06 September 2009

Media clones

I was reading investigative journalist Nick Davies' blog last night - he was musing about Keith Waterhouse, who died a couple of days ago. Waterhouse was a legend and a true old-style Fleet Street hack, as well as a fabulous writer.

Anyway, Davies reckons no one would offer Waterhouse a job today if he was fresh out of school.

"The sad death of the legendary Keith Waterhouse, has rightfully, attracted many plaudits in national newspapers. Reflections on his life....left school with no qualifications.....fond of the odd tipple or three.....a true original...etc. etc. Yet is it not ironical, that if a similar young Keith Waterhouse presented himself to a newspaper today, he'd very quickly be shown the door. No qualifications?...most newspapers today desire only graduate clones in grey suits, keep your heads down and don't rock the boat if you want to survive"

I'd be in the same boat. I left school at 16, the day I sat my last O. I was a scruffy, mouthy punk and I dyed my hair grass-green the next morning, which prompted my eviction from the family abode. Nevertheless, within a week I had somewhere to live (after borrowing a friend's sofa for a few days) and a job - I walked off the street and into the offices of a weekly magazine and walked out an hour later as their newest music critic.

Two local papers had already rejected me because of the green hair, the black eye make-up and my unique dress sense. I didn't mind too much as I didn't really want to be a reporter anyway, I wanted to write about music and that probably wasn't going to happen on a mainstream daily. But, infuriatingly, neither paper had looked at my writing to see if I had any talent. The mag that took me on looked beyond my appearance and asked to see my work - at that stage, a handful of ranty columns and reviews in a punk fanzine. I think they were also impressed with my enormous chutzpah (but probably not the equally big ego I was schlepping around with me back then).

A lot of really great hacks who were or are my contemporaries (and who have been infinitely more successful and famous than I) would also not have got a job in today's corporate climate. Julie Burchill and Steven Wells are two that spring immediately to mind. I somehow can't picture either of them doing a journalism degree followed by weeks of unpaid work experience in the hope it might lead to a job.

The industry is going through massive upheavals right now as it struggles to reposition itself in a digital world with new business models. It would be sad if, as part of that process, the hirers continue to look only for Davies' "graduate clones".
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Steve said...

Interesting piece. I think this is exactly the reason I cannot get a new job. Times is 'ard.

Unknown said...

Times is 'ard, yes. But there IS work out there. If you are good, you will be hired, journo degree or no journo degree. If I can do it, so can you.