Have I got news for you

Have I got news for you

Q. I graduated with a 2:1 in philosophy and English literature. I would like a career in journalism and have begun researching postgraduate courses. Which route - the vocational diploma or the MA - is better in the eyes of future employers? It is hard to get work experience without already having had some experience, and it is difficult to get that initial experience. Is there any way round this?

A. Journalism is a highly competitive field, whether or not you have a postgraduate qualification. There are journalists (like me) who began on local magazines with no formal training and worked their way up to writing for national newspapers. Then (more frequently these days) there are those who complete not just one degree, but two, especially if they want to work in radio or television.

To establish how useful a course is likely to be, check whether it is accredited by the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) or the National Union of Journalists (NUJ). Examine the tutors' experience in the field, links to relevant media organisations, potential placements and the fate of alumni.

Some Masters degrees consist mainly of theory. They give an insight into the practice of journalism and the media industry, but they don't offer professional training. According to the NCTJ, few people have ever said that having an MA helped them to get a job as a newspaper journalist.

If money is an issue, consider an accredited fast-track postgraduate programme, which lasts between 18 and 20 weeks and costs as little as £500.

Which university should you choose? The range is vast, from the Department of Journalism at the University of Central Lancashire, which has six Masters programmes, to City University, which has a Masters degree in international journalism.

If your aim is primarily to get a job, a PgDip is probably the best option. Central Lancashire's PgDip in newspaper journalism has an excellent employment record for its graduates: of 35 students last year, 32 landed jobs on newspapers and magazines.

There's no getting round the work experience issue: you have to do it. Start with your local newspaper, because you should know the area and may have story ideas. Try fanzines, web pages and community or workplace newsletters. Work experience is important, because it shows you are committed.

You need to learn how (politely) to pester editors. That will give you a good grounding in persistence and determination, skills that every journalist needs.

Match of the day

Q. I've got a good first degree from a well-known university and I'm academically minded. But there is only one thing I'd really like to study, and that's football. My friends say it's impossible to study football at Masters level, let alone PhD. Is this true?

A. Your friends are wrong. Ten years ago, when sports studies programmes kicked off, many regarded them as a bit of a joke. Their image has improved and many can now lead to a good career.

But it is a small market, so you need to research what's out there, and there's more choice if you study football as part of a general sports course. De Montfort University offers an International MA in management, law and humanities of sport (run jointly with universities in Italy and Switzerland), and an MA in sport history and culture.

If you want to focus solely on football, Liverpool University's management school has a football industries MBA, designed to help candidates into jobs in football. You'll need a 2:1 degree (in any discipline, but many have a law background) and usually a minimum of three years' work experience.

Birkbeck College, with its own Football Governance Research Centre, has an MSc in sport management and the business of football. It combines taught courses on the football business with training in management and business organisation. There are even studentships available from the Economic and Social Research Council for those who are combining a Masters and PhD.

With thanks to Gill Sharp and Nan Sherrard, careers consultants at Prospects