Jobs in the media: what options do you have?
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A career in the media sounds glamorous, but what does it really involve? There are a number of different disciplines in this industry, so you’ll need to decide which one is right for you before you make a decision.
The media is just another way of saying medium. It’s the medium for information or entertainment to be conveyed from one group to another. Thanks to the internet and ever-changing technology, there are a huge number of ways that information can be distributed. However, the term ‘media’ is still most commonly used to refer to newspapers, magazines, television, radio and the internet. The people who produce content for these platforms can be journalists, who talk to people and report on interesting and essential topics, or they can be advertisers and digital marketers trying to get a company message across. The media also needs people working behind the scenes as producers or designers to make the content look its best before it’s released to the audience.
Each of the roles mentioned above requires a different set of talents and responsibilities. If you’re considering a career in the media, you can find out more about each of the roles below.
- Journalist – journalists gather information on stories of significance to an audience with the aim of getting an objective view of the facts. They interview the relevant people, take notes and return the information in an appropriate style and format. This might be by writing a story for a newspaper or online, or by producing a piece for television or radio. Later on in their career, a journalist might specialise in a specific sort of reporting (for example technology and science) or move to work as an editor.
- Editor – the title of editor can cover a wide range of roles depending on where you work. Newspaper and magazine editors decide which content is most important for the publication, and may restructure stories for clarity and accuracy. Sub-editors at any publication correct page layouts and spot mistakes and typos. Editors in publishing are responsible for guiding the work of contributors and polishing up the final product. If an advertiser tries to change the content or direction of a publication, it will also fall to the editor to prioritise readers’ needs and make sure the publication does not suffer as a result of too much outside influence.
- Photographer – photographers may work for a number of different organisations including newspapers, magazines, advertising agencies, events agencies and public relations firms. A lot of photographers may avoid full-time employment and go freelance or self-employed. This means they may work short term for any employer (including those mentioned above) as well as hire themselves out for smaller personal shoots such as weddings or family events. The role of a photographer is not just about point and shoot. As well as possessing expertise about light, focus and composition, photographers have to adapt to the equipment and surroundings that each shot requires. They also need to know how to set up a studio to produce the best effects and images.
- Designer – designers know about graphic design and how best to present large amounts of complicated information in the easiest manner to understand. Designers work on graphics and infographics for television programmes, print media and websites. They are also responsible for the artistic direction of a product and may create cartoons, illustrations and colour schemes and edit photographs.
- Runner, researcher or producer (broadcast) – many start out in broadcasting as a runner, looking after essential day-to-day tasks such as filing, postal services, tea making and attending to guests. The next step on the ladder is the role of researcher. Researchers fact-check programmes and collate information to make sure content is legally accurate and the processes, people and information involved in the show are ready to go. Researchers may also provide a level of specialist expertise (eg science) to direct programme content. Producers collate all the information and people that are required to get a programme to air and arrange and edit it to be the best that it can be. Producers will normally work on all aspects of television production including camerawork, editing and design.
- Technical staff (broadcast) – there is a vast range of technical broadcast roles. These could involve working with cameras, technical systems, lighting or sound (among many other possibilities). Each will have its own requirements for expertise and skills, but you’ll need to do your own research to decide if you fit the mould first. Universities offering film and production courses may be able to direct you to vacancies or you can get in touch with the Guild of British Camera Technicians, which runs training schemes and offers advice to those in the industry.
- Copywriter – copywriters are normally found at media or advertising agencies. They write convincingly and persuasively to produce adverts, emails, scripts and other marketing-related material. Copywriters normally have to work closely with designers to ensure that all adverts and campaigns are consistent. Many copywriters start off in other professions, such as journalism or the arts, and require exceptional spelling and grammar, as well as creative flair.
- Presenters – everyone wants to be one, but relatively few make it in front of the camera. Presenters can be almost anyone, although they're more likely to be broadcast journalists who have progressed to an on-camera position or actors who have auditioned. Don’t hold out too much hope of walking into one of these highly-prized spots in public entertainment.
The media is a notoriously competitive sector to get into, but media professionals are quite flexible about where they can work once they’ve built up some expertise in a role. Take a look at the industries below to see some of the opportunities.
Newspapers, magazines and publishing
The central hub for newspapers is a newsroom. Press releases, tips and phone calls fly in and it’s all hands on deck to find out more and get the stories to press. This environment can be high-pressure for journalists, editors, designers and photographers who will be working to tight deadlines. Magazines and publishing houses require the same sort of jobs and skills, but the less-frequent publication schedule can mean a slower pace of work.
Television and radio
Television and radio are traditional broadcast industries that still employ runners, researchers, producers and technical staff to create entertainment and factual programming. News programmes may also require editors and journalists who work to even tougher deadlines than print, putting out several news bulletins a day. Local radio stations tend to become quite involved in local news, but also need a host of technical support staff to maintain the core music programming and day-to-day running of the station.
Agencies, private companies and other organisations
Advertising and marketing agencies are hired by companies when they want to get a message out or promote a new product. They tend to prioritise creativity and selling ability when they look for employees. Copywriters and photographers will be essential to get the message across and designers will be needed to bring an advert or campaign together. Larger agencies can have their own studios which require technical staff, producers, runners and researchers involved in the creation of adverts. However, many choose to outsource the creation of broadcast adverts to external production companies.
Medium- to large-sized businesses may also wish to run advertising campaigns in-house and may hire copywriters and designers. Some may even hire photographers on a short-term basis. For larger projects, they will most likely outsource to an agency.
The internet is beginning to replace traditional print media, but many publications are making a good go of extending their life online. The sheer number of websites, content providers and voices online means that content is no longer as valuable or unique as it used to be, and wages have suffered. Still, almost every company now needs some form of online content writing, which provides opportunities for copywriters, editors, journalists and designers.
Freelancing can be done in almost every career, but a reputation and contacts in the industry are required to make this a sustainable living. Copywriters, journalists, designers and editors can sell their skills to the highest bidder. Broadcast media also has a culture of freelancing with local radio and television regularly offering short-term contracts to technical and production staff. Many photographers choose to make a living entirely from freelance work.
The media industry is predominantly funded by advertising. Cover charges on regular publications rarely come close to paying for all the work that has gone into them. If you’re considering a career in print of any kind (publishing, journalism etc) you should be aware that the industry has suffered with the advent of the internet and new technology such as iPads and Kindles. That may change as publications adapt, but some print outlets have implemented job cutbacks and seen declines in revenue.
In both print and television, advertisers pay according to the slot they want. In newspapers, adverts closer to the front may cost more money, as will full-page or double-page ads. In television a standard advert lasts 30 seconds and the price normally changes according to timeslot or popularity. For example, in 2013 it was estimated that the last advert break in The X-Factor was the most expensive on TV that year, costing £200,000 for 30 seconds.
Major players in broadcast media have their own apprenticeship schemes. For example, the BBC has previously run regional apprenticeships in production and digital journalism. Sky, Channel 4 and ITV have all run similar schemes for a wide range of job roles. Dates to apply are rarely announced in advance so you’ll need to sign up to the organisation’s jobs site or check back regularly for vacancies.
Apprenticeships on newspapers are known as traineeships. School leavers are advised to enquire to papers in their local area about positions and programmes. Some national newspapers have a larger apprenticeship programme each year, although these usually focus more on commerce- and marketing-related jobs.
There are a lot of companies around the country that offer design or advertising apprenticeships and will publicly list their vacancies on job sites. Consider your options and decide whether you want to try for a competitive design or advertising scheme at one of the big media outlets mentioned above or apply through your local jobs boards for a role with a smaller employer.
Budding photographers can also apply for apprenticeships with major employers, but locally-run studios and individuals may also seek assistants or trainees. The apprenticeship normally starts with a lot of shadowing (observation) and carrying equipment before you’re allowed to get behind the lens.