Journalists to get an Apprentice-style makeover – without the perks

I’m popping back – between marking assignments and exam papers – to rant about this now advertised on telly:

“ITV is set to broadcast a seven-part series in the second half of 2012 featuring aspiring journalists vying for a 12-month contract at Bauer Media’s magazine portfolio, which includes Heat, FHM, Closer, More! and Empire” (Media Week).

Yes, journalism now has its own Apprentice-style competition – ‘cept our six young workers aren’t likely to get a six figure salary or a day in a spa courtesy of Alan Sugar – in fact, they’re not even getting a job but a “12-month journalism contract”.

It looks like they’ll be in the losers’ greasy spoon because a short-term contract means they is unlikely to mean they are able to afford Apprentice-style living.

Even when journalists are asked to commit to such a money-making process they’re treated with contempt.

What makes the competition all the more sinister is research from Press Gazette published in May revealing that at least 242 local newspaper closed between 2005 and the end of 2011.

Now, instead of being trained on a weekly newspaper as has been tradition, Media Week explains: “The cameras will follow the trainee journalists as they hone their skills and are coached and mentored in interviewing, organising photo shoots and connecting with their readers.”

This used to be what real trainee journalists did, on the job, while paid without having to compete with other journalists for a job at the end – no doubt on all those newspapers which have closed.

The Drum quotes Abby Carvosso, managing director of Lifestyle & Advertising at Bauer Media, saying: “We’re on the hunt for a gutsy, fearless and talented individual who stands out from the crowd and we’re sure it will be a great watch!”

Since when has being “a good watch” been an essential skill for print journalists. I mean, whatever happened to the phrase “a face for radio and a voice for print?”

Competing on television is no way to start a journalism job: imagine a death-knock where they’re grieving and trying to place your face; a court appearance where the photographers outside recognise you so take a few snaps; conducting any serious interview where your ability to get people to talk is more important than your ability to get into some posh nightclub for free; or being asked for your autograph at the police station.

Bauer Media had a run-in around “journalism contracts” with the National Union of Journalists back in 2010 when there were protest against new contracts which they claimed removed copyright from contributors, as reported by journalism.co.uk. It was reported at the time as ” a rights grab’ against freelance writers and photographers at Kerrang!, Mojo and Q magazines has been condemned by the NUJ as ‘vicious, venomous and vindictive’. The music division of  publishers Bauer Media is seeking to impose ‘all rights’ contracts on freelance contributors, and also to make them responsible for damages and costs in cases of legal action against the magazines.”

Now, as hundreds of newspapers face closure, making a genuine break into the industry much more difficult, Press Gazette reminds us of journalist Susy Macaulay who launched a new monthly newspaper for the Outer Hebrides called Island News and Advertiser in March. She says: “I would encourage any journalist out there who sees a gap in their local areas to give it a go. It can be done on a shoestring and your community will soon get behind you if you do it right.”

This is the right attitude to journalism. I’ve written my fair share of “my husband left me for the neighbour’s babysitters’ best friends’ cousin so I married my cat” and think it’s a form of entertainment – but I also want aspiring journalists to aspire to journalism.

It is also the sort of journalism produced by Manchester Mule, Salford Star, Stoke’s Pits ‘n’ Pots among others nationwide.

My own contracts will come to an end soon. I’ve no idea as yet whether more are to come. I hope so. The thought of going back in the dole makes me want to hide in Chaplin’s cardboard box with him. I’ve not forgotten counting my pennies and drinking tea to avoid hunger pangs – or, worse still, not having money for tea bags!

Watching young journalists being exploited in this way while I’m skint, stuck on the settee with Chaplin would be more than I could stand.

Update: Chaplin is doing well and currently sitting in the sun with what appears to be a grin on his face. I’m set to be skint this month, I think, as contracts haven’t materialised. I’ve lots of food in – but have run out of Harry Ramsden’s Mushy Peas. Onwards and upwards.

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4 thoughts on “Journalists to get an Apprentice-style makeover – without the perks

  1. Of course they won’t be young journalists but ‘aspiring’ journalists ie wannabes – they won’t be interested in death knocks, or reporting on dodgy local councillors or any of the other things that made up the kind of basic training young people used to have to undergo on weekly papers as they learned their trade. These days being a magazine journalist is often little more than speculating about celebrities, writing about handbags and rehashing press releases.
    And young journalists today have to be multi-talented – they have to be the voice, the face, the blog, the photographer, the reporter, the website content/ podcast/ video provider….

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