I’ve come to the end of my three-year journalism degree. Soon I’ll officially be a graduate and I’m already worrying about grad jobs, salaries, my career and “adulting”. Having said that, I’ve enjoyed my degree so much and feel strangely optimistic, although uncertain, about post-university life.
Earlier this year I was asked to help out with university interviews and meet some of the prospective students who want to study journalism at Westminster in September. Meeting these young, bright, ambitious individuals was interesting; it made me reflect on my own experience as a journalism student. They wanted to know what advice I would give them to succeed on the course. After lots of thought, I’ve compiled a list of tips to help journalism students make the most of their journalism course.
1. Turn up
First of all, showing up and doing the work is a good start. Get out of bed and go to that 9am lecture. Skipping classes for no reason won’t do you much good in the long run, so make an effort to be there.
2. Put in extra work outside of the classroom
Journalism is something that is best learned by doing it. As you know, this industry is incredibly competitive and it isn’t enough these days to simply attend your lectures and complete assignments. You should aim to spend your spare time blogging, making contacts, recording podcasts, producing videos, taking photos etc. Do more than the minimum that is required to get by.
3. Read the news
This is an obvious one, but anyone who wants to go into this field should be reading the news (or watching it or listening to it). If traditional newspapers aren’t your thing, there’s plenty other ways to consume news so you have no excuse to not know what’s going on in the world.
4. Get some work experience
Yes, you’ve heard it many times before but the importance of work experience can’t be overstated. It doesn’t only help you stand out when breaking into the industry, it gives you a chance to put the skills you have learned at university into practice and build a portfolio. If your university doesn’t help you arrange internships or work experience then you’ll need to organise these yourself. Write down the places where you might like to work in future (or have a genuine interest in) and contact them about work experience.
Gaining work experience isn’t the easiest task in the world. I’ve lost count of how many unsuccessful applications I submitted before landing my first editorial internship but it definitely helps to be persistent and enthusiastic, so don’t give up!
It’s worth noting that as useful as work experience is, it is not the only option for developing your journalism career, as explained in this journalism.co.uk article ‘5 alternatives to journalism internships’.
5. Read and write often
Writing skills are crucial for a journalist and it helps massively to write often. Writing will help you find (and develop) your voice and style as a journalist and of course, become a better writer. It’s equally beneficial to read as much as you can, and as widely as you can because you’ll expose yourself to lots of different styles. Read things you wouldn’t normally read occasionally, whether that’s newspapers, magazines, books or blogs.
6. Be open-minded
Before starting a course, you may already have an idea about what kind of journalist you want to be, or what topics you’re interested in covering but this could change over time. Be open to trying new things and don’t immediately dismiss things you wouldn’t have imagined yourself doing.
7. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes or ask for help
You are not perfect and you won’t know everything and that’s fine. The point is to learn and build skills and develop knowledge. If you’re seeking advice or have any questions or concerns about your studies/career, speak to course tutors and careers advisors. If there’s someone in the industry you admire, or whose job interests you, try reaching out to that person for advice. Most people won’t mind at all if you do this, just be polite and friendly.
8. Know the industry
Regardless of what career you wish to pursue, it’s good to be aware of what’s happening in the industry you want to work in one day. journalism.co.uk is a brilliant site for anyone interested in the news business. Other must-read websites are Media Guardian, Press Gazette, Wannabe Hacks and Paul Bradshaw’s Online Journalism Blog.
Networking is absolutely key in journalism, especially for finding stories and job opportunities. All of my previous journalism-related experience has happened a result of networking. Get out there and talk to people, online and offline. Go to events, talks, conferences and job fairs. Your college or university should provide opportunities for you to meet employers and take part in workshops so take advantage of things like that. Introduce yourself to guest speakers or lecturers on your course and ask for their details if they catch your attention. Talk to as many different people at college or university as you can. Remember to use work experience as a networking opportunity as well and stay in touch with contacts you make after you leave.
Are there any tips you would add to this list?