After sharing links to interesting articles and posting my thoughts on difficulties of the modern day journalist, I wanted to compile a list of “top tips” for journalism students. I actually thought of this idea the day before Richard Adams posted his “The number of university applications hit record high”, which reaffirmed my desire to do this.
Please note: I’m a student. I’ve never done any hiring for a professional website, newspaper, TV or radio station. I don’t claim to be a long-bearded academic oozing wisdom. I don’t have a PHD, Masters or even my own desk in a newsroom yet. There’s no guarantee you’ll get a job or internship if you do the following. This is merely intended to be a combination of what I’ve read and heard from others who are better qualified to give such advice. So think of it as just me handing research to you, one student to another.
Enjoy (be sure to let me know your thoughts) …
- Get web savvy: But aren’t all young people already? Yes, in a sense. If you’re 18-20 something year-old students you probably already have a knack for Facebook and could happily prioritise your weekends around chatting via instant messenger. The more intuitive among you might even read news online, check a blog or two, use or edit wiki, etc. Now take it a step further. Subscribe for email news alerts and RSS feeds – make friends with WordPress. Take advantage of what the internet has to offer because – believe it or not – it isn’t just a platform for social interaction! Do you know what Digg, Fickr and Twitter are? You don’t have to use them all, but you need to know what’s out there and be able to utilize new online resources (many of which are free) at your fingertips to better do your job.
- Start a blog: The next logical step. This could be on any topic you’re interested in, but be sure it’s something you’d be able to write about at least once a day. A blog is a great way to keep writing. Use images and hyperlinks. Be careful about the tone and content of the blog because it’s going to be part of your digital legacy, something future employers will see. You should avoid being too opinionated about a subject you may one day cover, because this could create problems later. For example, controversial topics are ones to avoid as a first-time blogger – you may well be asked to present a conflicting POV. Be professional, but have fun! A side note: Use your blog to further link all your university work online – a sort of “quick view” page if you like – so you can email a recruiter or editor.
- Learn to tell stories in more than one way: Journalism is essentially storytelling, so why not tell a story in the best way(s) possible? Audio, video, polls, interactive features and games can help. You don’t have to be Steven Spielberg behind the camera or have a voice like Don Lafontaine. You don’t have to be able to HACK or reinvent monopoly for the web (no, I won’t link). To be among the most viable candidates you need to be able to edit and upload content you captured with a camera, voice recorder and/or video recorder. It’s really not that hard. Nevertheless, students are expected work with programmers and online editors to tell a story – from fully-equipped TV studios to software like Final Cut and Adobe Audition. The best way to learn any skill is to do it for yourself. If you are waiting for someone to take your hand and lead you down the path of multimedia, think again. Make use of available online tutorials or courses. Practice. Learn from your mistakes and don’t give up. As one of my senior lecturers, Alex Lockwood, always said: “It’s not all about technology.” He’s absolutely right. Technology doesn’t tell the story. It helps, but ultimately it starts with you and a curious mind is the key for any journalist hoping to succeed.
- Network: Meet people. This is an essential part of your job as a journalist. If you fail to connect with your fellow journalists, lecturers, editors and reporters, what does that say about your ability to please your readers/listeners and maintain a good relationship with sources? It’s who you know, right? And, networking will certainly help you do your job better. You are more likely to get that dream job if you are in contact with someone working closely within the publication. The best references you will get are from those who the editor knows and trusts. But, how do you build contacts? I was always told to keep a contacts book handy. This doesn’t have to be anything fancy, a notepad or simply a pen and paper will do the trick. But, most importantly, be proactive: Go to conferences and job fairs, comment on interesting articles and blogs, email your favourite writers and reporters.
- Be positive: No matter how many times parents stress the importance of self-confidence, and let’s face it you’re probably sick to the back teeth of hearing it, you need to start believing in yourself. Journalism isn’t a course for the solitary student who spends his days cooped up in the library. This course is based largely around interactivity and, therefore, the ability to sell your ideas to experienced academics. I know, it’s not always easy. As a trainee journalist you will have preconceptions. You question just about everything from your writing style, telephone manner to the way you present your work. How do I overcome this you ask? Patience. You are new to this game and, it’s true, the more you practice the better you will become (insert “practice makes perfect” cliche here). So, don’t give up and keep up the good work fellow journos!