Starting up a career in journalism during the pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has been an uncertain time for early-career journalists as many media stopped their activity, put their internships and entry-level positions on hold, reduced their staff and shifted all their mentoring schemes online. In this context, how can a young journalist start building their career? What resources have they used more? How have they adapted to remote reporting? And most important of all, how can journalists’ unions help young media workers in their first professional steps?

One of the main changes the pandemic brought for journalists starting their careers was the closing of physical newsrooms, which used to be the key place for young journalists to meet and learn from experienced journalists. Many in-person conferences, networking events and other opportunities to build connections have vanished as most large-scale gatherings are cancelled, depriving young journalists of the opportunity to grow their professional networks.

For journalist Harry Tsatryan, executive board member of the European Youth Press, this remains a challenge for young journalists, as mentors and experienced journalists are not yet fully ready to welcom young journalists to face-to-face meetings and help them to be trained in physical newsrooms. However, there are alternatives to build professional networks online.

Many online gadgets/platforms have fully replaced those physical newsrooms, and there is no need to have these kinds of meetings any more: for example, Slack channels, MS Teams or even different messenger groups are in use to help young journalists to start their career or be in touch with the mentors. Of course, we do not have the same environment, the same feeling, but it’s also a working and understandable option”, Tsatryan comments.

Online reporting has been also challenging for all media workers, especially for those new to the profession as they normally struggle more to build up their sources. In addition, not all young journalists live in a fully and technically equipped house or have the skills and training on the online alternatives to work.

With young journalists stuck at home, learning how to use new platforms to tell stories in fresh ways, like podcasts or newsletters, has been key. The pandemic has pushed many newsrooms to find new ways of producing journalism, making these skills more attractive than ever.

In this context, training and workshops on the use of these new tools can really make a difference for young media workers and universities are starting to prepare journalism students for the digital-first future of journalism.

Journalism is a difficult to join profession, but still trendy

The media sector suffered a big negative economic impact during the pandemic, mainly due to a loss of advertising revenues that is slowly starting to recover  in some[II2]  countries. As a result, young journalists have realized that not all journalism skills need to be developed in a major publication’s newsroom and that, after all, journalism can be exercised in multiple in innovative ways and on a variety of platforms.

Content generation, research, social media reporting and other communications skills can be learnt out of a newsroom.

We see that the salaries of journalists have been cut recently, many leading newsrooms have decided to do the same work with fewer staff members, but journalism is still a trendy profession for young people”, says Tsatryan.

The role of journalists’ unions

Journalists’ unions need to listen and understand the needs of a new generation of media workers who are facing difficulties in joining the profession but are full of enthusiasm to overcome them and start telling stories.

Providing relevant and good quality training on new communication tools and formats, being in touch with journalism universities to develop these trainings and develop professional networks for young journalists are crucial actions that unions should consider.

Making sure there are means for young journalists to be involved in the life of the union and consulting them – and listening to their responses – are crucial to ensure the union is seen as welcoming and taking up the issues that matter to younger journalists.

Journalists’ unions should be active in creating crash courses/activities on different aspects of media for young journalists: starting from getting knowledge on their rights and responsibilities when being contracted by media organizations or volunteering in the newsroom”, comments Tsatryan.

IFJ General Secretary, Anthony Bellanger, said: “We need to understand the needs of young journalists who want to start their career in a hard-hit sector like journalism and take action to guarantee they can build their careers successfully. Only by carefully listening and offering solutions to our young colleagues can we ensure they join our unions and defend their rights collectively and not individually, which is essential to end precariousness in the sector.”

For more information, please contact IFJ on +32 2 235 22 16

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 146 countries

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