student life

Getting the best work experience in journalism

Written by SianElvin

A year and a half ago, I drifted into the world of university with the vague hope that I could convert my English Literature degree into a career in journalism.

A year and a half ago, I drifted into the world of university with the vague hope that I could convert my English Literature degree into a career in journalism. I had no contacts and little more than a position on my high school magazine.

Skip to the present and I have four editorial positions on various publications, know a bunch of awesome people in journalism and have three work experience placements, at both local and national newspapers, lined up for the Easter holidays.

It may sound like I’m showing off, but I’m only saying this to prove a point – I managed to find these opportunities all by myself, and I want to demonstrate that you can too.

Write, write, write

With the rise of the internet, getting involved with publications could not be easier. Do a quick online search and find some smaller magazines whose content covers your interests. You can find anything from student issues, to sport, to something really niche like sheep (trust me, it is out there, I’ve checked).

Drop them an email and ask if you can write! Nine times out of ten, they will say yes.

If you’re not sure what you want to write about, get involved with a magazine like us here at Kettle. We send out weekly suggestions so you don’t even have to come up with your own ideas if you don’t want to!

Another magazine I would strongly suggest signing up to is Blirt—you can write about whatever you like, anyone can get published and it’s an easy way to get your first byline.

And of course, if you’re at University, it goes without saying that you need to get involved with your student newspaper. Don’t put this off – drop an editor an email to express your interest. It’ll take you five seconds and I guarantee they’ll want your work.

If you’ve got the time too, get involved with your student radio or television stations, as they will give you invaluable equipment skills.

Get lucky

Whilst you’re getting all this writing done, ask around and find out if there are any editorial positions going at publications you’ve committed to. A lot of the time you’ll be told no, but at some point you’ll strike gold and be offered something.

If you’ve spoken to a few journalists, I’m sure by now you’ll have been told a number of times that the career is a game of luck—being in the right place at the right time. I do agree with this to an extent. However, I believe that you need to give yourself as many opportunities as possible, to put yourself in the right place at the right time.

So make yourself a LinkedIn profile, make an online portfolio, get talking to as many people about journalism as possible (whether that is on Twitter, going to networking events, etc). You never know, the perfect opportunity might end up right in front of you, without even having to look for it.

Never underestimate locals

So now we’re at the big, scary one: getting actual work experience at an actual newspaper or magazine. Anyway, I’ll let you into a little secret. It’s not all about getting a placement with the nationals.

Firstly, local publications are easier to get placements with – they mostly look for enthusiasm and a desire to get involved, so just send out a few emails well in advance and see if anything is available. Remember, they’re not paying you, so work for free is always appreciated!

Also, you’ll probably get more to do at a local publication. At a national, you’ll do a lot of watching rather than a lot of doing, and there’s only a certain amount of shadowing you can do without getting bored. You’re likely to get more credits and bylines at a local, too.

After that, you can eventually work your way up to the nationals. Keep an eye out for placement deadlines at organisations like the BBC and the Guardian, and send them a banging CV containing your editorial positions, your local work experience and links to your work and portfolio.

To summarise: keep writing, keep making contacts and keep persevering. Put yourself out there—get online, get socialising, get networking, to give yourself as many opportunities to get lucky as possible.

And don’t worry if you get knocked back a few times. If you want something enough, you can always find something eventually.

What are your top tips for getting work experience? Have your say in the comments section below.

Image: NS Newsflash / Flickr