The first thing you'll write is a cheque

Journalism students are paying thousands to join an overcrowded jobs market. What happened to the good old apprenticeship? By Roger Dobson
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The Independent Online
Chequebook journalism is back. An increasing number of young people are having to pay to try and get into an industry that once trained most of its intake through indenture schemes. And the fees can be steep: a 15-week course at the Editorial Training Centre in Hastings, which was run until 18 months ago by Westminster Press, will cost pounds 3,700, with the carrot of pounds 1,000 back on the final day if all goes well. Trinity International, Britain's largest publisher of regional newspapers, offers a 16-week course at pounds 2,999 plus VAT.

These are two of many. According to the Newspaper Society, there are nearly 30 colleges, from Lanarkshire to Southend, accredited or part- accredited for training courses, as well as company in-house schemes, and four centres offering first degree courses.

Even that number of places does not satisfy demand. The University of Wales, Cardiff, regarded as one of the premier journalist training centres (pounds 3,300 for a full year-long course), has more than a thousand applications for fewer than a hundred places.

So much for the courses. What about the jobs at the end? "We have around 13,000 inquiries of all kinds about journalism each year and there are probably only 300 to 400 jobs going a year in the regional press," says Richard Beamish, the Newspaper Society's head of training. He sees one of the solutions to the problem in a new modern apprenticeship scheme, which currently has around 90 trainees on its programme.

Bernie Corbett, National Union of Journalists training officer, says the whole area of journalistic training is a muddle. "There are too many training places and there doesn't seem to be any umbrella control over it. The education industry is turning out thousands of perfectly good journalist students with qualifications regardless of the fact that there is only a fraction of that number of jobs available."

Few newspaper companies offer in-house training schemes for their own intakes. Trinity is the biggest provider, and also sells places to young people on its twice-a-year courses.

"We have an excellent record of finding employment for them. I believe we offer the best training in the country, second to none," says Tony Johnston, training manager. "Although we cannot guarantee jobs, we are obviously keen to ensure that the people we take on have a good chance of getting jobs. We monitor progress on the course very closely."

Many of the graduates going on the courses get career loans or bank loans to pay their way through the courses.

Anne Scott, course administrator for the Editorial Training Centre said, "A number of people take out career development loans. We run a 15-week course, three times a year, and charge pounds 3,700. We train journalists for several companies. We also have a number of people paying for themselves on each course - eight is the maximum we have had. If they pass everything on the course we given them a pounds 1,000 bursary on the final day, as a kind of carrot to do well."

While many in-house schemes have been winding down, there has been an explosion in courses in the universities and colleges, where a huge range is now offered, all at a price. "It used to be straightforward. Young people are in a jungle of competing and contradictory accreditations and qualifications. There is the NCTJ certificate, NVQ, BA, MA, HND, BTEC, postgraduate certificates and diplomas, and employer's certificates," says Corbett.

Westminster University boasts one of the widest ranges. It has MAs in journalism and in photography, as well as postgraduate diplomas in both periodical and broadcast journalism. But perhaps its most unusual venture gets off the ground this September - a one-year MA course in international journalism, which is likely to appeal to international students with considerable financial resources. The cost: pounds 6,500n