I just finished reading today’s Media Guardian that looks at journalism and the background that many press and broadcast journalist have. The basic thrust being that most of the journos you see the bylines of in your favourite paper or on TV and radio are from middleclass backgrounds and are educated to degree level.
Personally I have never got a job when I was employed, or needed any specific qualifications when I have looked for work. I don’t have a degree in journalism or any other subject. I got as far as A levels before heading into my first full-time job.
What I have found as a freelance journalist is that editors are interested in people who can produce the goods. They don’t really care if you went to Oxford or if you have a NUJ qualification – at least in the markets that I write for anyway. I’m sure this may be different if you want to write for the national press, or if you want to get into BBC news; but if you want to try your hand at freelance journalism, then there’s no replacement for a good portfolio of work.
I spent nearly ten years developing my writing skills and building a portfolio until I was confident that I could pitch feature ideas at editors, and then deliver the goods on time and on brief. I’ve often thought about taking some form of academic qualification in writing or journalism, but I don’t have the time and I really don’t feel that it would open any doors I couldn’t open myself.
I think the elitist slant that the Guardian piece seemed to put over is what really narked me. I have written for national newspapers in the past and did feel that I was at arms length from the ‘real’ paper that was put together by the staffers. I guess it all depends on what ambitions you have and what kind of writing you want to do. Personally, working on a newspaper would feel far too much like an office job that I turned my back on several years ago.
If you’re thinking of trying your hand at the journo game academic qualifications aren’t absolutely necessary if you are attracted to the freelance life. Breaking into the national press or onto broadcast media may well have different criteria, and I would certainly think twice before parting with several hundred pounds for some of the journalism crash courses that are available. It’s much better to practice your craft and when you’re ready mount an assault on the market you want to write within. If you have the skills and can deliver the goods, you’ll have a steady stream of clients that couldn’t give a monkeys which school you went to, or if you have a degree.