The Careers Adviser

Can I be a sports journalist without training? Is a degree really needed to make movies?
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The Independent Online

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Q. I really want to become a sports journalist. Sports form a huge part of my life. I am fascinated by facts and believe I have excellent writing skills. I believe I have what it takes. However I am in full-time work and am financially not in a position to give that up.

A. Barring an incredibly lucky break (a rare scoop perhaps) or a contact on a sports desk who might give you a footing on the first step of the career ladder, you will need training. Look at it from the point of view of the employer - why should they take you on, when the field is already full of ultra keen journalism graduates?

Start writing for anyone you can persuade to take copy (local papers, magazines, websites) to get some cuttings under your belt, and look around at the options. Distance-learning or fast-track short courses may contain an element of sports writing, but don't usually specialise. That's fine - you need basic training. You can specialise later.

Check the course options on the UK Press Gazette website ( www.pressgazette.co.uk). This also has a good rundown of ways you might be able to get funding - though don't expect it.

A Career Development Loan (CDL) - may be a possibility for you, so look for institutions that are registered to accept them - the number to check that on is 01928 794307.

Courses accredited by the National Council for the Training of Journalists ( www.nctj.com) or Periodical Training Council ( www.ppa.co.uk) are recognised by the industry and cover an agreed syllabus. If you really believe you have what it takes, it's worth hunting down a way you can achieve it.

Tempted by a jump cut

Q. I am doing a film degree at the University of Wales, Newport. I like it but am being told to start learning how to make coffee and tea, so that when I leave, I can get a job as a runner, if I'm lucky. For the same money, I could shoot my own film without having to answer to anyone. Is there any point in having a degree to get into the film industry?

A. What you learn at film school is valuable to you, it is not a passport to a job, because although the film industry workforce is highly qualified (46 per cent are graduates), people are generally expected to work their way up.

Getting to know how things work at the coalface is important. You find things out by watching others and gradually making yourself indispensable.

Right now you have invested in this course, which has a very good reputation. You have the chance to do something valuable that will be difficult or impossible later on - sample various film job roles to get the understanding vital to being a good director.

Why launch out on your own - where would you sell your product? And as for not having to answer to anyone - in film you will always, unless you are very, very good or extremely lucky, have to answer to a whole range of people - financiers, broadcasters, distributors or guarantors.

Answering to people is a skill you need. But why let one thing exclude another? Make films now, see if your tutors can enter you for festivals. Use any facilities available to you.

Make contacts - 81 per cent of people working in film production have said they found their last job through word of mouth.

And if you do get a runner's job - keep making films, and make the job work for you. If it doesn't, or if you feel that the position is exploitative, try for a different one. The ability to learn, to work well with others and to give and take instructions is key, along, of course, with having a passion for film.

Send your queries to Caroline Haydon at 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or e-mail to chaydon@blueyonder.co.uk

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