In my opinion: Chris Hammond: What awaits journalism graduates

LATER this summer, hundreds of journalism students will graduate from universities across the country; many of them won’t ever break into their chosen industry.

This generally won’t be through a lack of talent or opportunity, but more often than not a combination of lack of application and ambition. This might read like a harsh assessment, but after spending between one and four years studying the trade, many will look at the current job market and feel that through financial necessity they would be better off offering their skills elsewhere. Whilst this is practical and understandable it needn’t halt a graduate’s pursuit of a career in journalism.

Two years ago, I and my postgraduate class at Edinburgh Napier University were in exactly the same position as this year’s graduates. One or two went to work abroad on titles; some took up apprenticeships at local and national papers, whilst others are now making their fortunes freelancing in London.

All in all, myself included, most of the class who wanted to work in journalism are now doing so, full-time. But they didn’t get there by accident. Many of us, like thousands of other graduates, took the best paying job we could get our hands on, no matter what it was.

All of us who then ended up as full-time journalists only did so because we lived by the motto ‘Publish or Perish’ through this period of alternative employment. Anyone who’d take writing of any kind from us generally got it and normally for peanuts. Luckily for most of the class, this persistence eventually paid off.

From my first day at Napier, we were encouraged to make as big a nuisance of ourselves as possible with the nation’s editors in an attempt to collect the all-important portfolio of clippings and contacts. Websites, radio stations, freesheets, broadsheets, tabloids, press agencies, television networks, magazines; it doesn’t take much to pick up the phone or send off an email to see if they’re interested in inexpensive (free) fresh blood. Some say no, some will simply ignore you; many, however, will survive solely off the good will of those willing to work for nothing. Nobody who tried hard enough failed to find someone in the industry willing to give them a break.

I remember early on in my postgrad speaking to Darren Scott, the then editor of the university paper, Veritas. Despite a massive number of students participating in degrees relevant to the written press at Napier, he was quick to point out that the number who actively contributed was horrendously limited and that the paper was put together largely by himself and a keen handful of others. His hard work paid off though, as he’s now the deputy editor of Gay Times.

As editor of a national freesheet aimed at the youth market, I’d expected plenty of student’s interested in writing for free in an effort to bolster their CV. Surprisingly, this hasn’t been the case.

I would be worried, but after speaking to colleagues on more established papers and magazines, many seem to be suffering from the same dearth of interest. If I learnt anything from my postgrad it’s that ‘Publish or Perish’ is the only motto to live by. If I’ve learnt anything from the actual world of journalism itself it’s that there is space out there for fresh young talent to flourish and that if you find the time to write round another job and aim high, someday someone will take a chance on you.

Chris Hammond is editor of Scotcampus, Scotland’s largest freesheet aimed at the student and youth market.