How do you get into broadcast journalism?

is head of the BBC College of Journalism

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You suspect you're heading towards the end of your career when you're asked to advise others on how to start theirs.

This week I was a member of a panel taking part in a live Q&A on the Guardian Careers website entitled 'Routes into Broadcast Journalism'. There was a wide range of questions and you can follow the whole discussion here.

Many people just wanted some tips on how and where to get a first-hand look at what the job is really like. It's clearly getting harder and harder to find work experience, let alone a full-time job. 

The number of questions about internships suggests that some media organisations are taking advantage of the huge demand for any kind of on-the-job experience. For some aspiring journalists, 'work experience' just means working for no money.

What I found more striking, though, was the number of questions about university courses, postgraduate degrees and MAs. Many people are trying to break into journalism by amassing ever more, and ever more impressive, qualifications. And yet their questions betray a suspicion that this might not after all be the most effective approach. This one was typical: "How valuable/invaluable is a postgraduate qualification in broadcast journalism as a route to employment?"

The panel was divided in its responses. Some felt postgraduate qualifications are vital; others that different kinds of experience or specialist knowledge might be equally attractive to a potential employer. No-one went as far as former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie who in a recent newspaper article suggested that virtually all formal journalism training is a waste of time and the only worthwhile way to get in is at the grassroots, on local newspapers.

For those of us of a certain age, that was indeed the best, even the only, way in, and it produced generations of great reporters - among them Harold Evans, who wrote a memorable account of his early days on local and regional newspapers in his book My Paper Chase. But, for the majority of today's entrants, a university degree is the norm, and a postgraduate qualification very common.  

In a shrinking industry - regional newspapers in particular - there are too many candidates chasing too few jobs. It was distressing to hear of so many people who are clearly committed to a career in journalism and who simply cannot get their feet on a rung of the ladder.

The panel was sympathetic. In response to many questions, we were able to give practical help and advice. But, more broadly, we couldn't offer much beyond encouragement, and telling people that if they persevered they'd get there in the end.

As one contributor put it: "If you are the type of person who is going to be put off by people saying there's no hope of a career in broadcast news these days, then you probably don't have the determination and commitment needed."

Jonathan Baker is Head of the BBC College of Journalism.

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