The most important point to make is that qualifications are not the be all and end all in this industry. It's not like medicine where you're not allowed to do it unless you have a certain qualification. There are more crucial things to getting ahead in the industry, like ability, dedication/desire, who you know, and luck.
It really depends on what area of journalism/writing you want to get into. Newspaper journalism does require more of an academic background than magazine journalism. The demands of the job are different and getting into magazine journalism is made easier by the fact that a lot of people come to it later in life.
If you want to be a reporter, the qualification that is most likely to get you a job is the NCTJ Certificate. There are more variations of the course available than when I did it back in 2000 but it is basically a one-year course, aimed at post-graduates, that gives you the skills to act as a working reporter. There are modules in Journalism, Media Law, Public Affairs and Shorthand, and it really does cover everything. Newspapers and agencies actually come to the colleges looking for people with this qualification, so it is not only accepted, but sought after in the industry.
If you want to know more about the ins and outs of this course, feel free to ask me. Or you can find information on the nctj website, including a list of courses and where they're taught. You will also find a list of which universities have NCTJ accredited BA Hons Journalism Studies programs.
The NCTJ is aimed at postgraduates but you do not need to have a degree to do it. I was not the only one doing it straight from sixth form. So if you want to qualify as quickly as possible and don't mind not going to university, you don't need to.
If you want to be a journalist and do go to university, don't think that you automatically need to do a degree in journalism. To be honest there is not *that* much to learn in order to be a journalist and certainly not enough to fill a three year course. I found that we spent a lot of time being forced to do cultural studies, and language studies and sociological studies, to give us a vital underlying knowledge of blah blah blah, what a load of crap. If you want to learn about that do a degree in cultural studies, but it has nothing to do with journalism and is not even vaguely relevant to my job now, despite what they tell you at uni.
Now this is obviously not going to be the case at every uni. I only did one degree at one university, so look very carefully at the structure of the course over the three years. The more things like Editing and SubEditing, Law, Ethics, International Journalism, you see, the better. The more cultural blah, semiotics blah, society blah you see, the less time you will spend working on journalistic things. All that stuff is great for a general media studies degree, but that's not what we're doing.
BUT - if you do a general degree like History, English, or whatever you find enjoyable (pick a degree you will enjoy, three years is a long time), you will probably need a journalism qualification to get too far. You don't always need it and it's perfectly possible to get jobs without any specific journalism training, but I would advise against not doing anything. You may not need the actual qualification but you do need the ability, and it's not as simple as writing. You do need to spend time learning how to do it, it's just that from my experience a year is long enough. So if you don't mind taking an extra year to a NCTJ course or a Masters, I'd recommend a degree in whatever subject you love, rather than in Journalism - unless, of course, you really want to, but it's not vital.
Also make sure that whatever course you do and whichever university you go to, you find someone/something/anything to write for. It is almost 100% likely that any potential employer will want to see work that you have had published. They need to see the quality of your work, it's as simple as that. Whether it's a university magazine or paper, or community newspaper, a website, or even for a local/national magazine, it doesn't matter. But you need to be writing. As well as giving you more material for a portfolio (btw, have a portfolio - keep clippings of anything good you get published) it is practice. Practice makes perfect, the more you write the better you get, and the more likely you are to be employed.
Do it, do it, do it, do it, and once more, do it. The vast majority of jobs in the industry are filled by word of mouth, and are often not advertised at all. It sucks when you don't know anyone, but it really is all about who you know. So get to know people.
If you want to be a reporter, get in touch with your local paper, radio station, TV station, magazines... anyone and everyone. Find out who the relevant person to contact at each is (phone the switchboard and ask). If you want to work for a particular magazine or website, or any publication in a particular genre, find it. Find where it's based and who you need to contact and badger them. Do not give up badgering them until they say yes or no. Do not continue badgering them if they say they can't offer you anything. Call back in a month instead. It also helps to know exactly when you want your placement to start and end.
Explain that you are training and need to get work experience. Show how much you want to be there. Phoning is always best. People are extremely busy and emails often get ignored. (I thought that was mean of people until I got the job and people started emailing me, they really really don't have time to reply to them all). If you're not keen on phoning, by all means email at first. If you don't hear anything call them. Don't ramble or waste their time. Be brief, tell them what you want and why you can help them. Get them to agree at least to you sending them a covering letter, CV and examples of published work. Give them a couple of weeks, and if you don't hear (doesn't mean they're saying no, they just forgot) then call them back every week until they say something either way. Dedication wins.
Try to avoid 'making tea' type work experience placements. They're better than nothing but really don't do you any good. Explain when arranging it that you want to be hands on. When you get there, work your arse off. Chances are they get a lot of work experience people, we do. And for some reason most of them hide quietly and nervously in the corner, wait to be given work, and do nothing to make an impression.
STAND OUT. You need to be remembered. Don't be shy. I know some people are shy in new places, I am too. But offices are usually very laid back and writers are a good bunch of people. Get to know people quickly. Engage in banter. Don't sit quietly!! Don't wait to be given work, find work! Ask anyone, ask everyone. Don't sit still! Go around the office, meet everyone, talk to everyone, watch what they're doing, learn! (Pick your moments for this... if people are clearly very busy don't distract them or slow them down.) Take an interest in what everyone is doing, work with them, learn from them. Never stop asking if there's anything else you can do. And even better, have your own ideas for something you can do. At appropriate times, seek constructive feedback for your work. If you're doing something wrong to start with and you learn to fix it and improve over a week or two, people notice that. Progress is nice!
It shouldn't be hard to find work experience. Most publications are under-staffed and an extra pair of hands for a week or two always goes down well. But those hands need to have ability, and you may need proof of that ability to get a placement. You're no use if you can't structure a news story, interview people on the phone, do research etc etc.. That's what education is for.
Finding your publication
You'll be surprised how few publishers there are. Three of four big ones control most of the magazine market, and the same for newspapers. They all have websites, use them to find your magazine. I will be more help to you if you want to work on a magazine than a newspaper, simply because I don't work for a newspaper and never have. (I don't want to cover local "news", I want to write about my area of interest).
Newspapers are easy to find and easy to contact, so you shouldn't have too much trouble there. If you're really stuck, ask me and I can probably point you in the right direction.
Magazines! I'm guessing you know your genre of interest. I'd advise you to start here, simply because you'll enjoy it more and lots of people get jobs through work experience and you'd rather work for music/fashion/sport/whatever you love mags than Practical Caravan. If you don't already, read any magazines you're interested in working for. Understand the writing style and house style. If you turn up to work experience already getting that right it will make an impression. Most mags have a column somewhere on a page that lists the staff and where the mag is based, use that to get in touch. Or use the publishers website. Haymarket for example lists all of its mags on its website http://www.haymarketgroup.com/home
Getting a job
Assuming this will be everyone's first full-time job in journalism/magazines... see above. It's highly unlikely that anyone not currently in the industry or without relevant experience will be employed by any means other than work experience. They need to see that you can do the job before paying you. If needs be, turn up and work for free for a while. Two of people I work with got the jobs by coming in and working for free for a month or so and being the first name people thought of when a job came up. But obviously be careful, you can only live for so long without being paid and you shouldn't spend too long working for free because some evil people will take advantage.