student life

Top tips for anyone thinking about becoming a journalist

So you have bravely decided to take your first step into the world of media by doing a journalism degree.

So you have bravely decided to take your first step into the world of media by doing a journalism degree. The way I see it, it is a very exciting time to be a hack, not only because it is an immensely satisfying profession but also because the field is diversifying every single day. Factors like social media and community management have changed the journalism landscape overnight and the good thing is that the rules are being written as we go along.

Personally, I feel undergraduate journalism courses make you a more well-rounded journalist as the Masters feels like a crash course. But fear not, either can reap dividends if used rightly. I’m not going to get into the importance of having a blog and being professional on social media. That’s an unwritten part of the fine print today.

Irrespective of whether you’re doing a Bachelors or Masters in Journalism, you will soon find that getting your dream job the minute you finish studying is a myth – unless you maximise your time at University. Here’s a rough guide to making the most out of your time at University so that you don’t find yourself sending mass applications and sinking into depression by the time you get your degree.

Immerse yourself in student media

Want to get your feet dirty? Do it via student media. Look out for messages and mails in your first week at University asking for writers/editors/presenters. Be the first to apply and show some enthusiasm. Student media is a great place to learn the ropes of how things work at a micro level.

Even though I gravitated towards online journalism, I hosted a show on student radio for one year. I made mistakes, sometimes huge ones but that’s the place you’re expected to learn. Try different areas. Your course maybe more structured but by being part of the student organisation you have the liberty to test your skills outside your comfort zone.
Contributing to student media builds up your portfolio, so record every show you present and have copies of every article you have written. You’ll be surprised how many you can do in a year. This will only add value to your degree and prove to your future employers that you’re worth hiring. Also, remember to periodically back-up all your data!

Undertake voluntary journalism work outside University

I refuse to believe that you can get a great journalism job soon after University without doing some form of voluntary work. Sadly, we live in an industry where we will be expected to write for free at the lower rungs of the ladder. Do it! Sitting on your high-horse and asking to get paid won’t get you anywhere in the long run. Talk to people and charities around your area that need editorial help. Ask a pub or band if you can run their social media campaign.
I worked for a local magazine throughout University. I covered events for free, entered the editor’s good books and was soon interviewing The Saturdays and covering shows by The Wanted. True, it involves another thing to balance, apart from your coursework, but if you’re doing stuff for free most places will go easy on you. There are loads of websites where you can get your work published, including: WannabeHacks, The Loudmouths and of course the totally awesome Kettle Mag. Ask and you shall receive!

Choose your internships and placements wisely

Now internships and work experience are tricky ones as the big companies (BBC, Sky, Guardian etc..) regularly take on people for work experience but they seem to prefer experience when hiring for a full-time role. Is that okay with you? If so, that’s brilliant and you’ll have a fabulous experience just by being in the thick of the action at each of these organisations. Sadly a degree, enthusiasm and pot-loads of ideas won’t get you that crucial first break.

However, you can take the alternate routes of interning with smaller companies, making an impact and keeping in touch them. I know friends who’ve been called back to cover for shifts because of their enthusiasm, availability and reliability. Some have even employed when the opportunity arose, just because employers knew they were good at what they did and they had already established a rapport within the company’s culture.

Communicate effectively and network

Networking does not mean adding everyone from the student union on Facebook, using Twitter as a text messaging service and becoming the Mayor of your local pub. It sometimes includes the smaller things like saying thank you when someone agrees to meet you regarding work, being polite over the phone and not misquoting people in your articles. It also means warning people before-hand that you may or may not use his/her quote/footage. All this helps build bonds and trust.

The broader meaning of networking – from a journalistic perspective – is knowing which individuals can be of service to you either in the immediate future or somewhere down the line pertaining to your field of work and trying to harness those relationships. I would suggest keeping everyone on equal terms because you never know who can end up where today.

As an aspiring journalist, you need to be brave to apply to your dream roles, blatant enough to ask for feedback after a rejection and persistent enough to get what you want. But you need to do it in a manner in which you’re considered trustworthy by your appearance, creditable as a professional and reliable by nature.

Good luck to the class of 2012-2013!