Media: Don't put your daughter into newspapers, Mrs Worthington

Four times as many young people are enrolled on media courses as can ever hope for a newspaper job, even on the margins of journalism. So if at first you don't succeed, says Polly Toynbee, try something else.

Recently a scary survey asked students what career they would most like to pursue. Half - yes a half of all British students - declared they would choose to be journalists if they could. Media, journalism and communications studies courses are booming - (many of doubtful value to would-be hacks, but that's another story.)

The National Union of Journalists reckons that there are about four times as many accepted to such courses, wanting to become journalists, as can possibly hope for a job, even on the remotest fringes of the industry. A quarter of its members are now freelances, often something akin to being a "resting" actor: the union reckons many of those have lost jobs or never found one, but want one. The Independent, no doubt like every other newspaper, is inundated with the dazzling CVs of bright, keen, gifted young people begging for a chance of unpaid work experience.

What is the charm that draws so many to this usually not very honourable trade? After all, in terms of public esteem, we are down there rightly among the debt-collectors and politicians at the bottom of the heap, with a dirty-raincoat, foot-in-the-door paparazzi reputation. The great boom in student interest in journalism began after Watergate, the irresistible glory of the Woodward and Bernstein story - when two humble local reporters on the Metro section of the Washington Post toppled the most powerful man in the world. Many young would-be hacks hope they too will be investigators, rooting out wrong-doing in high and low places, outing cash for questions or defence procurement scams, the scourge of all back-handers and back- sliders. Or maybe it's the serious mission to explain, to analyse and illuminate the great policy debates of the day. Of course there's the chance of a bit of minor stardom or maybe the sheer vicarious pleasure of being there where it's at when great events take place.

These days, answering letters or talking to young people wanting advice on how to get into national journalism, I'm afraid I give them a caustic lecture. Yes, by all means have a go, but if within a reasonable time you haven't found a bolt-hole in one of the few reputable newsrooms, give up. Do something else. The world is full of better occupations for bright brains than fetching up on most of the rags that call themselves newspapers. Do not imagine that starting on the Daily Grub or the Sunday Scum is a first rung on a ladder to something honourable. Unless you are exceptionally lucky, it is only a training in grubby and scummy journalism. What's more, for anyone with even a few ideals it will be humiliating and probably shameful. Unfortunately, many of the scarce and desperately sought-after training schemes are on the Scum or Grub. Your dreams of campaigning journalism and investigative crusades for truth and justice may get no further than snooping into the sex lives of the not-particularly-famous, or bending a story to the political flavour of the editor.

Talking to hopeful students, I have to admit, with some embarrassment, that I have been remarkably lucky. I only ever worked for the Observer, Guardian, BBC and Independent, so it's easy to sound sanctimonious and smug. But I listen to the tales of what beginners (and many much older) reporters have to tell of tabloid and some other news rooms and hope I wouldn't have been tempted, but I admit I was never tested.

Only the other day a journalist told me not of any great scandal, but just an example of day to day newsroom life on one rag. They'd been sent out to interview greengrocers near a football ground to find out if bananas had sold out, when it was rumoured fans were throwing bananas at black players. No, no one had sold any bananas. But the reporter was made to write the story anyhow. Newsroom tales of this sort are a dime a dozen. Get the story, don't come back til you've got it, and the story is what the news editor says it is. Every day stories are bent and twisted to suit proprietors' interests, or warped to the taste of editors: it becomes second nature and some journalists stop noticing they do it.

These things are rarely said on journalism courses, where tutors are desperate to get their students in anywhere, to prove their college has a good employment record. So they learn the Code of Conduct, study something called journalistic ethics and are encouraged into high-minded thoughts about their chosen "profession". Rude awakenings follow.

When I started out in journalism, we used to look down our noses at PR as a debased occupation compared with ours. I now think PR is a great deal more honest, reputable and productive than most of what passes for journalism, (except in all the non-Murdoch broadsheets).

I say to young hopefuls, think carefully exactly what it is you want to do in journalism. Don't do it if you can't find somewhere to work that reasonably matches up to your expectations. Of course many may have no particular ideals. Many may love the sheer wickedness and raciness of the game, never mind the content. Fair enough. But for the would-be Woodwards and Bernsteins, if you don't at first succeed, give up and do something worthwhile with your life. If you are clever enough to get a coveted place on the Daily Grub, you're good enough to do something better with your life. I know too many middle-aged journalists who sorely wish they'd done something else.

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Robyn Lawley
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Life and Style
lifeDon't get caught up on climaxing
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Arts and Entertainment
Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint)
newsBloomsbury unveils new covers for JK Rowling's wizarding series
scienceScientists try to explain the moon's funny shape
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
Arts and Entertainment
As Loki in The Avengers (2012)
filmRead Tom Hiddleston's email to Joss Whedon on prospect of playing Loki
voices In defence of the charcoal-furred feline, by Felicity Morse
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Accountant / Assistant Management Accountant

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: We are looking for an Assistant Management Ac...

Data Scientist

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A data analytics are currently looking t...

Insight Analyst Vacancy - Leading Marketing Agency

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency have won a fe...

Account Manager, London

£18000 - £22000 per annum, Benefits: Excellent Uncapped Commission Structure: ...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star