Friday, 9 November 2007

Pay, local rags, and trade mags

David Montgomery may have been wrong about the value of subs, but he was quite right when he said journalists in the regional press are grossly underpaid.

Speaking at a German embassy reception for journalists on the George Weidenfeld Anglo German exchange programme, he said wages on the UK’s local papers were appalling.

The evidence is clear. As an example, compare trainee journalists on regional papers with their compatriots on trade magazines.

On newspapers, trainees routinely start at around £15,000, and toil for a minimum of 18 months before taking their NCTJ National Certificate Examinations. If they pass - and only 50 or 60 per cent do, first time around - they get about £18,000.

On magazines, new recruits simply take a pre-entry course that can be as short as nine weeks. In their first job they can expect to be paid between £18,000 and £21,000. It could be more. They don’t have to take any further exams, as newspaper journalists do, and they aren’t classed as juniors for 18 months, as they would be on a local rag

So, which is the more attractive route into journalism? As the Americans might say: You do the math.

It would be understandable if the trade press entry route were the preferred choice of the most talented and ambitious young journalists. Trade press reporters are becoming increasingly successfully in climbing the greasy pole to what used to be called Fleet Street.

True, few young journalists – in mags or local papers – are motivated primarily by money. Just as well.

Those I meet who are on newspapers aren’t interested in the trade press. But, increasingly, many bright young entrants recognise that it can be as fascinating to get to know the intimate workings of an industry as it is to discover all that is happening in a town.

And, while a local paper can begin to equip you very effectively as a generalist, trade magazines can give you a head start in developing a specialism. And it is a specialism that will make you employable.

What our audiences will value is an expert’s analysis of the meaning of events – not just an outline of what has happened.

The young journalist who has taken the trade mag route will develop these skills far faster than the local rag cub reporter who spends 18 months grinding along the golden wedding, court, council committee, flower show route.

And, a couple of years down the line, they’ll already be at least £6,000 richer.

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