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28 February 2014

The Hunger for News

The hunger. You either have it, or you don't - and it's the defining characteristic, in my 20 years of training broadcast journalists, of those who are going to succeed.

I can guarantee that ahead of other important factors such as work ethic, determination, voice and craft skills the first trainee from each class to be employed will be the one who really needs their fix of news, has a yearning to find out more and gets a buzz from doing so. Certainly the degree classification doesn't come into it.

I was reminded of the fact listening to Nicola Furbisher give her talk on the final day of Leeds Trinity's Journalism Week. Some of those in the theatre felt the hunger too, you could see it shining in their eyes. Her words were food and drink to them. They might just make it. Others were detached, heads-down. They still have time to learn. Some weren't there at all, preferring an extra hour in bed before coming in mid-morning to be entertained by the day's star name off the telly. They'd be well advised to start researching careers in retail right now.

I'm also bemused by the number of young people who apply for Journalism degrees without any discernible interest in journalism at all.

I'm told, by a reliable 19 year old source, that the word on social media right now is that undergrads shouldn't sign up for my second and third year radio modules at Leeds Trinity 'because they're hard'. Good. If that's your attitude, the radio industry doesn't want to know you.

The more positive message I get, the kind of text I love getting from editors, is when those who choose the hard way are doing alright. I got a couple of texts recently. Some of my second years have been demonstrating their hunger on placement, and I have every confidence that they will do well in radio news.

The finalists who cancel their social plans for a chance to take part in a BBC workshop at zero notice, or to meet and greet a politician, should also impress at interview. I've just been asked to put candidates forward for a fantastic radio newsroom opportunity in the spring, and the hungry ones are top of my list.

The Broadcast Journalism Training Council currently has about 3,500 students enrolled on accredited courses. Thousands more take the NCTJ's professional exams each year.

The last time I heard there were about 5,000 people working in broadcast newsrooms in the UK. Failing mass resignations overnight (and I believe 'churn' runs at around 10%-15% a year, including movements within the industry as well as new starters, maternity cover and retirements) what are all these students going to do when they graduate?

Fair enough, journalism skills are transferable. Anyone with a grasp of the basics should be able to survive in a public facing role in 'communications' - both traditional PR and the whole nebulous new world of social media management. But I'm not seeing huge numbers of people gainfully employed in such new roles; watching Twitter tends to be a job tacked on to something else. The actual, real job successes I've seen in the past 12 months have been in traditional newsrooms. My postgrads from last year are currently employed in radio, TV and hybrid radio/online production jobs. There are few openings, however, and competition is intense.

So my message is this: if you want to do journalism, you can't imagine any other career and you're prepared to work at arcane skills such as shorthand, tackle tough subjects like law and public affairs, if you're willing to detach yourself from an umbilical link to the internet and spend long, cold hours in the rain out in Bradford or Seacroft or somewhere equally glamorous, then come and see me.

If you want to faff about for three years, then for everyone's sake please choose something else.

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