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Last Updated: Friday, 30 May, 2003, 12:46 GMT 13:46 UK
Hacking it in the real world

By Justin Parkinson
BBC News Online education staff

Tens of thousands of young people every year study for degrees in media and journalism subjects.

Richard Powell
Richard Powell was frustrated by the 'closed shop' of journalism

Lured by the glamour of interviewing famous people, travelling to exotic locations and writing articles which will change the world, they besiege newspapers, magazines and broadcasters with applications.

Most are surprised when editors fail to recognise their talents and offer them immediate employment.

It is frustrating and off-putting.

When Richard Powell was taking a three-year BA course in journalism at Southampton Institute, he noticed the same ebbing of enthusiasm among his fellow students.

'Murder to get into'

But instead of giving in, he decided to change the system.

Aged 25, he has set up his own online press agency - greatreporter.com - intended as a showcase for up and coming talent.

Journalism is a nasty, clubby little outfit which judges people on all the wrong sorts of judgements
John Simpson, BBC world affairs editor

Would-be reporters are asked to send in their stories, to be considered for publication and possible sale to newapapers.

Since its launch in April, the site has had 90,000 hits.

Mr Powell said: "Just in case people have an ambition to get a story out, we will be there to help them."

"Professional reporting is murder to get into. It's a very closed shop in this country."

On the site, BBC world affairs editor John Simpson writes: "Journalism is a nasty, clubby little outfit which judges people on all the wrong sorts of judgements, like who they know, how old they are and what their background is, as opposed to what they are themselves.

"But it's one of those things you just have to accept and understand.

"If you can understand it and sort of accept it - not that that's in any way an easy thing to do - then I think, very slowly, you tend to get there."

Many of Mr Powell's fellow journalism students would agree with the "clubby" remark.

'Sense of pessimism'

He said: "There were 130 people in the first year. That number went down in huge chunks as people realised it was quite hard to become a reporter.

"I think there was a sense of pessimism. A lot of people who started the course bowed out, instead of staying and chasing a job afterwards.

"I don't think people had counted on that. I think I had more of an idea because I had done my research."

He added: "When I was studying, I noticed a need to do more work than the course demanded. I didn't think it was enough to get a job.

"I realised how competitive it was just getting in there and getting some practical experience."

Journalism is about more than excitement and glamour

When the former Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet, was arrested in London in October 1998, Mr Powell decided to get involved.

He said: "I cut my teeth on the Pinochet case. A friend and I were very interested in Latin American politics.

"When he was arrested, we couldn't believe our luck.

"I travelled from Southampton to the clinic where he was staying to meet the other journalists and do some reporting of my own.

"It was just fascinating. I got some reports out and showed them to people.

"We also took people out to lunch to find out their advice and opinions.

"We would ask what they thought of our work and what would make us better reporters. We didn't experience anyone who wasn't helpful."


But still, it was difficult to break into the media, even though most reporters start on around 10,000 a year.

Mr Powell said: "Editors weren't receptive to us at all. They usually said there was nothing for us.

"The website has been born out of this. It's designed to ensure that level of reporting that isn't done by experienced journalists isn't missed by the mainstream media.

"Our writers may well be students, but they have to be serious journalists as well. It's a genuine news agency."

The National Council for the Training of Journalists prepares 1,200 people a year to become professional reporters.

Careers adviser Marie Baker said: "It's a fiercely competitive industry.

"Often, gaining experience is a matter of tactful persistence. You should work towards improving the relevant skills as well."

Despite the hassles of getting a job and the relatively low pay in journalism, Mr Powell said: "There's nothing that feeds me more than working with news. I literally can't get enough of it.

"It makes you feel alive. I don't ever plan to retire. I will do this for as long as I am breathing."

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