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Should journalism students re-evaluate their career options?

30th July 2013

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NewspapersAs journalism continues to be a popular career path amongst arts undergraduates, questions are being raised surrounding the number of jobs actually available in the industry, and whether or not the endless effort students put in will result in employment.

Adrian Monck, former dean of City University of London’s journalism school, estimates that 300 entry-level jobs in the mainstream media are available to some 50,000 journalism students. Monck criticised the academic institutions that run journalism courses.

‘It is entirely unscrupulous of the academy to look at journalism education as a cash cow through which it can extort money from hopeful young people with the promise of delivery of some form of employment at the end of it.’

Students could pay well over £30,000 on tuition alone before even entering the industry. A three year undergraduate degree at £9,000 a year, coupled with Diploma in Journalism from the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) – priced at £3950 – is the required qualification for an entry level job. However, these fees don’t take in to account maintenance costs and the countless unpaid internships students are encouraged to embark upon. For example, unless one lives in London, a bed in a YHA hostel located at St. Paul’s would cost £25 a night for a week in August. Not counting food and travel costs, this amounts to £125 for a five-day episode of work experience in the capital.

With the circulation of newspapers in a massive decline, the security of jobs in the industry doesn’t look rosy at all. As pixels replace paper, pay walls and tablet editions of daily newspapers are beginning to generate revenue as the industry looks to tackle the digital age. The Times charge £4 a week to be able to read the newspaper on a laptop, smart phone or tablet. This means you can get away with spending just under 60 pence per day to read The Times, rather than paying £1 for a physical copy. On the assumption that all 400,000 readers opt to go digital, The Times would go from making £3 million a week through sales to £1.6 million. Although revenue is still generated, it is significantly less than before meaning cuts will have to be made, resulting in even fewer jobs at the entry level. The 24-hour news cycle also means that those who are fortunate enough to secure a job may be rewarded with working unsociable hours.

Bearing all this in mind, is it time for students to consider alternative means of employment? There are many platforms in which you have the opportunity to write articles, one being digital marketing, an aspect of which is search engine optimisation (SEO). SEO is focussed around link building for an agency’s clients as a means to improve their Google ranking for certain keywords. The most popular method of link building is through guest blogging for sites around the web, meaning that your work is being published, and you’re also getting paid for it in an industry that is likely to grow rather than retract.

Katherine Ogilvie, who had a background in journalism before going on to work for Fountain Partnership, an SEO company based in Norwich, said that those fortunate enough to land a job in the journalism industry are likely to be "only those who can afford to live in London and work for free... Journalism is also one of the industries where they will pick Oxbridge graduates over others, so most hiring policies aren't very equality friendly." Ogilvie applauds the opportunity digital marketing gives those who wish to pursue a career in writing articles.

"It allows you to continue writing and hone your skills as well as think about how to write for a particular target audience. It also brings another skill set for those looking to write online."

With a generally more competitive starting salary than journalism, getting in to SEO and digital marketing is beginning to serve as just one of many viable alternatives for those looking to pursue a career in article writing. With the industry declining, students should study their career options wisely before throwing lots of effort and money at a career that may be beyond their reach through no fault of their own.

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