13 alternative tips for student journalists

See Number 11

I often get asked what advice I’d give students looking to go into journalism. I think people half expect the answer to be: “Don’t!” Of course, it’s tough, but it’s still a great profession, which is changing all the time. Here, slightly tongue-in-cheek, are 13 alternative tips for student journalists: 

1. Find out what newsrooms think of your journalism course before you start. There are some universities which are just perennially brilliant at turning out superb journalists. Others less so. Before deciding where to part with you hard-earned future wages, speaking to journalists in the sort of newsroom you want to end up in about the courses you’re looking at could make all the difference when you’re looking for your first job.

2. Find out how recently your lecturer was actually in a newsroom. There are many journalism lecturers who make sure they are spending time with journalists or in newsrooms, and they are the academics who can help shape and change journalism for the better. Andy Dickinson at the University of Central Lancashire is a great example. But I get frustrated by the number of vocal academics who deliver verdicts on the state of regional journalism based on little more than hearsay or comparing what they are seeing from afar with the good old days when they were employed in the trade.

3. Find a subject, make it your own, and blog about it. Journalism is all about getting to the heart of a subject and making it interesting for readers. Student newspapers are, of course, and excellent way to get experience, but the students with blogs which have run for a period of time, are clearly an authority on the subject and which have an audience getting involved are the ones who stand out when it comes to interviews.

4. Please don’t go to a local newsroom for work experience and then tell the reporters you have no intention of working in local newspapers. You may not think much of what we do, but we do. And so do our growing number of readers.

5. If you see something happening, take a photo, quickly. A picture is worth 1,000 words and so on – and the student journalist who can demonstrate that lightning-fast reaction of grabbing a photo on their mobile phone will find themselves equally as valuable.

6. Do social properly: Don’t just be on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, but show that you know how to use them to build contacts, share stories and get stories. This makes all the difference at interview.

7. Don’t confuse media commentary with demonstrating an ability to do journalism. 

8. Become great at one thing. With so many different ways to tell stories, the different skills can become overwhelming. Focus on being brilliant at one, be that data journalism, visualisation, video, interactives, social … or any one of the many other emerging skills.

9. ‘Traditional’ skills are still important. Demonstrating the ability to build contacts, get stories, understand law, know how the council works … they’re as important as ever.

10. Value the follow up. The 24/7 news cycle moves very quickly, and the value of the follow-up is often overlooked. A journalist who can keep getting follow ups will always find themselves in demand.

11. Watch The Paper. A great 1990s film about a New York newsroom, it’s as far fetched as you can imagine a newsroom to be. But it also captures the essence of what it is to be a journalist, and digital isn’t changing that. Sky Atlantic’s series The Newsroom is the same, just a lot more worthy.

12. Ignore people who say listicles are just done to grab cheap page views: If people didn’t read them, then they wouldn’t be everywhere.

13. Never end a listicle on a number which ends in 5 or 0: It looks forced. Unlike one which ends on 13, obviously.

8 comments

  1. On the contrary. Many newspapers continue to run successful campaigns fighting over issues that affect ordinary people, challenging injustices, or fundraising for good causes. And, of course, behind these campaigns are the principled and honest journalists we were talking about. Ask the parents of children who have gone abroad for lifesaving treatment – paid for by newspaper campaigns – if newspapers and their journalists don’t achieve much. I think they would disagree with you.

  2. I find it interesting to ask for the advice of experienced journalists as well as freshly graduates who have been in the industry for a few years. Often one realises that the mentality can be totally different (and I don’t think it means one of them is necessarily wrong). I really enjoyed reading this, thank you for this post.

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