Unlike the US, no degree courses existed at this point, however the commission urged more graduates to enter the journalistic sphere. The notion that journalism can only be learnt on the job is a fiercely debated argument that continues even today. There is a strong contingent that believes journalists are made born not made. David English, Editor of the Daily Mail explains – Journalism is a skill that can only be acquired on the job and at the end of the day it depends on whether someone has a burning individual talent (Keeble, R. The Newspapers’ Handbook . London: Routledge.
1994, p. 342) However, there are those at the other end of the spectrum that argue journalism should be professionalised. As an occupation, this contingent believes journalism should have its own ethical and work-related standards that are formally taught and assessed. If we look to the US, journalism courses have existed since the beginning of the twentieth century. Currently the States has over 325 colleges and universities offering courses, which include journalism as a major. In contrast, it wasn’t until the 1960s that Britain offered journalism as a formal subject for study.
The last decade has seen a significant shift with regards to journalism in the academic sphere. Journalism is beginning to be considered as more of a graduate entry profession (this compares with the occupations mentioned previously, which have been graduate entry level only professions from some time). In 1965 only six percent of employees entering local newspapers had a degree. This figure has now increased to over sixty percent. However, it could be argued that this has been as a result of over subscription and economic supply and demand.
Competition for NCTJ accredited post-graduate courses is fierce. Potential students are now expected to have a reasonable degree and relevant work experience to gain entry to a course. In addition, the majority of NCTJ accredited courses also require potential students to sit an entrance exam, thereby limiting the number of students as applications are so high. The NCTJ offer both newspaper and magazine journalism courses (which students must pay for, unless legible for a grant/sponsorship). Both run a similar program of study, which includes examination in seven key areas.
The proficiency certificate requires study in newspaper journalism (handling handouts), law (defamation and contempt), local and central government and shorthand – up to 100 words per minute. For magazine journalism, there are also sections in subbing and design. Training of broadcast journalists can be acquired through the National Council for the Training of Broadcast Journalists (NCTBJ), a voluntary organisation made up of representatives from the radio and television industry. The NUJ and various colleges offer courses in this particular sphere, much like newspaper and magazine journalism.
Paid work in the industry is supposedly guaranteed once qualified. In reality, competition means potential employees could find themselves completing long spells of un-paid work experience, prior to any permanent employment. Many argue that fundamentally there is distrust between academics and media employers – The academic community in this country has always been extremely distrustful of courses in journalism and media employers have been distrustful of people with education (in Keeble, 1994, p. 345) Despite this rather pessimistic view there are a variety of opportunities to study journalism in the UK.
An array of universities now offer journalism as a degree subject. For non-graduates National Vocational Qualifications are available, offering yet another avenue into the industry. If we consider formal qualifications in journalism, there are now various courses in existence, as well as professional bodies to implement. However, if we look in more detail at the industry itself, diversity is one of the most striking features. Unlike professions such a law or medicine, which have very specific lines of activity, journalism offers any number of possibilities, from newspapers to magazine to television.
Tunstall (1971) argues that journalism as an occupation is likened to ‘indeterminate’ occupations such as sales people (traditionally more vocational), involving a wide range of activities. Journalism is perceived as being a glamorous and well-paid occupation. Whilst this can be true in some areas (specifically towards the top of the industry), in reality it is quite different. Regional papers in particular offer basic pay as low as i?? 9,000 a year (this can be for an employee at graduate level).
The basic pay rate for national newspapers is in the region of i??24,000 a year, but important columnists could receive in excess of i?? 100,000. Wages for broadcast journalists are similar, with researchers receiving around i?? 15,000. Presenters/producers/directors could expect to earn anywhere between i?? 100,000 to i?? 500,000 (or more). Whilst there are suggested earning brackets for particular roles, due to the fierce competition, these aren’t often adhered to and many journalists find themselves working for substantially less than the recommended wage. Whilst the majority of journalists enter the industry with specific qualifications, it is still not essential.