Wondering why it’s so hard to break into journalism?


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Graduate Fog isn’t sure whether to laugh or cry.

On one hand, I weep for the future of an industry I love.

On the other, this story is hilariously funny.

Every budding journalist knows that unpaid internships happen within national magazines and newspapers.

When you’re starting out, we know that it’s all about collecting bylines at big-name titles.

But when tin pot local freesheets that nobody’s heard of get the idea that it’s okay to advertise for freelancers to write features for publication without paying them, I want to ask “Sorry, just checking – but is this still real life?”

I refer to a recent advertisement sent to me by a Graduate Fogger, Mark Watson.

It is an invitation for writers to contribute their work to a publication called Vine, which we are informed is “one of the most prestigious magazines in Kent” and “stands head and shoulders above its closest competitors.”

(No, I’d never heard if it either. The website calls it ‘The essential free magazine for Sevenoks’. Perhaps Kent-based Foggers will enlighten us?)

And yet – following the managing director’s detailed explanation of how journalists should apply for the honour of having their work considered for publication his prestigious title – we are informed that these writers should not expect to be paid for their work, on the grounds that:

“We have found that being printed in such a high profile magazine is compensation enough- significantly raising the writers profile within the industry and providing unparalleled material for your portfolio.”


Is it Vine – or Vanity Fair?

Here is the ad in full. Savour the delicious loftiness of this outrageous editor:

“Vine Publishing, the company behind Vine Magazine- one of the most prestigious magazines in Kent- is expanding to London. We are looking for the best freelance journalists to contribute editorial to this new London edition.

“Vine stands head and shoulders above its closest competitors. We pride ourselves on our stunning design, exciting editorial, high profile clients and unprecedented editorial to advertisement ratio (60:40). We have a distribution of 30,000 (and constantly growing) and an estimated readership of 65,000.

“If you are interested in contributing to Vine, please send an email to edward@onlinevine.co.uk, with a copy of your resume, a covering letter, accompanied by your most relevant and accomplished piece of writing. This piece should be either an article or relevant piece of editorial on a subject of your choice. Please do not send pieces over 800 words long.

“We currently have a policy to not pay contributors, and so anything, if your application is successful, anything that we do print will not be compensated for financially. We have found that being printed in such a high profile magazine is compensation enough- significantly raising the writers profile within the industry and providing unparalleled material for your portfolio.

Look forward to hearing from you,

Edward Coram-James,
Managing Director,
Vine Publications.”

Most days, I receive emails from graduates desperate to start their career as a writer and asking me how they can ‘break in’.

Increasingly, I’m at a loss to know what to tell you.

Something very strange has happened.

Publications appear to have stopped factoring ‘content costs’ into their business plan.

You know, little things like paying your writers (and photographers, stylists, hair and make up artists, etc).

We talk about unpaid internships a lot on Graduate Fog.

But the reality is that it isn’t just young people trying to ‘break in’ to media who are fed this nonsense about doing things for the experience, byline, contacts or prestige.

It’s certainly something I encounter regularly – and I’ve been working as a full-time features writer for over eight years!

I try not to take it to heart (and usually just say No), but I admit I do find it irritating.

The major reason is because without exception, the person asking me to work for free is being paid to do their job.

And yet they’re asking me to do mine for nothing. Is it just me or is there something a teensy bit insulting about that?

We all know that the journalism industry is in big trouble – particularly print media, which is struggling to adapt to the digital age.

But the trend for simply not paying your writers is not sustainable.

Journalists can’t pay their rent with bylines.

I just can’t see how this farcical situation can continue.

Without content, there is nothing for people to read.

And you can’t sell advertising against blank pages, for a publication that nobody reads because there’s nothing in it!

If you want to be a writer, my advice would be to find people who are prepared to pay you.

If you can’t, then don’t do it at all.

Because publications who expect you to write for nothing just aren’t a business.

And yes, I’m talking to you, Vine magazine.

“Head and shoulders above its closest competitors”?

You should be hanging your head in shame, more like.

*Do you find this ad insulting, hilarious – or both?
Are you trying to break into journalism? Who’s asked you to write features for free? Are you beginning to wonder how you will ever earn a living in this industry?

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