If you're a creative type who loves to research, interview and write, then a career in magazine journalism might be for you
Magazine journalists research and write news articles and features for a variety of publications, usually periodicals, including:
- consumer titles which cover both general interest and specialist areas;
- customer magazines from shops, supermarkets, etc;
- trade publications, also known as business-to-business (B2B) magazines.
These titles will usually be printed, but many magazines are also produced for the web. Knowledge of the concise writing style needed for the internet and search engine optimisation are very useful skills.
As well as writing, you may also get involved in the production of the publication, taking on sub-editing and designing.
There are thousands of magazine titles in the UK and, while there are plenty of opportunities, competition can be fierce when trying to get a job.
Your work would vary depending on the size of your employer, if you are freelance, the subject matter and how the magazine is published.
Typical responsibilities for a magazine journalist include:
- researching a subject and story;
- writing and editing news stories and features in the publication's house style;
- ensuring work is well written, accurate and submitted to deadline;
- conducting interviews, either in person or remotely;
- attending seminars, conferences and fairs (some magazine publishers hold exhibitions and events to allow advertisers to meet their readership);
- generating ideas for stories;
- sourcing images to accompany written pieces;
- meeting with colleagues to plan the content of the issue and the character of the publication;
- keeping up to date with trends and developments relating to the magazine's subject matter.
Freelance journalists spend time networking and building up relationships with publications and their staff. Self-employed freelancers also need to negotiate their own rates, bookkeep and be self-motivated. You must pitch ideas to interested publications and constantly secure new work.
On smaller magazines, the role of a magazine journalist might include all of these activities plus administrative work. It may also involve an element of sub-editing, proofing your own or another writers copy, as well as some design work.
Many magazines have an online presence and you may cover the same topics for the website. You will need to adapt your writing style for online journalism.
- For magazine journalists entering the profession at graduate level, job titles include staff writer, graduate writer and journalism trainee. Your typical starting salary ranges from £15,000 to £26,000, but may be as low as £12,000.
- With experience, salaries are often negotiable. Senior staff (senior staff writer, sub-editor or features editor) usually earn between £18,000 and £35,000.
- If you work on a major publication or become editor-in-chief of a magazine, your salary can be anything from £22,000 to £65,000+.
Many graduates work unpaid or minimum wage internships and jobs in order to gain experience, before securing a paid job. Freelance fees vary according to your experience and ability, but the average freelance fee per 1,000 words is £700 for a large magazine, or £420 for a smaller consumer magazine. For a comprehensive guide to freelance rates, see the National Union of Journalists (NUJ).
Salary levels depend mainly on the location, size and popularity of the magazine. Salaries in London and the South East are generally higher and opportunities more plentiful.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
This is not a 9am to 5pm job; copy deadlines may mean irregular hours. Unsocial hours are common.
Part-time work and career breaks are possible.
What to expect
- With much of magazine journalism now being outsourced, freelancing is more common and the majority of magazine copy is written by freelancers. Many people make successful careers as freelance magazine journalists, contributing pieces to a variety of publications.
- Women are well represented on consumer magazines.
- The work provides the opportunity to meet a range of people beyond your own circle of colleagues, but long hours, tight deadlines, and writing for the public domain can be stressful.
- Travel within the working day is often necessary and you may occasionally need to be away from home overnight.
- Overseas work and travel is not uncommon, especially if you are working for a travel or international trade magazine.
- Many magazine journalists will have started out at local newspapers and have a solid background in news writing. On the other hand, some journalists move straight into specialist writing depending on their degree, e.g. engineering, science or computing.
Although not strictly necessary, most new magazine journalists have a degree. However, entry without a degree or HND is possible, as experience and determination count for a lot in the industry.
Numerous universities offer undergraduate journalism or media degrees, while there are also postgraduate qualifications (Masters and certificates/diplomas). Many of these courses are accredited by the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ). It's also possible to take NCTJ courses and qualifications at colleges and via distance learning.
While these qualifications are not essential, they'll give you a good grounding in writing, interviewing, sub-editing, design and layout, shorthand and media law. To give you an idea of the popularity and usefulness of these courses, 73% of qualified journalists are NCTJ-trained.
If you're undertaking a journalism qualification, become a member of the NUJ as a student member. Look for other journalistic organisations, like Women in Journalism that have membership for students as this will provide great networking opportunities and perhaps even a tip-off about possible job vacancies.
Entry into journalism is very competitive, with many people applying for every vacancy. The industry is growing, but the number of training vacancies is not increasing proportionately. This is because much of the growth is in small publishers and they do not run training schemes. Entry into popular consumer magazines is particularly competitive, but openings with specialist technical and scientific journals, or trade and business magazines, may be easier to find.
In an attempt to offset the comparatively small number of ethnic minority journalists, the NUJ has set up the Journalism Diversity Fund to support the training of journalists from ethnically and socially diverse backgrounds.
The George Viner Memorial Fund has been established by the industry to help those who want to take industry-recognised pre-entry courses, but lack the money to do so. It's aimed at people without the financial means to attend NCTJ training courses. Applicants need to demonstrate a genuine commitment to journalism and the potential to be successful.
Search for postgraduate courses in magazine journalism.
You will need to show:
- excellent writing skills;
- a proactive approach to investigating and good research skills;
- determination and persistence;
- strong interpersonal skills;
- a demonstrable interest in the subject of the magazine;
- IT skills and familiarity with commonly used software, such as HTML, Photoshop, Java, QuarkXPress and InDesign.
You may also consider learning shorthand. Although you may not need it for all magazine employment, it's invaluable for accurate and speedy note-taking (the golden rate to achieve is 100 words per minute). It shows real commitment and dedication to journalism.
Pre-entry experience, either paid or unpaid, is absolutely essential. It will give you first-hand knowledge of the industry and demonstrate to employers your ability to thrive in a pressured environment.
Very few structured work experience or training schemes exist. Contact magazines directly, showing an enthusiasm for their subject matter and ask if they have a scheme or if they can offer you some work experience.
Get involved in student newspapers, magazines, radio stations, internal television circuits or even start your own blog, which can help towards developing your writing style and interviewing techniques.
There is a huge variety of magazine titles in the UK, ranging from the women's 'glossies' to specialist journals and everything in between.
Many of the large multi-title publishing houses are based in London and have international offices, for example.
New graduates should also look to local magazines and lifestyle publications, either independently owned or overseen by larger companies such as Archant. Don't discount local and national newspapers, as many produce at least one magazine.
There is also the free, consumer sector of magazines that are available to readers on trains and planes, supermarkets and DIY shops. Check each periodical to see who publishes them and creates the content copy.
Many large corporations, such as the BBC, oil companies and big banks, produce in-house magazines, which will require journalists. Professional organisations, clubs and membership associations, like the RSPB and the National Trust, also produce magazines.
Business-to-business (B2B) magazines and trade journals are also a good place to hone your writing skills and develop a specialist area. There is a title to suit almost every topic, so whether you would like to write about restaurants in Manchester or the adhesive industry, there will be a magazine out there.
Many opportunities are not advertised and speculative applications are a common way of securing a job. Where there is no central recruiting point, you should apply directly to the editor of the magazine or journal.
Freelancers and speculative job hunters rely on directories such as the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook to find editors' details. For a comprehensive list of all newspaper and magazine titles in the UK, see media.info. Try to build up your own personalised list of contacts by using sites such as LinkedIn.
If you're considering freelancing, make sure you target the right magazines for your article. Call or email editors with an idea for an article relevant to their publication and be on the look-out for events or stories with a local interest. You may be able to persuade your local newspaper to publish your work. Even reviewing products, theatre or films can add to your portfolio. For sound advice and information and to advertise your services online see Journalism.co.uk.
Look for job vacancies at:
- Hold the Front Page
- Media Week
- Writers' and Artists' Yearbook
- Local and national press.
Trainees with big publishing houses receive structured training in:
- layout and design;
- law for journalists.
Smaller organisations that recruit directly may not be able to provide such opportunities.
The Periodicals Training Council (PTC) is the training arm of the Professional Publishers Association (PPA), the magazine industry body.
Courses run by the NCTJ, throughout the country and online, are well recognised in the industry. The NCTJ accredits courses at over 40 colleges and universities across the country. The focus remains on newspaper journalism, but there are many more multimedia courses reflecting industry and societal changes in recent years.
There is no fixed career path in magazine journalism. You may progress from staff writer to sub-editor, section head and chief editor. Or you may move across into marketing, television journalism or public relations (PR).
Freelancing is a realistic option, allowing more flexible working patterns and (perhaps) greater control over your own work. It is essential that you make contacts in the industry - editors are more likely to give work to someone they know they can trust - and that you are willing to be flexible about the work you take on.
Commercial awareness is essential for progression. As a freelancer, you have to be able to sell your work, or if you work for a magazine, you need to have ideas about how to increase your readership.
Journalism is a fast-moving and fast-changing career where it pays to keep abreast of new developments in media and communications. Try to keep up to date with new trends and any specialist subject matter you write about.