Maggie Pagano is Executive Editor of Reaction and director of our Young Journalists Programme.
When I told my careers’ master at school – who doubled up as the biology teacher – that I hoped to be a journalist, he folded his arms, sighed heavily, and said: “My dear girl, you will be a jack of all trades, master of none.”
He didn’t put me off. I had heard enough extraordinary adventures told by my photographer father, and his great friend, the industrial reporter, Paddy McGarvey, from their days at the News Chronicle to know that Fleet Street was where I wanted to be.
Getting there wasn’t a straight line, more of a zigzag. First, to the Eastern Counties Newspapers group – now Archant – which was generous enough to offer me an indentureship, sending a gaggle of us to Harlow College to study for the National Council of Journalism Proficiency Test.
After a hilarious year learning about everything from law to government affairs to shorthand with 30 or so like-minded wannabe journalists, it was back to the Eastern Daily Press to ply my trade. Or perhaps I should say trades.
They were happy days writing about the ancient craft of flint-knapping at Brandon – made rich by selling flints for muskets used during the American civil war – and stormy local council meetings. In between were long hours covering the local courts, the not-so glamorous country dog shows and murders, reporting not only for the daily newspaper but the evening edition and the weeklies at the same time.
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Being sent to cover the arrival of President Gerald Ford and Henry Kissinger flying into RAF Lakenheath after SALT arms talks with the Russians for their world-first press conference gave me my first front-page splash, and the taste for a thrilling story which has never left. It also renewed my interest in international relations, so my next step was to university, and then to Fleet Street via the Times.
Having that hard core regional grounding was a tremendous opportunity. Sadly, there are far fewer newspaper groups today offering such vocational training as reading habits have changed. Those left are battling to manage the switch from print to digital media.
The entire news industry is trying to reinvent itself amid a blizzard of technological change, with digital giants such as Facebook having all but destroyed the traditional model of advertising, in print, that paid for journalists to do our work.
But all is not lost. Despite all the economic challenges, talented youngsters still want to become journalists. They believe, rightly, that breaking stories, explaining the world and seeking to hold the powerful to account still really matters. Journalism is neither dead nor buried.
It’s tough for them to get started though. Most of today’s journalism students have to self-fund their own path which can be difficult for those without financial support. There are now 40 various journalist schools or colleges across Britain with students studying for the different qualifications which range from the National Council for the Training of Journalists Diploma or the gold-plated senior level NQJ to the Press Association schemes.
After that, opportunities to break through are limited. That’s one of the reasons we set up Reaction.
We were founded five years ago by a small group of journalists and campaigners to build a new space for good writing that makes sense of the news, politics and culture. We’ve attracted a loyal subscriber base that pays to read our work and we’re expanding.
But there’s more. Creating opportunities for talented young journalists was right at the heart of Reaction from the start.
This summer we celebrate our fifth birthday and despite the difficulties caused by the pandemic, we move from strength to strength. What began on Reaction as a work experience programme has developed to be a full-blown scheme – our Young Journalists Programme – super-charging the careers of young journalists.
We have a brilliant cohort of graduate interns and post-graduate journalism students working alongside our experienced, core writers and columnists.
Some who join us stay and develop their careers with us long-term. For others, Reaction is a vital stepping stone as they learn on their way into jobs on older, bigger publications.
Over the last year we have hired a total of eight resourceful youngsters – some of whom have a post-graduate qualification in journalism, in either print or broadcast. Others have joined straight from university as paid interns.
What we offer them all is a mix of in-house mentoring – led by me and Reaction Editor Iain Martin – while throwing them into the deep end of daily journalism (not easy to do while most of us are still working from home and via Zoom).
It’s not quite the same as being out on the road hunting down stories but that will come hopefully once we emerge from this pandemic. What has been inspiring to those of us who have had the privilege of working in the craft we love during easier times, is that our young team is as enamoured and inspired by the trade as we were, and believe in its intrinsic value.
That’s something we take seriously. And we are investing in that belief, and investing in their futures by funding training. We have already funded several interns through the NCTJ qualifications and hope to sponsor another two journalists this year.
Our Young Journalists Programme is financed in large part by the generosity of our donors and supporters. Leading authors and politicians give their time to talk to our audience at dinners in support of the scheme.
During the pandemic, it’s been impossible to host these dinners. But they’re starting again soon. If you would like to hear more – or want to help in any other way – please email the team at email@example.com and we’ll be right back in touch.
Training the next generation of journalists is integral to what we do at Reaction and we hope that if you can you will support us in this endeavour.
Being a jack of all trades is not so bad. Learning how to be a master of reporting on the news precisely – giving them the ability to analyse what’s behind the news – has never been more vital.