Here at Journalism.co.uk we recently ran a live Q&A for aspiring journalists, giving them the chance to ask editors and employers for advice on getting into the industry.

We dipped in and out of the Q&A to help where we could, but the experts offering advice were :
  • Alison Gow, editor, digital content innovation team, Trinity Mirror Regionals, and former editor of the Daily Post
  • Daniell Morrisey, head of talent, BBC Comedy, a career writer and recruitment expert
  • John Thompson, owner and managing director, Journalism.co.uk
Explore the MatterMap above to see the answers given for different questions, or the full text is laid out below under the headings: training or experience, getting a first job and changing career.

Training or experience

Are there any particular skills/steps to take to enrol into a trainee journalist scheme? I've done an internship at CNN recently and don't want to start another internship but it seems hard to get an entry level job. Marcela

Over the years, I’ve recruited into many trainee journalism schemes – we always wanted to see strong writing skills (in the application form initially and then tested if the applicant was invited to interview), and as much experience as possible, so internships, work experience, student magazines, student or hospital radio, blogging, personal websites – all of this shows ambition and gives us a picture of the individual’s writing ability and breadth. Daniell Morrisey

Get your portfolio right – lots of examples of your work on various platforms, showing you know as much about the audience for the title you apply to, goes a long way towards opening that initial interview door.Alison Gow, editor, digital content innovation team, Trinity Mirror
Having been lucky enough to bag a place on the Guardian's Scott Trust bursary scheme a few years ago, I think already having a strong portfolio (in print and online) helped me massively, as well as having a clear idea of the career path you want to follow. You need to show you're committed to journalism, so be prepared to answer a question on where you see yourself in the next 5 years. Abigail Edge

If it were me, I would go the extra mile on any requirements for a trainee journalist application and aim to get across how much I understand the target audience and that I am full of appropriate ideas. John Thompson

Most trainee scheme application forms will ask for an idea for a story for example, so showing you understand the readership/viewership/listenership is crucial. Daniell Morrisey

I also think Abigail is right, get your portfolio right - lots of examples of your work on various platforms, and showing you know as much about the audience for the title you apply to, goes a long way towards opening that initial interview door. Alison Gow

How feasible is non-traditional entry to journalism, e.g for non-journo degrees or higher (like PhD)?  Do all types of journalists need NCTJ? Or just newspaper print? What about magazine journos? Abraham Sebastian

You might perceive that there’s a “traditional” route into journalism, but rather like teaching, people come into from all sorts of routes – I know plenty of journalists, broadcasters, programme makers, who started life as a biologist, teacher, city trader – all sorts! Daniell Morrisey

There has been a massive proliferation of journalism courses over the past couple of decades but I believe "non-traditional" entries into the profession will continue to happen (as they always did). The NCTJ is mostly favoured by the local press so not a requirement at many other different types of news/features outlets. However, core skills such as shorthand and an understanding of media law will not hold you back. John Thompson

Hi Abraham, on a purely practical note, if you have a non-journalism degree - no matter how good - your new employer will have to put you through some sort of formal training and you will be on a lower salary until you complete that. It can take a couple of years. There are specialist courses for all sorts of journalism, and magazine journalism is one that I would say is worth pursuing if you want to go down that route. Otherwise, if you want to get into a newsroom and then decide what you want to do, a Journalism degree or the NCTJ (which is a shorter, cheaper course) is your route. Also worth looking at specialist courses such as PA training. Alison Gow

I’m always looking at experience rather than qualifications. It’s down to you to weigh-up the investment in time and cash for each option.Daniell Morrisey, head of talent, BBC Comedy
Many big broadcasters and newspapers no longer specify that they require a degree and there are lots of other avenues including apprenticeships, but others will specify a degree. As earlier, it’s difficult for us to recommend a degree or particular course because it’s such a personal choice, but the NCTJ/BJTC accredited courses do have that mark of quality. Always do lots of online research to see what others have said about any of the courses you’re interested in. Daniell Morrisey

Which do you feel is more advantageous - an MA in journalism or an NCTJ course? Steph Brawn

What first degree do you have? I am a little loathe to recommend you do either (and potentially saddle yourself with more debt) unless you really need to. NCTJ would definitely be more practical than an MA though, which will be more academic. John Thompson

MA or NCTJ? I assume you’re looking at the short boot-camp-style NCTJ courses as opposed to an MA which is typically a year part or full-time? I’m always looking at experience rather than qualifications. It’s down to you to weigh-up the investment in time and cash for each option. Whatever you do, try and surround your course experience with as much practical experience as you can get to build-up your portfolio / showreel. Daniell Morrisey

Ouch, that's a tough one. NCTJ is very practical and has immediate application in a newsroom - a reporter who comes in with that qualification is Known Quantity and it's a benchmark for many newsrooms. However, it can depend on the MA topic. There's no right decision imo - it really is what you feel will work for you. Alison Gow

Getting a first job

What's the best way to present your CV when you're a freelance journalist? If sticking to the 1 page (or 2 page max) CV format, how as a freelancer can you get across the width and breadth of your contributions, and everything else in a CV, without going over this page limit? RoseC

As an ex recruiter one of the key parts of your CV is the profile box. It needs to be punchy and really sell your skillset. When applying where possible edit your profile accordingly, so you can show the employer in ten or so bullet points you are the right person for the role. Alexander Heady

CV formats – always invokes such heated debate; but look there really is no right or wrong despite the hundreds of articles and books on the subject. I have no concerns if it’s one page or 10 as long as the most pertinent information is on page 1 and it’s easy to scan – do take a look through my guide here. Daniell Morrisey

Hi Rose, presumably in most cases you will be sending your CV by email. In which case, it would be easy to include some links in your covering letter to work published online, and/or PDFs of print published articles. John Thompson

Two pages is ideal (pdfs are the most common format) and a good covering letter gives you a 3d page if you're canny ;)  I would recommend that you supplement your CV with plenty of links to your online presence - your Twitter and LinkedIn profiles, (LinkedIn is particularly useful to show off your experience and examples of your work) your blog and, for example, your YouTube or SoundCloud channel so your experience is showcased that way instead of in paragraphs. These are things I always look for on CVs.  Alison Gow

Typically freelancers will list a series of key articles / regular features or columns, or if they are in broadcast the shows they work on, but include pertinent details such as breaking news or finding hard-to-find contributors. Daniell Morrisey

Would it be more beneficial to start at the local level or to start at a specialist magazine for the field you want to enter? Rian Hoskins

A year or two on a local paper first won't do you any harm though; it will teach you to be adaptable to different reporting circumstances.John Thompson, owner and managing director, Journalism.co.uk
From my perspective, I guess it depends on where you want to go in the future. If you're more interested in general news, I'd say a local newspaper is ideal, but if you have a niche you want to pursue, and can get onto a specialist magazine, it will help you hone your specialism from the start. Rachel Bartlett

The vast majority of both print and broadcast journalists start in local/regional press/radio/tv or on a specialist magazine. All typically give you the opportunity to get your hands dirty early on, writing material that will be printed or on air from a very early stage, building your portfolio and your craft. Daniell Morrisey

Hi Rian, if you have a particular specialism in mind, I would say go for the specialist magazine route. A year or two on a local paper first won't do you any harm though; it will teach you to be adaptable to different reporting circumstances. John Thompson

What field do you want to enter? There are many specialist websites that are probably easier to get experience in writing than there are magazines. The regional press is always going to give you a great grounding and it certainly gives you a good head start if you are interested in working for a national news title. But if you want to work for a music mag, for example, I think you'd be better getting plenty of examples of your work under your belt, and then going for that specialist field. Alison Gow

How can I get my local newspapers to notice my work? And how can I expand my blog to reach journalists? Aysha Bryant

Do your local newspapers have any online rivals - hyperlocal blogs etc? Write some good stories for them and you will be noticed. John Thompson

I started on the regional press and think it's a great way to get experience covering a range of subjects - from court reporting to politics and business, reviews and human interest stories. Specialist magazines are good if you know you want to follow a certain niche, but at the start of your career it might be better to keep your options open - you might discover you really love writing about a topic you'd never considered before. Abigail Edge

Social media is a great way to get an in with your local news brand, especially Twitter - you can talk to journalists direct, ping ideas, retweet etc. All this builds your social currency and their awareness of you.Alison Gow, editor, digital content innovation team, Trinity Mirror
When I was at school, I wrote to the editor of my local newspaper many times until he invited me in for a day. When I was a bit older, I asked if I could go again for work experience and went for another week. Then I started sending in ideas for stories and eventually I was invited to write a column. At the end of the day, it’s all about creativity, ideas and contacts, so approaching any editor with ideas that you think will appeal to their audience is going to get you noticed. Not just local newspapers and blogs by the way, do seek out local magazines, or magazines/newsletters/websites/blogs from local societies and clubs that interest you - it's all great experience, builds your profile, and hones your writing style. Daniell Morrisey

I'd also say social media is a great way to get an in with your local news brand, especially Twitter - you can talk to journalists direct, ping ideas, retweet etc. All this builds your social currency and their awareness of you. I know a teenage photographer who got a double page spread out of his paper simply by tweeting them a photo he'd taken of swans. He's now a regularly published (and paid) wildlife photographer. Also, try and get some work experience in the newsroom - you probably won't end up writing many stories initially but you'll get to know the staff, and understand how newsrooms work. Alison Gow

I got my first job on the local press as a result of writing a couple of stories about local news (connected to my college) in our student publication. I sent one of those stories to my local paper and it published it almost verbatim! John Thompson

I'm doing things the long way round. I've more than a decade of experience beginning in amateur matchday programmes in football back in 2003 through other voluntary vacancies to the point where I have now been the media officer of an event management company and the editor of a fanzine as well as my own site. However, I would like the qualification in order to progress into the paid ranks but funding the numerous courses is difficult for me. I had thought about sponsorship but to no avail. Any thoughts and guidance at all? Peter Mann

Hi Peter, it's worth looking at scholarships - the Guardian's Scott Trust bursary, which I got in 2008, is currently open for entries Journalism | Guardian Media Group PLC. However, it's worth noting that I also worked in a pub to help fund my studies (and it didn't do me any harm...) I used to practice my shorthand when it was quiet behind the bar. Abigail Edge

I was lucky enough to have a paper that paid for my qualifications. Most of the large news media firms offer trainee schemes or bursaries which would be worth investigating. Otherwise, like Abigail, I worked in a pub to fund a year of work experience. It was hard to juggle shifts and community council meetings though! Alison Gow

Hi there, I am an aspiring sports reporter with lots of experience but struggling to secure paid opportunities. Any advice on how I can increase my chances of gaining work? Tom_Gayle

Sports journalism is an incredibly competitive field; have you considered going for a more generic role first? It might be easier to specialise later in your career. John Thompson

All the sports journalists I’ve met or interviewed started off by offering coverage of local teams – frankly there’s too many smaller division sports for the media to cover, so being able to offer your services is such a great way in. A young journalist I worked with did this – he offered to send in reports on a local football team, first to his local newspaper and radio station; this went well, and he offered the same to a major national station which picked him up as well; he persevered and is now a national reporter. Daniell Morrisey

Are you getting interviews and not succeeding Tom? If so, definitely get feedback as to why you were unsuccessful, and what, specifically, they were looking for. Use that to build on your next step It is a such a difficult field to break into - there are a lot of hopeful sports journos out there banging on doors - but it would help if you can demonstrate something a bit extra - a great social media presence, for example. But I think John is right - it's easier to move across the newsroom into the sports department than go directly in. Alison Gow

Changing career

I have been a PR executive for 2 years. What would be the best way to make a shift from PR to journalism? Reltal

I did a journalism postgraduate diploma at City University and there was a girl on my course who was previously working in PR. She's now sub at Mail Online. So I don't think you can make a direct transition without doing extra training, but already having strong writing skills and the ability to meet deadlines will definitely be a benefit. Abigail Edge

Hi, presumably you've made some good journalist contacts as part of your job? Might be worth offering to buy a couple of them coffee/tea to pick their brains. If you haven't got any formal journalism training, you might have to be prepared to pay for study, take a salary cut, do some unpaid work experience etc. No easy answers I'm afraid. John Thompson

Try and get some work experience for a week in the newsroom and make some friends on the news desk – ask them what opportunities might be coming up, and what they would be looking for.Alison Gow, editor, digital content innovation team, Trinity Mirror
I know (and work with) a good number of PRs who have made the shift into newsrooms thanks to the proliferation of new roles emerging through digital - such as social media writer, or content producers.  But if you're interested in becoming a news reporter, you need to do a skills check; have you got qualifications in journalism law, for example, or shorthand? And will you need them for the role you ideally want? If you want to cover court for a news brand – on whatever platform – I'd say you need those skills. Aside from that, try and get some work experience for a week in the newsroom and make some friends on the news desk – ask them what opportunities might be coming up, and what they would be looking for. Alison Gow

I have met a lot of journalists who have moved into PR and vice-versa – it’s really the same as before – building as much experience as possible, can you start off suggesting a piece for a PR magazine, or just target magazines, papers, etc with ideas that you’re interested in and think you can write. It’s all about building a portfolio that you can show a prospective employee. With a sideways-move, you will need to consider your salary and might need what feels like a step-down to begin with. Daniell Morrisey

I'm an editor for an in-house B2B magazine. Any tips on transitioning into mainstream/B2C? Camcomments

I would say you're well positioned for a move into mainstream media - in your role you probably have operational, managerial and strategic experience and so assuming you have a portfolio that underlines that, you should be good to go. Alison Gow

Does the content of your B2B magazine have wider appeal – can you find an angle that would appeal to a consumer magazine or newspaper? If so, then you’re the expert – write to editors of mags that you think would be interested and pitch the idea. You probably need to check your employer is okay with you writing elsewhere. Daniell Morrisey

How do you think the industry will change and how can aspiring journos prepare themselves? Lisa Williams

Increasingly newspaper websites have rich content including video, audio and YouTube channels, so increasing your multi-platform skills is a must and being across development is essential. As a broadcast journalist for example, you will be responsible for audio and visual media, as well as writing for websites, blogs, you’ll be expected to tweet and you’re likely to be designing the graphics. Daniell Morrisey

The industry is undergoing a massive shift and knowing how that is impacting on the particular type of journalism you are interested in is a key strength.Alison Gow, editor, digital content innovation team, Trinity Mirror
Be as agile as possible; be as comfortable producing news/features for audio and video as for print. Be active and responsive on key social media channels. Be always prepared to learn new ways of doing your job. Keep an open mind. Watch out for the next big thing. John Thompson

The industry is undergoing a massive shift and knowing how that is impacting on the particular type of journalism you are interested in is a key strength. Newspapers are pouring resources into their websites now, for example, and so going to an interview and talking enthusiastically about your longing to be published in print (this happens A LOT!) is going to do you no favours.

Prepare by being digitally confident and adept. Be an engaged user of social media with good understanding of how the different platforms work, and demonstrate that you can market yourself and your work that way. Have great mobile journalism skills (there are many short courses available) and be prepared to show them off at your interview on a tablet or phone. Ability to make your own interactives and data viz. Alison Gow

Do you think a journalist would jeopardise his/her career if he/she starts working as PR? Would it be an ethics problem? Is there a way to maintain both editorial and PR careers or is it necessary to choose one of them? Jacklyn

Many journalists work in PR too – writing copy and telling astory are key skills to both roles. But PR isn’t journalism, it is a form of sales and writing to a client’s brief. Daniell Morrisey

Not sure I follow - do you want to do them at the same time? I know a few reporters who also do the PR for their local grass-roots sports club but, for example, shifting for the local paper and the council as a freelancer is going to get your work and impartiality called into question. Alison Gow
Finding formal work experience is often as competitive as applying for a job, so making your own through blogging, your own website, YouTube etc is a great substitute or additionDaniell Morrisey, head of talent, BBC Comedy


Transparency would be key here: if you were writing journalism stories about your PR clients, for example, then that would be a clear conflict of interest. John Thompson

As an aspiring journalist, is having a blog obligatory, or are there other contributor-powered sites that you can write for instead? Camcomments

Nothing is obligatory but the more (good) published material you have in your portfolio, the more attractive you will be to potential employers. John Thompson

No right-or-wrong here, a blog isn’t obligatory, it’s just one of the many things you can do to demonstrate and develop your writing. Finding formal work experience is often as competitive as applying for a job, so making your own through blogging, your own website, YouTube etc is a great substitute/addition. Daniell Morrisey

Here are a couple of sites we have reported on previously, which you might be interested in: Jurnid and Glipho. Rachel Bartlett

What would you suggest for someone looking to change from working in the political bubble to reporting on it but without the money to spend on a post grad course? Is it frowned upon to offer tea-making services in return for a short spell of evening or weekend work experience? SophieC

I think you would be better off making more of a proposition of your political knowledge than your tea-making abilities. We would never expect interns here to make the tea (although offers of tea would never be turned down!). But, yes, some short internships if you can get them should help. Be strategic about where you do them and make sure you impress while you are there (for the right reasons). John Thompson

If you are currently on the hunt for your first journalist job, here are some tips on the digital skills and awareness which may be expected of you, on top of your journalistic ability. Rachel Bartlett

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