Too proud to write for “The Daily Fail”?

When you’re looking for something, you’d be amazed how quickly your standards lower. We’re talking about jobs here as opposed to that desperate 4am scanning of the dance floor…

On Sunday Giles Coren wrote a column much like those he publishes in varying parts of The Times of a weekend: witty, touching, cleverly structured and a delight to read. Except it appeared in Femail: The Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday’s girl-friendly colour supplement. The flocks of @gilescoren fans (myself included) sycophantically tweeted their appreciation hours after ‘Oh my God, I’m turning into my father’ appeared on Mail Online.

Daily Mail

A 'typical' Daily Mail front page

However, it was clear that many of these compliments were more than a little backwards. @henweb tweeted: “Nice. @GilesCoren’s article in the Daily #FAIL is literally the first good article I’ve read in the DM for… well, ever! http://goo.gl/hWJCh”. I was alerted to the piece by @samparkercouk, advising that “If you only ever visit the Daily Hate once in your life, make it for this article by @gilescoren.” Even if he wasn’t such a candid tweeter, it’s obvious why Coren took the controversial commission: it’s his job.

Daft as it sounds, it’s all too easy as a young and/or wannabe hack to imagine ourselves taking the Guardian offices by storm, rather than realising that writing for a living is as much about paying rent as it is ‘changing the world’. When I was job-hunting a fellow intern scoffed, “Gas and Power Magazine? Seriously?” It’s easily done, until you see what journo job listing sites really look like and your specifications broaden considerably.

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Podcast #1: student journalism

Student journalism is often considered the starting point for many professional hacks these days. It is usually there in that under-funded and unequipped newspaper office that many modern journos get putting pen to paper and start falling in love with the publishing industry.

It is also there that many of your future contacts and friends are made. Just look at Wannabe Hacks: we are Features, Sports and News editors and even an Ed-in-Chief. We were all also writers, subs and proofreaders at some point – Wannabe Hacks is a direct result of our days in the Redbrick paper office.

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City MA is less competitive and more collaborative

Journalism postgraduate courses, especially in London, have a reputation for being intensely competitive. The few jobs within the industry plus a group of highly driven student journalists who know how tough it is to make a mark in the media often equal a group of wannabe hacks eager to trump each other.

Before starting at City University London this week, I had heard stories about students barely speaking to each other, stealing each other’s leads and battling it out for the same work experience placements. But is that a realistic assessment of dynamics on postgraduate journalism courses?

City

Certainly not at City (for now at least). Although the first few days seem a bit like speed dating, with frequent polite introductions, people (some are 25 years old, a few even 30 and above) are happy to remind you of their name/where you’re from, no matter how many times you forget. All in all, everyone on the course is friendly, switched-on and keen to learn.

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NCTJ is still industry standard – but it might not be for much longer

Following the post by The Student about the relevance and worth of an NCTJ course Rhys Hayward – one of the latest hacks in the production line of the News Associates NCTJ in Wimbledon – gives his thoughts on the NCTJ and its future.

In my opinion it is impossible to judge the NCTJ certificate in black and white because of the vastly variable nature of both the industry and the centres which are approved to teach the qualification. I recently qualified at News Associates in Wimbledon as a 100%er – that is someone who has passed all four main disciplines taught by the NCTJ: News Writing, Media Law, Public Affairs and Teeline Shorthand at 100 words per minute.

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We must wait and see if NCTJ is still industry standard

Roy Greenslade has flagged up an interesting point in his latest Guardian blog. In short, he questions whether university journalism courses need to be accredited by the National Council for the Teaching of Journalism (NCTJ) and, citing the example of the University of Strathclyde (who withdrew from the NCTJ in 2008), asks whether the course actually provides the skills for the ‘journalists of the future’.

Journo Students

This is particularly pertinent to the Wannabe Hacks as myself, The Chancer and The Detective will be starting journalism masters at City University next week.

City (as Mr Greenslade points out in his article) is not NCTJ certified.

In the year or so before applying to study journalism at City, I had to weigh up whether it was better to study a postgraduate course at a non-NCTJ accredited institution (like City, Goldsmiths or Westminster) or to do a short course NCTJ qualification and supplement that with work experience. In effect, I was torn between what I was told was the national standard for journalists – the Michelin Star for journalism courses – and what I thought would equip me with the skills to be a top-class reporter.

NCTJ

One question that I had, and that many young journalists may have too, is whether or not having an NCTJ qualification would affect job opportunities in the future. My answer would be probably not.

National newspaper generally don’t deem any journalism qualifications essential and, although some local newspapers editors swear by the NCTJ and will not employ anyone unless they have passed it (the editor of the North West London Newsquest titles told me as much), it’s not a hard and fast rule.

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Pleased to meet you. Hope you guess my name.

Well you probably won’t so I’ll tell you, I’m Tom Clarke and am the miserable, lucky and anti-London hack behind the alias ‘The Chancer’. In late September I will be moving from my beloved Salford (it’s in the North, near Manchester) to London to take on the challenge of the Newspaper Journalism MA at City University.

Tom Clarke

Whilst I will be doing the same course as The Student and share many similarities with him I came to be on the course in a very different way, only finding out about it and applying days before the deadline. Like most of my academic work I tend to leave things to the last minute and only really enjoy work when put under pressure. Whilst I have wanted to be a journalist for a long time and have been heavily involved in student journalism with Redbrick and The National Student it is this slightly lackadaisical approach to my future career which has gained me the nickname ‘The Chancer’.

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