Visit To The Guardian – Guest Post

If you’ve got any ambitions to work as a journalist in the world of newspapers, this one’s for you. My colleague, Louise Sethi, recently visited the offices of the Guardian and Observer – here’s the inside information she gleaned about the changing face of journalism:

Newspapers – “read all about it!”, but for how long?
by Louise Sethi

For me, nothing beats Sunday mornings in bed with the papers and a mug of tea. It’s pure bliss. But, last week when I visited the Guardian and Observer newspapers, I left with a sense that one day newspapers will be a thing of the past. Perhaps not in the next ten years, thank goodness, but after that who knows?

Newspaper sales, or ‘circulation’, continue to fall and this, combined with reduced advertising revenue caused by the recession, is putting newspapers under huge pressure. While, the Guardian and Observer websites attract millions of readers, making money from them isn’t easy. Johnston Press announced this week that it will start charging for some its online content.  Rupert Murdoch’s news corporation has been considering doing this for some time and has proposed putting ‘paywalls’ round sections of its websites.

However, those I heard from at the Guardian and Observer didn’t think this was the answer; they believe people like you and me will simply look elsewhere for their news. I learned that newspapers are currently without a viable business model and are searching for one to secure their future.

From print to podcast

This is nevertheless an exciting time for journalism. I was fascinated by the Guardian and Observer’s new integrated approach to news gathering. Their journalists now write both for the web and the newspaper.  Many also produce podcasts using state of the art audio-visual equipment in the papers’ own studios. All this means that the term ‘print journalist’ is now meaningless.

I was told that anyone asking about work experience, or applying for a job, should avoid this term or risk looking stuck in the last century. The key to success is content that’s tailored to the medium; for the web, this means the inclusion of key words that will be picked up by a search engine. What hasn’t changed is that content needs to be interesting, relevant and well written, or it won’t be read.

The rise of social media

Blogs and twitter mean that anyone can report and respond to online information. This has led to the ‘mutualisation of news’ and means journalists can enhance their own stories by encouraging contributions and feedback from their readers. Through this readers are involved in the development and shaping of news.

It’s also possible to use social networking sites to flag up a story in advance of publication.  Blogs can be useful sources of research but, as the information isn’t always easy to verify, caveats are a must.

A groundbreaking development is the use of twitter by The Guardian’s editor, Alan Rusbridger, in response to an injunction preventing the media from reporting a parliamentary question relating to Trafigura and the dumping of toxic waste.  Rusbridger’s account of this – The Trafigura fiasco tears up the textbook – is  worth reading.

For anyone interested in being a journalist, it’s helpful to know that news journalists tend to be staff members of the Guardian and Observer, while those contributing to the non-news sections of the newspapers are more likely to be freelance.

Getting started

If you want to know more about becoming a journalist take a look at our starting point sheet on journalism and broadcasting.  You can also register for our Media Club.

The important thing is to get work experience, check out postgraduate courses in journalism and get writing! Write for blogs (or why not start up your own?), get involved in student newspapers and radio (Student Direct, Fuse FM etc.) – anything you can. And, this is crucial, keep up to date with how the media is developing.

Reading the Guardian media section in the Monday edition of the paper (or online) will certainly help as will reading the business and media news in the Observer. At the moment, one of the most interesting stories of our time has to be the media itself.