I’ve come to the end of my three-year journalism course (sigh). Earlier this year I helped out with admissions interviews and met some prospective students who hope to study journalism at Westminster this year. They asked me what advice I’d give them to succeed on a journalism course. After lots of thought, I’ve compiled a list of eight tips to help journalism students make the most of their degree.
Showing up and doing the work is a good start, but you knew that didn’t you? Get out of bed and go to that 9am lecture. Skipping classes for no reason is a no-no (regardless of what you’re studying) so make an effort to be there.
Read the news
This is an obvious one, but anyone who wants to go into this field should read/watch/listen to the news. Hard copy newspapers probably aren’t your thing, but there are plenty other ways to consume news now so there’s no excuse for you to not stay up to date with current affairs.
Put in work outside of the classroom
My experience at university taught me that grades aren’t the most important thing. Journalism is a wildly competitive field so you’ll need to do more than the lectures to give yourself an edge. Obviously, work hard and try your best with assignments and exams, but don’t worry if you’re not knocking out firsts every single time. If you can, you should aim to spend your spare time writing, pitching article ideas to outlets as well as sharpening your multimedia skills like blogging and shooting/editing video and photos.
I’ll assume that you’re already working on your online presence but if not, set up some social media accounts ASAP (Twitter is a must for wannabe journos) and start your own online portfolio/blog. It’ll work in your favour if you put yourself out there, so make sure you interact with people online and publish good content regularly.
Get some work experience
Yes, you’ve heard it a million times before but work experience is so important. It gives you a chance to put the skills you’ve learned at university into practice and build your portfolio. It might be useful to write down the organisations that you want to work at in future and contact them about work experience. If you’re struggling with this or don’t know where to start, ask your professors/Careers Service for help, and then check out this article ‘5 alternatives to journalism internships’ to find out what else you can do to get ahead.
Getting work experience in journalism isn’t the easiest thing to do. I’ve lost count of how many unsuccessful applications I submitted before landing my first editorial internship. It helps to be persistent and enthusiastic, so don’t give up!
Read and write often
Writing skills are crucial for journalists and it helps massively to write often. Writing will help you find your voice and become a better writer, obviously. It’s equally beneficial to read as much as you can to expose yourself to lots of different styles. Try to read things you wouldn’t normally read, whether that’s newspapers, magazines, books or blogs.
In this industry, we’re often encouraged to choose a specialism. If you already know what your specialism is, great! But if you don’t know what topic(s) you want to cover, that’s perfectly fine at this stage. It might take some time before you figure out your niche, so don’t rush yourself. Your interests can change over time. Be open to trying new things and don’t immediately dismiss things you didn’t initially see yourself doing.
Know the industry
Being aware of what’s happening in the industry you want to work in will go a long way, so look at industry websites and blogs often. If you can, try to attend journalism and media-related events like conferences, talks and workshops. These can be pricey but there are free/cheap ones around too!
When it comes to relevant websites, journalism.co.uk is brilliant for anyone interested in the news business. Other must-read websites are BBC Academy, Media Guardian, Press Gazette, Wannabe Hacks, Poynter and Paul Bradshaw’s Online Journalism Blog.
Networking is absolutely key in journalism, especially for finding stories and job opportunities. So far, all of my previous experience happened a result of networking. Get out there and talk to people, online and offline. Go to events, talks, conferences and job fairs. Your university should provide opportunities for you to meet potential employers and take part in workshops. 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 and stay in touch with the contacts you make after you leave.
If you’re currently studying journalism at university (or you want to in future) and have any questions or concerns, feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll try to help however I can.