Age in journalism: why it matters, why it doesn’t

Unless you are Buddha, or aspiring to become one, it is almost impossible not to be affected by news that a former classmate, who did the same journalism course as you, has landed a job….

Every classmate who finds work and leaves the boat behind – the boat of miserable unemployed whingers – triggers mixed feelings of joy and sorrow. Why him? Why her? Why not me?

I never expected the perfect job to fall from the skies, but I wasn’t prepared for 10 months of doom and gloom either. The more time elapses after graduation, the harder it is to keep the motivation up to even continue looking.

Laura Oliver, senior reporter at, says in a blog for journalism graduates in the Guardian Careers site this week:

“[A] recent graduate told me that only three of his coursemates from a year of 75 had jobs lined up – two of them in PR.”

This doesn’t surprise me. Out of 23 classmates in my fast-track course, I reckon four to five people (approx.20%) found employment during or shortly after the course, one in PR. That was last year. I guesstimate their average success rate for journalism jobs now at two to three  students each term, and not always working as reporters or subs.  

Warped Reality
For the school, even one journalism student with a job is worth two in the (unemployment) bush. Because it makes excellent PR, you will hear those success stories being trumpeted again and again by your tutors, along with any news on NCTJ student awards and nominations.

No one will give you an update on how the remaining 20-odd jobless graduates  are making ends meet.

When you are unemployed, skint, with a stash of unpaid bills piling up on the kitchen table, facing the dreary early evenings as winter sets in, those two or three annoucements feel like a dagger to the heart.

You know what I mean. Even though it was one or two in a class of 25, it still sounds as if everyone else in the world – but you – has got a job and is living happily ever after. Your mind plays tricks on your perception of reality, making things look bigger than they are. 

Don’t believe the trickster. The truth is the majority of journalism graduates are not managing to get their foot in the door.

A youth-friendly path
I think we all agree journalism is elitist and those with private education and financial means to do a few months’ work placements in Fleet Street end up having the edge over the rest of us, working class paupers. 

So who is getting the jobs? The Oxbridge graduates? The ones with flats in London who did internships at the BBC and the Guardian? The WASPs? The ones with the right accent? The younger ones?

Certainly the younger ones.

In a way, being young and fancy-free is an advantage. If you haven’t got a mortgage, or a partner/children to take into account, you could move from Brighton to Manchester, if necessary, for a first job. You could live on lower wages, just because it hasn’t been long since you left school, and you still have those “shoestring budget” survival skills. Overall, a younger person has fewer restrictions to tie them down.

Too old to be a journalist?!
For mature students like myself, who have already been working for a good many years, built up a career in a different field, achieved a certain level of income and social status, going round knocking on journalistic doors for a first job, with wages that may not even cover your rent, is a much tougher call. We have neither the time nor the recklessness of youth on our side.

I am not using age as an excuse for my status, nor do I regret my mid-life choice to pursue journalism over a cushy jet-setting managerial job in publishing until retirement. At 22, I would not have been as ready and determined as I am now.

Never a right time
Former accountant Nigel Barlow decided to move into journalism at the age of 42. Last June he wrote in

“For me it’s the right time to become a journalist.” 

I agree. It is not about whether there is a recession or not. It is about being the right time for you. In your life, was this the right moment? And if your decision came from the heart, the answer will most likely be yes. You can read Nigel’s full article here.

Waiting for…Darcy
Back in the boat, like in a circle of spinster friends, where everyone dreads being the last to marry, we all long to catch that bride’s bouquet and turn luck to our side. 

With trepidation I too await my Darcy equivalent of a job. When I find him, my schadenfreude says he might just be a little bit richer and better-looking than my classmate’s catch.

…If you are an older journalism graduate, please share your thoughts on this with us by leaving a comment below.   

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4 responses to “Age in journalism: why it matters, why it doesn’t

  1. Lunarsynthesis

    I think that while employers can brush off giving someone in their early 20s a crap salary (“they’re young, they’re inexperienced, who cares if they have to scrape by on £12k”), it’s not so easy to do to a more seasoned professional.

    I reckon employers might feel sheepish about subjecting an older candidate (who, in their previous career path will have experienced much better pay and conditions) to the frankly shoddy starting salaries and mind-numbingly dull admin involved in many first steps on the editorial ladder.

    There’s another issue here, too: in my experience, some publishing houses have very stagnant career progression. Your choice is either look for another job, wait for someone to retire, or remain an Editorial Assistant for years and years. As a result, I suspect they don’t necessarily hire high-flyers with a great deal of promise. They don’t have a career ladder to support this kind of talent, and they don’t want a new Editorial Assistant every year. Isn’t it easier to hire someone younger, more naive, less ambitious, more willing to stick to stay? Cynical, and of course it doesn’t happen everywhere, but I’ve noticed it a fair bit.


    • Good point. From my experience working in publishing for many years though, entry level positions usually go to people who are fairly ambitious and skilled. Some very young (read that as ‘lacking maturity’) people try to run before they can walk, and that can be a problem too.

      But you’re right about the salary issue. There is a tendency to think it’s ok to let younger candidates scrape on on absurdly low wages whereas an older person might not stay long on that kind of money.

      The problem is employers tend to pigeonhole people and make assumptions acc to background, age, schooling, etc to suit their convenience. Very few take risks with whatever talent may lie hidden beyond what’s obvious on the CV, and if your schooling or career history is based overseas, God help you. 😉 It took me EIGHT years to get my first job at a UK publisher because I am not a native UK person, etc.

      Still there are some big pluses about employing a foreign, old(er) and cynical person (he he). Maybe what we need is some positive discrimination scheme to balance out the age groups? Or would that be too in-your-face, like a priority seat on public transport? lol


  2. The other issue right now is that there are ever increasing numbers of experienced journos losing their jobs on a daily basis. Jobs that would previously have been fought over by new graduates are probably now attracting applications from established journos desperate to get back into work.


    • You are absolutely right there, Laurence. But even excluding those laid-off veteran journos, I still feel being younger somehow gives you an edge when it comes to a first job. I do want to be proved wrong though. 🙂


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