From student to freelance
Sean Callery, a final-year journalism student at Dublin City University, was sponsored by London Freelance Branch to attend the NUJ annual conference and student conference this April, and is already earning money from freelancing.
For a journalism graduate fresh out of university, stepping out into the "real" world is scary. The safety nets are gone. People don't expect much from students so any achievement, or simply not making a hash of things, is considered a bonus. For those lucky enough to secure freelance work while they are still studying, the perception they get of what the workplace is like is somewhat skewed. It's rare that they will be paid what a freelance would usually receive and they often get menial and irrelevant work. It's not uncommon for students to do freelance work for absolutely nothing, with bosses convincing them they're doing them a favour by letting garner experience for free. Give us a break!
The prospects for graduates seeking paid freelance work are not much better. Most journalism courses do little or nothing to adequately prepare students for working as freelance journalists. This is bizarre, considering most graduates begin their careers freelancing.
There's no point teaching prospective journalists skills like writing, typing, subbing and shorthand if they are unable to put them into practice. To sustain a career you need to know how to find stories, pitch them, ascertain the appropriate rate for your work, invoice properly, manage your income, sort out your own tax returns [and understand copyright and contracts Ed]. Universities teach none of this.
But this is where bodies like the NUJ can intervene. The union should ensure that journalism graduates, who will make up its membership in years to come, are properly qualified to work in all aspects of journalism when they step off-campus. Universities and other institutions should be lobbied.
In the absence of adequate education in the traditional institutions, the NUJ should fill the information void and ensure that its members have the know-how to be able to freelance. Without it, the future is bleak for students.