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Alastair Stewart: What it takes to become a journalist

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Journalism may have been regarded as a soft option a few years ago. This is no longer the case, according to award-winning Journalist and Broadcaster Alastair Stewart OBE.

A regular visitor to the University of Sunderland, and best known for presenting ITV’s News at Ten, Alastair can boast a successful journalism career spanning 38 years. A revered media presence, here he shares his expert insight into the changing face of journalism and offers advice to aspiring journalists.

Journalism wasn’t always taken seriously among academic subjects. “Media Studies in the past tended to be an option for somebody who couldn’t think of anything better to do, and so they went for journalism and it was a slightly soft option.

“That was partly because a lot of the people engaged in teaching it hadn’t perhaps made the grade in the industry themselves, and what followed would not be the greatest of facilities and so on,” says Alastair.

Learn from established journalists

Stressing the benefits of having practitioners who are or have been working journalists, Alastair says: “What we can celebrate and what we are very, very good at Sunderland is the fact that it is no longer, ‘well I couldn’t think of anything better to do’. It’s a first choice option for a lot of people, and if it’s done properly and taught properly with the right equipment and facilities then you give a real chance to those young men and women to then go into the industry.”


This is exactly what aspiring journalists will find at Sunderland. From the Deputy Editor of Grazia magazine and Head of Features at the Daily Mirror to award-winning sports journalists, staff at the University of Sunderland have years of industry experience.

High profile journalists such as Kevin Maguire, Associate Editor of the Daily Mirror and Visiting Professor in Journalism at the University, Fleet Street Fox and Alastair himself have all set foot on campus at Sunderland to lecture journalism students because of the strong links staff have established across their careers. Here at Sunderland, you’ll get the chance to learn from and put your questions to some of the biggest names in journalism.

All of the Journalism courses at Sunderland are NCTJ accredited, which is considered the kite mark by editors for entry into the industry. So whether you want to explore Journalism, Magazine Journalism, Sports Journalism or Fashion Journalism, you'll learn the essential skills necessary for any journalist such as Shorthand, Media Law, Public Affairs and Court Reporting, and be confident that when you graduate you’ll have the necessary skills to work as a journalist in this exciting and challenging industry.

Zoe Beaty, Deputy Features Editor at Stylist magazine
Zoe Beaty BA (Hons) Journalism, Deputy Features Editor at Stylist magazine

"If you want to be a journalist, prove it."

Something you need to be able to do in the current climate is to demonstrate your skills. It’s no longer enough to say you want to be a journalist, being able to prove your abilities says far more to prospective employers about what you are capable of, and will make you stand out from the competition.

“One thing I always say to people when they are at university level, and certainly when they are at school and sixth forms, is if you want to be a journalist, prove it to me.

“What have you done? What have you kept? What have you written? Have you still got a folder of it? Have you got DVD clips? Have you done hospital broadcasting? Did you work on the student newspaper at college? Did you work on – if you’ve got it – radio and TV? You’ve got a fantastic radio operation here – prize-winning, award-winning radio,” Alastair adds, referring to Spark FM, our community radio station and magazine. This is one of several media outlets we offer for you to experience life as a working journalist.

Sam Lightle, Digital Content Assistant at the Stadium of Light
Sam Lightle BA (Hons) Sports Journalism, Digital Content Assistant at the Stadium of Light

Keep updating your skills

The mediaHUB, our living, breathing digital publishing and broadcasting space is home to award-winning platforms: SR News, Fashion North, Northern Lights, SportsByte and Spark FM. Here you can cover news, fashion, sport, arts and entertainment in real-time in this bustling newsroom fully equipped with Apple Macs – complete with industry-standard design and video-editing software.

Working on real projects, you’ll learn to write and research like a multimedia journalist, come up with ideas, bring your stories to life and graduate with your own portfolio of work. Whether that be a magazine, newspaper or website, you’ll demonstrate to employers that you not only have the journalism qualification, but you’ve worked as a journalist and you’ll have the bylines and the press cuttings to prove it.

Gillian Scribbins, Business Affairs Assistant for the BBC
Gillian Scribbins (MA) Magazine Journalism, Business Affairs Assistant for the BBC

Starting your journalism career

For anyone currently working as a journalist or pursuing a career in journalism, you may have heard “but isn’t journalism a dying profession?” several times over. The journalism landscape is in a state of transition, transforming to meet the digital shift, and online has revolutionised the way we engage with the media. Traditional journalist jobs are evolving with the industry, and it may be true that there’s a decline in traditional print media as newspapers make the move to online – most recently the Independent became the first UK national newspaper to make the move to digital-only – but there is a plethora of journalist jobs to meet the digital demand. Many of Sunderland’s Journalism graduates now work in social media jobs and for e-tailers such as ASOS and Net-a-Porter. As well as working in traditional roles for The Guardian, Sky News and the BBC, many of our graduates currently work in Public Relations and Communication roles.

Josh Halliday, North of England correspondent, The Guardian
Josh Halliday, BA (Hons) Journalism, North of England correspondent, The Guardian


Published: 13 September 2017