Getting a job in journalism can seem like a Hunger Games-style battle against thousands of other hopefuls for a handful of openings. But instead of weapons, you’re more likely to have a couple of unpaid internships under your belt.
There is cause for optimism, however. You have a strong ally, and that ally is student media. If you really make the most of it, (and by that I mean writing more than a couple of articles per semester), you can really set yourself apart from the crowd. While getting your work out on more well-known platforms in the local and national media might seem more ‘impressive’ in your portfolio, the skills you gain from student media can’t be found anywhere else. In student media you get thrown in the deep end, developing new skills on the job and solving problems creatively. It’s also the perfect time to throw yourself into all aspects of media, finding out where your passion lies and what you’re best at.
At the end of it you should come out with a solid portfolio of work and a network of connections that will be invaluable in helping your secure that graduate job in journalism. But how do you get there? Here are our top tips for making the most of student media and using it to make it in the ‘real world’. May the odds be ever in your favour…
Especially for those of you who aren’t studying a journalism course, working on student media is the perfect way to build friendships with like-minded student journalists who will go on to be your colleagues in the industry. Try not to see journalism as a literal battle to the death. Cheer your fellow student journalists on in their successes and help them when you can. You never know when they might be able to return the favour.
Working in student journalism is also a good way to build connections with professional journalists who might be able to give you a helping hand with securing work experience placements, or getting your work printed in bigger publications. If you get invited to a press event, don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to fellow journalists. Also don’t forget to sell yourself as a journalist, not just a ‘student journalist’ – know your worth!
Become an ideas machine
Essentially there is only one thing you need to make it in journalism. And that is ideas. No matter which publication, station or channel you walk into, if you’re brimming with ideas, you’ll reap success. Student media is the perfect way to get that creative side of your mind working overtime.
That front page story isn’t going to write itself; it’s up to you, as a student journalist, to come up with the ideas necessary to fill it. Producing ideas, week in week out, prepares you for the relentless nature of the media industry, and the mindset needed to constantly generate new ideas.
Learn to deal with deadlines
By far my favourite memories from my time at university involve being sat in the newspaper office at midnight surrounded by pizza boxes frantically putting the finishing touches to that week’s newspaper issue five minutes before the deadline. There is no denying juggling student media with a degree is tough but learning to deal with the stress of deadlines is a really important skill that will stay with you for the rest of your career.
Build your portfolio
These days, employers look for evidence of your previous work more than anything else. They want to see your ideas manifested on the page, speaker or screen. Anyone can tell an interviewer they’re great at what they do, but being able to prove it with examples of previous work is much more impressive.
Getting work featured in the local or national media is of course beneficial, but this can often be tricky to break into, so student media is a great stepping stone. It’ll also force you to keep producing content around your studies – it can be easy to retreat into the library and bury yourself in books as deadlines loom, but student media stops for no one. It might be stressful at the time, but you’ll be thankful for it after graduation.
Keep saying, ‘Why not?’
Fancy doing a weekly campus dogspotting show? Or writing about the experience of eating chips with every single meal (including breakfast) for a week? (These are definitely not ideas I’ve had over the past year…) Student media is sea of creativity where literally anything goes. In fact, the weirder and more wonderful the better. So embrace the opportunity to try out as many wild ideas as possible. If it doesn’t work out, it’s no problem – it’s not like your job is on the line.
If you don’t know exactly what kind of journalism you’re most interested in, then student media is also the perfect playground to experiment. Try the newspaper, radio station and TV channel (if you’re lucky enough to have all three), and you’ll probably be surprised at what you’re capable of. After years of writing for our student newspaper, I tried out a bit of radio and loved it. You’ll probably never have free reign over these kind of facilities again, so make the most of it.
Make mistakes and learn from them
Take this with a pinch of salt. Getting your student newspaper sued or causing an outrage on social media isn’t a good idea. But your time as a student journalist is your time to make mistakes without the risk. You can try out article ideas and interviews, without the pressure for views the professional industry places on its journalists. You’re not getting scrutinised as much, so there’s space to find out what works and what doesn’t.
Most importantly though, you’ll learn from your mistakes. If you carry out an interview that doesn’t go so well, you can sit down and figure out why, and not make the same mistakes next time. If you keep making mistakes and learning from them, you’ll grow in confidence, so when you do walk into that professional newsroom, you’ll know exactly what you’re doing.
Trying to organise interviews for student media is often no mean feat. Many press officers don’t want to take you seriously, and they’ll palm you off and ignore your emails for months on end. But eventually, you’ll hit the jackpot. Whether it’s Charlotte Crosby or Owen Jones, your favourite band or your favourite chef, if you try hard enough you will eventually manage to secure that all important interview.
It’s natural to get nervous before an interview, especially with a big name, but doing interviews as often as possible will eventually eradicate these fears and unleash your inner Jeremy Paxman. Using your time with student media to do this will impress employers; carrying out interviews shows initiative and the ability to think on the spot. You’ll be able to waltz into your job, Dictaphone in hand, and carry out an interview confidently.
Go for awards
While student media is an experience in and of itself, try to get some official recognition for your work. The Student Publication Association, the Student Radio Association and the National Student Television Association all organise respective awards ceremonies for their industries. Even if you just get shortlisted, it’s an extra notch on your CV-belt, and the events themselves are a great way to meet student journalists from other universities – building that all-important network.
Sell to local (and national) media
The biggest weakness most student media platforms have is a lack of faith in the quality of their content. If you uncover a big story that you think local or national media would be interested in, don’t be afraid to send it across to them. Coverage from a bigger platform (always make sure they credit your publication) will provide extra publicity both for yourself and your student media channel, and will look super impressive on your CV. Just make sure you know your rights, and don’t let bigger organisations take credit for your hard work.
At the end of the day, student media is what you make of it. Do it right and it can take you far. My experience with student media led me to my first graduate job, a national award, a newspaper column and countless friends for life. So make it your commitment as you go into your next year of study to give student media all you’ve got, and let it lead you that all important graduate journalism job.