I occasionally dip into a certain forum for journalists that seems, unfortunately, to attract a particular class of post and a certain type of poster.
There is a high number of posts offering unpaid work, which might be ok if it was for a 2-week work experience somewhere decent, but usually they ask for experienced professionals, a lengthy commitment and no reward beyond a byline. One recent post was about the launch of a luxury lifestyle magazine, asking for seasoned contributors and expecting them to supply their own equipment - asking a writer to bring a laptop would just about pass muster if the publication was a community paper run on a shoestring. It's not acceptable when the magazine is aiming to attract advertising from high-end brands and expecting to sell to very high earners.
But enough about that.
What I find more worrying, of major concern even, is the high number of people posting and asking the most elementary questions. A couple of days ago someone new to freelancing was asking how to get paid. I'm well aware journalism courses often don't teach anything on freelancing but I'd expect a journo grad to have the nous to look up some info on the net somewhere on the basics of running a small business. There are quite a few government-funded sites, for example, that provide this sort of gen in simple language. More alarming was the poster's remark that this was a big company but she had no idea how to contact anyone there beyond an email address. Now if a journalist can't even google a company name to find their HQ and phone number, then I fear for the future of the nation's press.
This was a fairly typical query. Others run along the lines of "can I expect to be published without flashing a degree or two first?" and "do editors give the reporters stories to write about? Or does the reporter have to generate the stories him/herself?". The one that seriously alarmed me was "What happens once the news piece has been done, does it get proofed and then edited?" This was from someone who had just done work experience on a local paper and even written some stories for it. It does beg the question why the poster hadn't asked anyone on the paper while there to give them a quick tour cum rundown of how a paper is put together. But more shocking I think is the fact that so many universities are turning out journalism grads who basically don't seem to have learned anything practical or useful. What are they doing on their 3 years on campus? I would seriously love to know.
Back when I trained (long before someone invented journalism degree courses), I learned pretty much everything within 6 months on the job. I was subbing within 2 weeks because it had to be done and making up mock page layouts within a month. I stayed for 30 months and the only thing I didn't learn was shorthand (or proper typing) because the mag didn't have any budget to send me to day-release college. There was no internet then, but I learned fast how to find out info at the library or the town hall. Not knowing was not an option as I feared my editor's wrath.
I came away confident in my skills and knowing I could handle most things thrown at me. Today's lot give the impression they wouldn't know how to fend off a wet paper bag if it were thrown at them.
I don't want to say "Eee, it were better in my day", because it undoubtedly wasn't. The kind of tools available to today's journalists are amazing and wonderful and I would have given my eye teeth to have had mobile phones, the internet, laptops and the rest back then. So why, if they have access to such great kit are we churning out hacks who don't have a clue?
EDITED to add that Press Gazette reports that "new journalists lack key skills". Not sure whether to feel vindicated or even sadder.