A good job in journalism is a licence for nosiness, a soapbox on which to perorate and a backstage pass to the live performance of history. It can make the blood boil and the mind race and the days pass in an arrhythmic heartbeat. A bad job in journalism is like a bad job anywhere.
Still, we must look like we’re having fun — almost every week I receive an email from some poor sap wanting to know how to break into the business. I tell them: starting a career in journalism has always been a crap shoot, and becoming successful is like finding Wonka’s golden ticket. There are, however, ways to up your chances.
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Nicholas Tomalin — the wonderful, bombastic Sunday Times writer who died in 1973 reporting from the Golan Heights — thought he knew the answer. In 1969, a happier time for the industry, he began a piece in this magazine by asserting: “The only qualities essential for real success in journalism are rat-like cunning, a plausible manner and a little literary ability.” But if Tomalin were commissioned now, he would strike out that famous gambit and start again.
Today, you’ll need luck, flair, an alternative source of income, endless patience, an optimistic disposition, sharp elbows and a place to stay in London. But the essential quality for success now is surely tenacity. Look around the thinning newsrooms of the national titles. Look at the number of applicants for journalism courses, at the queue of graduates — qualified in everything except the only thing that matters, experience — who are desperate for unpaid work on newspapers and magazines. Look at the 1,200 people who applied in September for one reporter’s position on the new Sunday Times website. You’d shoot a horse with those odds.
Read More: By Ed Caesar, Times Online