalists.

From the geography of an area or niche you work in, knowing the right people and building up contacts is an essential part of any journalist’s tool kit.

Journalists need contacts to help them source and develop stories whether they work for newspapers, business titles or glossy magazines.

All Brighton Journalist Works students start learning these skills from their first week as they are allocated an Argus community reporter’s patch and are expected to source and develop stories from these contacts.

Stories are about people

Getting to know people is essential as all stories have and need a human side.

Learning the patch is old-fashioned journalism. BJW students need to walk around the patch, find the notice boards, discover the community groups, attend a few meetings and even chat to a few locals in a pub.

We asked a number of journalists how they developed their news contacts.

Guardian technology and media reporter Josh Halliday ran his own hyperlocal news site during his final year as a journalism student.

His SR2 blog frequently beat the local daily newspaper to news stories because Josh knew the right people and lived in the community.

“Booze. Twitter. Hobbies. Booze,” he said. “That’s pretty much it – comes down to being visible.

“A harder thing is keeping contacts.”

Josh made a name for himself while still a student as an early adopter of digital media tools, such as Twitter. This helped him land his first job straight out of university at the Guardian. technology editor Sarah Marshall has worked for local newspapers and regional radio stations for many years and backs Josh’s advice to be visible and head down the pub.

When asked how she built up her contacts she said:

“It is essential to get out and about as well as contacting people (usually by email/phone). Twitter is essential (and yes, booze too).”

Digital developments

Editor of the Daily Post, Alison Gow, who is former editor of WalesOnline and executive editor digital of the Liverpool Echo, knows how essential grassroots contacts are when it comes to finding stories.

“There was no web when I started so going out to see people was key. My daily visits were to police, vicar, undertakers, grocer, butcher, town clerk etc.

“Now? Social Media cafés, Twitter, Facebook and Flickr groups, hyperlocal forums, Meetup groups. Plus real world visits to the usual suspects.”

Argus web editor and Journalist Works online journalism tutor Sarah Booker Lewis also put in the legwork on her first job as a reporter.

“I moved from Brighton to Buckinghamshire for my first job and knew nothing about the area. I spent a lot of time walking around my patch and going to the opening of an envelope.

“By the time I left the newspaper to return to Sussex many of my contacts thought I was local, which I took as a great compliment.

“I was active online for a long time before my first newspaper had a website, so I posted on the Chalfont St Peter community forum when it started.

“When I returned to Sussex as a web editor I worked on building a network of contacts on social media.

“My Space and then Facebook and Twitter proved invaluable as points of contact with the public. People can talk to us and I pick up stories every day.”

Marketing Weekly’s tech/media/mobile reporter Lara O’Reilly had to take a different approach suited to a business to business publication.

“I did the PR ring round then arranged as many face to face meetings with actual contacts as possible.

“Using LinkedIn, and attending conferences and events really helps build contacts, too.”

Wherever their future career takes them, a Brighton Journalist Works student has the advantage of building their confidence and the front required in real world journalism.

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.

Pimp Your Portfolio

25 04 2012

by BJW graduate Simon Fogg

When you slam your NCTJ portfolio down on the table during your first interview, the hope is that it will procure you that highly coveted job in journalism.

But to ensure you actually get the interview, there’s a better way to show off what you can do.

In Reporting lessons you’ll be told to maintain a strong social media presence and start a blog to showcase your writing. These are good ideas but I recommend going one step further and designing a dedicated online portfolio. I credit mine for getting me a job.

Firstly, If you haven’t already, check to see if your name exists as a dot com address. If someone else hasn’t beaten you to it, buy that shit. You can always choose, .net, or .org instead, or even .xxx, although that might not be the effect you’re going for.

You can buy a domain name of your choosing through a company like GoDaddy, 123-reg, DreamHost and countless others.

This will really improve your Google search ranking. Which is important because as a journalist in a digital world, you need to prove you know how those internets work. Plus, if you’re vain like me, it’ll give you a buzz to have your name as a writer dominate the first page of results. Although I have the top spot on mine, I’m still battling for prominence with a cameraman from Downton Abbey and a middle-aged Christian from Bradford, which is not ideal.

Anyway, when you’ve got your own domain name, you’ll need to host a site on it. I recommend downloading the software instead of using the free blogging site. It’s pretty much the same content management system except you can do a lot more with it.

Setting all this up is a bit of a bugger so look for a company that do a ‘1-click’ install. There’s a list of web hosting services here. The monthly cost for hosting is not expensive but shop around for a good deal anyway. I went with GoDaddy because they are known to be (reasonably) reputable and the installation was simple.

Once this is set up, it’s time to make your site look pretty. To get a shiny portfolio theme you’ll need to have a browse through a site like or find an independent developer like the ones on this list of places to buy WordPress themes. The better the theme, the more expensive they tend to be but you’ll have a fully customisable website rather than a standard blog. WordPress have a selection of free themes here as well as a selection of premium ones.

When choosing a theme, my advice is to be as minimalist as possible. Use the front page as a concise opening statement and utilise html to put your social media links right where they’ll be seen. The most important part in my opinion is the option to categorise posts as portfolio items and have them appear in an organised and accessible fashion. Find a template that does this and you’re set.

To inspire you, this blog post on great journalism portfolio and  CV websites  shows some of the sites the pros are using.

This isn’t a step by step guide but half the fun is figuring it out as you go along. If you’ve lasted more than a few lessons of shorthand, this will be easy in comparison.

Simon Fogg / / @simonfogg

Simon completed his NCTJ Diploma in Journalism at Brighton Journalist Works in January 2012 and is now deputy web editor at a B2B company.


How to make a lasting impression on journalism work experience

19 04 2012

If there was ever an argument for how valuable Brighton Journalist Works can be in later life, Euan Ferguson made it, writes Liam Westlake.

The colours and fabrics of Euan’s clothes as he stood in front of the class was immediately noticeable and you could tell he was going to be an interesting speaker as well as an interesting person.

After graduating from Brighton Journalist Works in 2009 (he claims he knew he had made the right choice in a few weeks!) he had some work experience in Edinburgh for an arts and culture magazine before moving on to ‘Time Out’. There, he asked the sub-editor for as much work as possible, and he obviously made a good impression because he was offered an entry level position there before working his way up over three years to become the Deputy Chief Sub Editor.

It was apparent to everyone that Euan had become a success, and set the bar high for all of us yet still filled us with optimism that we could follow in his path. The advice he gave, whether it was ‘getting to know the publication inside out’ or becoming the office tea-mule, will be remembered by all and certainly be put into practice over the coming months. His humble manner led to students approaching him at the end of the class for guidance and questions, and it seems he’ll certainly be appreciated if he is ever invited back for another talk.

The gently-spoken Scot provided me and my fellow students with a top-ten of tips for prospective work-experience candidates, writes Philip Williams.  While elements of the list should be as intuitive as breathing – although worth reiterating, as humans are often forgetful and ignorant creatures – there were several that stuck in my mind like a girl with her tits out.  Most notably, one should treat work experience as an extended job interview, approaching the tasks set with enthusiasm and verve.

Being slightly morose, and often sarcastic, I am aware of the tendency to treat menial jobs as disheartening, useless experiences. Yet these are merely obstacles that must be overcome, challenges to accept and thrash like my beloved New Zealand Cricket team are so often. And, in the tradition of the greatest cricketers, one must play every ball (or work experience) as it comes; with equal guile, tenacity, perseverance and a bit of luck.    


Work experience really does pay off, writes Neil Hawkins.

That was the message BJW students received on a visit from ex-student Euan Ferguson, now deputy chief sub editor at Time Out magazine.

“Treat your work experience like an extended job interview,” was the message Euan put across to BJW’s newest recruits. “Editors remember enthusiasm.”

After leaving BJW in early 2009, Ewan jumped from placement to placement, taking in regional newspapers and nationals like The Observer.

After a month’s placement at Time Out, Ewan got himself a job there.   BJW students were glad to hear Ewan saying that editors find NCTJ students “favourable” for jobs. “Spending your time and money on a course like this it shows your commitment to the job” Euan enthused.

Kayleigh Tanner writes:

We all want to know how to make a lasting impression at work experience, and we all love a success story about someone in our current situation. Fortunately, Time Out’s Deputy Chief Sub, Euan Ferguson, visited Brighton Journalist Works today, to tell us about his experience since completing the course himself three years ago.

Euan told us about how subbing is a way to achieve a consistent ‘voice’ throughout the publication, to iron out the inconsistencies in the personal styles of each section’s writers.

He said: “If it was somebody talking, what kind of person would they be, and who would they be speaking to?”

Another interesting aspect of Euan’s talk related to multimedia journalism. Time Out, he told us, has seen the same inevitable decline in its print sales as the rest of the print journalism industry. Time Out has remedied this by taking advantage of the technology available, using iPhone, iPad and Facebook apps to bring its reviews to the public.

Some fresh ideas came from Euan’s work experience tips. Asking for feedback from the professional journalists around you can be invaluable, but is often overlooked. Also, something as simple as making the tea can get you remembered, as you end up speaking to the entire office. As Euan pointed out, this is the ideal situation for most work experience candidates, as the more people who remember you, the more likely it is you will be invited back.

Most importantly, Euan’s reminder to avoid clichés is a point I will definitely remember, to avoid annoying future editors with any uninspired copy. I suppose, though, that I can cross that bridge when I come to it.

On day three of our jam packed NCTJ course, many of us are already feeling a wealth of emotions, ranging from excited to exhausted, writes Katie Smith.  So it was a great to relief (and pick me up) to hear from successful past student, Euan Ferguson, who has made a name for himself in the competitive world of Journalism. As the deputy Chief Sub at Time Out Magazine, he explained the work he does and the opportunities the magazine and other publications can give to people work on experience.

Be prepared. Know the publication, its sections and regular writers. Arrive with appropriate ideas and show you are willing to get stuck in. Sitting at your desk updating Facebook is not a good look.

Act like part of the team. Arrive early, stay late and never decline that sneaky drink after work. Talking of drinks, tea making is up there on the list of skills. It’s a chance to break the ice and strike up a conversation at a desk you wouldn’t normally be at. Make a bad tea and you’re remembered for all the wrong reasons. Decline a tea and you’re not remembered at all!

Euan’s success shows the hard work we are putting in now does pay off. We have made a commitment, through time and money, to the future of our career. And I am sure that in time the commitment will pay off. Now where’s that kettle?