Finding your first job as a freelance journalist

Following on from 'So you want to be a journalist?' and 'How to place your story with the right publication, Part 3 of Dan Synge's tips for journalists from his new book, The Survival Guide to Journalism, looks at how to find your first job:

There are no hard and fast rules to finding a job in journalism, but the most common ways of entering the industry include the following:

1 Work experience

If you are prepared to work hard without remuneration for weeks, or possibly months, finding a work placement is an invaluable hands-on experience which in some cases can lead to that vital first job offer.

It is advisable to choose a publication that interests you sufficiently for you to offer your services for free, and the right choice of publication can set you up with a lifetime of contacts.

Whether you are with a small local paper or popular consumer monthly, be sure you make yourself useful during your stay. That means picking up phones and offering to do the photocopying, as well as helping reporters with their research and, if you’re really lucky, writing short pieces.

Editors remember people who can be trusted to do a job and when a junior vacancy comes up, the bright and willing work experience person is often highest on the list of candidates.

Remember, the smaller the publication you work for, the more responsibility you’ll have, so don’t turn your nose up at start-ups or low circulation titles.

If you can’t find suitable work experience in the UK, try an overseas English language publication. There are hundreds of high-circulation titles all over the world aimed at working ex-pats, holidaymakers and property owners.


2 Applying for an editorial vacancy

By replying to a job advertisement, the candidate is claiming to have the required skills and experience to match the post. For anyone starting out in the profession, the formal application approach can therefore be a thankless task with the odds seemingly stacked against them.

This is where your self-promotional skills really come into play and much thought should go into your covering letter and accompanying CV.

List any experience or published pieces that may support your application and stress why, with clear evidence, you are the person to take on that position. If you have very little experience to offer, show that you are willing to learn and are prepared to take the publication further forward.

Editors naturally respond to people with ambition and ideas beyond what goes on the page. Show that you are the kind of person that they will enjoy working with and try to persuade them that they will benefit from your long-term input.

Jobs in journalism are advertised in publications like the Guardian (Monday’s media section), the weekly Press Gazette or websites such as


3 Bursaries, scholarships and in-house training schemes

Several leading news organizations including the Guardian, The Times and Trinity Mirror (publishers of the Daily Mirror and the Daily Record) offer in-house, on-the-job training. Places are limited, and due to high levels of competition the application process is tough.

Elsewhere there are bursaries offered by the Scott Trust to study postgraduate diplomas in newspaper and online journalism.


4 Starting your own publication

This option can be extremely risky, especially at a time when advertisers are ruthlessly cutting back on their budgets.

But if you have an original and sustainable publishing idea (i.e. with aready-made audience of readers), plus enough financial backing to take care of production costs, there is no reason to hold back.

There are dozens of independent publishing success stories to draw inspiration from and the most viable businesses end up being bought up by larger publishing groups, at great financial benefit to their creators.

Before starting any publication, make sure you have done enough market research. Ask yourself: ‘Are there enough readers out there interested in this?’ and ‘Will they buy this regularly?’ ‘What will they want to read inside the publication?’ or ‘What kind of advertising and how much of it will I be able to attract?’

If you can find thousands of readers, guaranteed financial backing and committed advertisers you at least have a start. Now all you have to do is produce content – words, photographs, illustrations, design etc. If you can’t do it yourself you will need to employ quality professionals to do it for you. Believe me, it is a big step, but that didn’t put off the original editors of Wallpaper*, Playboy, Private Eye or The Face.

The Survival Guide to Journalism by Dan Synge is out now published by Open University Press priced £14.99 ©  2010


18th November 2010

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