Traineeships in Publishing Fierce Competition for Fledgling Journalists

Young journalists
Young journalists | Photo (detail): Jarzinos via Wikimedia, Licence: public domain

Hard work, yet still so sought after - traineeships in publishing are the most common way for people to start out in the field of journalism. There are however quite a few things that should be born in mind when trying to find a traineeship.

In 2012 a young female journalist caused quite a stir. “Journalism - Pure Exploitation” – these were the words Maximiliane Rüggeberg wrote on her blog after being told by a daily newspaper she should first do a one-year work placement at a publishing house, before she could be considered for an editorial traineeship. Her blog triggered quite a debate, but in the end things went well for the 22-year-old. An editor-in-chief was so impressed by her courageous indictment that he offered her an editorial traineeship. It was most certainly not the simplest of paths to take to get one of these much sought after traineeship positions.

“A traineeship in publishing is still the form of training that enables journalists to become ‘jacks-of-all trades’,” emphasises Eva Werner, who is an educational advisor at the Deutsche Journalisten-Verband (Association of German Journalists, DJV). Despite the crisis the daily newspapers are going through and the changes going on in the media world the most important qualifications a journalist should have are still the “ability to write and the ability to see through things”. She feels that local journalism is a particularly good field to get a good grounding in, “The range of topics is enormous and at the same time the trainees get to know all the workings of the editorial process.”

Daily newspapers offer the most traineeships

If you take a look at the figures, it becomes quite clear - editorial traineeships are the most common way for people to start out in the profession. According to information from the Deutsche Journalisten-Verband (Association of German Journalists) a good 80 per cent of all fledgling journalists do a one-and-a-half-year to two-year traineeship in the field of press, radio or agency work. Daily newspapers are at the top of the list with around 1,200 traineeship places, followed by magazines (about 800), regional and local private radio stations (more than 500), public service broadcasters (about 300) and advertising journals (at least 150). Traineeships offered at news agencies are only in the double-digit range. There seems to be an upward trend in the online media sector, but so far there have been no exact figures published. There are no estimates as yet concerning traineeships which involve aspiring journalists working exclusively in purely online editorial offices. While Spiegel Online (SpOn) for instance – unlike the print version of the news magazine – does offer 24-month traineeships, it does so only irregularly and according to demand.

Training contracts should be closely scrutinised

In order to find the right traineeship, Eva Werner recommends using the “Tarifvertrag über das Redaktionsvolontariat an Tageszeitungen” (Collective Agreement on Editorial Traineeships at Daily Newspapers, 1990) as a guideline. This stipulates that newcomers to the job should receive the necessary specialist training, should furthermore should do a six-month course outside the editorial office that is geared especially to the needs of the trainees and in the course of their training should gain experience in at least three departments, for example, in politics, economics and local news. “In addition every future trainee should broach the subject again and again whether a spell in the online editorial office of the medium in question is envisaged,” advises Werner.

More opportunities in the country

“Besides gaining the right qualifications future journalists above all need a good measure of staying power,” warns Eva Werner as the traineeship places are very much sought after. Most newcomers to the profession get a traineeship via their course of study or because they have already had some experience working with journalism. This means they have already done a placement in the field or have worked as a free-lancer in an editorial office. The recruitment practices of the individual publishing houses are very varied, that is why it is advisable to spread one’s applications as widely as possible. At the moment educational expert, Werner, sees good opportunities in rural areas outside the big cities. “Some of the publishing houses located in such areas have actually told us that they are having problems finding trainees.”

The situation for traineeships at magazines is similar to the one at daily newspapers. Although the pay is a little lower, the training contract is valid for all magazine publishing companies and not just for those covered by the collective agreement. When it comes to private radio, the traineeships are, according to the DJV, generally less structured and paid worse than in the field of press. On the other hand, those people lucky enough to do a traineeship at one of Germany’s public-service broadcasters enjoy a very good period of training. “Based on experience Germany’s two main public-service broadcasters, ARD and ZDF, invest a lot in the training of their trainees,” says Werner. At the same time, however, these places are particularly coveted. The number of applications for the few places is somewhere in the four-digit range.

Permanent jobs are extremely rare

One thing applies to all traineeships – they do not automatically lead to being hired on a permanent basis. More often than not at the end of one’s traineeship one has to make do with a temporary or a flat-rate contract. A survey carried out by the DJV in 2012 showed that a maximum of one third of all trainees, both male and female, are given a permanent position at the end of their training. All the others have to look elsewhere for a position or work as a free-lance journalist. Once again staying power is the order of the day – or specialist skills and knowledge. “At the moment they are desperately looking for journalists who can analyse and process large quantities of data,” says Werner.