So, chances are if you’ve found this article, you're looking to make inroads into the field of Journalism, but you’re not sure how, or are uncertain because your degree is seemingly unrelated. It can honestly seem like you’re navigating the highly intimidating careers path completely blindfolded when you’re a student, especially if you feel like you study a subject that doesn’t translate directly into a specific career path. Regardless of what some people might think, your degree subject is not the be all and end all of what you can pursue after University. Whether you’re studying Journalism or not, the door into the industry isn’t closed, and it’s often easier to get started than you may realise. So, here’s your step by step guide to becoming the next Lois Lane!
1) Student Journalism:
The first place every prospective Journalist should look to for work experience is student journalism companies, such as The Tab, SCAN or Kettlemag, to name a few. These companies provide excellent experience, enabling you to get stuck into journalism alongside your studies. You can try your hand at whatever interests you, such as features writing: ‘Buzzfeed style’ articles, quizzes, and generally more light-hearted content. Alternatively, you get the chance to write on big issues at your university, such as strikes, outrageous or offensive student societies and campus controversies. It may seem quite mundane, but this really helps you refine your writing skills, and it gives you a small taste of what it’s like to be on the hunt for stories 24/7. Plus, it’s super exciting when something big happens at your University and you’re the first one on the case! Once you’ve got a few months of student Journalism under your belt and most importantly if you really enjoy it, then you should start looking around for work experience or internship opportunities.
2) Work experience:
Very few companies will be looking for students with no prior experience. Crucially, most internships will ask for between 3 to 6 examples of good published work, in addition to a strong covering letter and CV, so you do want to spend enough time getting some good published pieces together. The number one mistake most students make is targeting big media giants for work experience first. The Guardian, The BBC and Channel 4 all run highly competitive work experience or internship schemes. There is absolutely no harm in applying for them, but there is a very limited number of places and the odds are stacked against you. So, the advice most people in the industry give is to target local newspapers for work experience, they are far more likely to be receptive and are slightly more accessible for students.
Specifically, if you do opt to work for the Tab, when editors get wind of internships at companies such as Cosmopolitan, The Sunday Times and The Times, you will be the first to find out. This is really important if you want to impress by being the first one in line with an excellent application. Working for an organisation such as the Tab also gives you contacts who have been in the industry for a few years. If you ask nicely, they can give you further help and guidance, and the editor for your university which will most likely be another student, can give you an editor’s note to attach to your application, too.
It really doesn’t hurt to apply for the opportunities at larger media companies, but you should focus most of your efforts on newspapers local to you, particularly because you will have local knowledge and an ear to what’s going on. If you search your local newspaper online, you can usually find the contact details for the editor, their email and phone number. It depends on your confidence level, whether you would feel comfortable phoning someone you haven’t spoken to before, or whether you want to send a ‘hello’ email first. If you choose to email first, understand that they are likely very busy, keep it short and informative. Attach your CV and a way for them to view your published works and provide further contact details if necessary. If they don’t respond within a week, try giving them a call next. It can be very daunting, but your email may have slipped through the cracks or they may have been so busy they just haven’t made it a priority to reply. Try to remain calm, friendly and professional when you speak to them, it’s totally normal to feel nervous but most people are very friendly, and you never know what may come of it! Even if they can’t sort out work experience for you right away, if they have your contact details and CV, and they can associate a voice and a friendly personality to your name, they might think of you in future. Repeat this process with as many local newspapers as you can. If you bag yourself some experience, congratulations! You’ve taken the second step to making yourself stand out, but the hard work isn’t over yet!
3) Continuing to build your portfolio:
If your work experience is scheduled for the following summer or during University breaks, you need to still be adding to your portfolio throughout term time. Another way to do this is to pick up remote internships. These internships do not require you to relocate for specific periods and are perfect for building your writing portfolio alongside your studies and student journalism. The content writing you're doing might not seem to be directly applicable to a Journalism career, but it will most certainly demonstrate a strong writing ability.
It is most certainly the case that some students are lucky enough to have a relative or family friend in the industry, so they may have a head start when it comes to networking but try not to let that discourage you. If your university offers some form of careers mentoring system, sign up to it ASAP. Make yourself known to your Universities career service and tell them exactly what you're looking for, tell them that you’re looking for contacts in the Journalism industry. There will likely be someone who has been or is part of that line of work, and they may be able to help, even if it’s just to look over your CV. Networking sometimes tends to be an accident, whoever you’re in contact with may know someone, who knows someone else in the industry. It really is so helpful if you can develop a personal connection with someone who works for a local newspaper for example, if they know that you are generally hardworking and friendly, they’re far more likely to push for opportunities on your behalf!
5) After University:
Postgraduate options might seem like something you don’t need to think about for a long while, but by the time third year starts, you’re expected to have a pretty good idea of what graduate schemes you want to apply for. If you’re pretty sure Journalism is the path for you, you’re going to want to start looking at what graduate schemes are available in the summer of your second year, because the deadlines creep up in Autumn term! Again, there is absolutely no harm in applying for schemes at big media companies, but also look to see if there are any at slightly smaller media outlets too!
The general advice, for both Journalism related and non-Journalism related degree disciplines, is to aim to complete a postgraduate qualification, the ‘NCTJ (National council for the training of Journalists) diploma. This intensive course taken after graduating university is usually 22 weeks full time or 40 weeks part time and funding is available. You can also specialise in sports journalism if you wish. Once again, this course is highly competitive, and the work experience you gain prior to graduating University will be crucial. The UK’s top Journalism school is ‘News Associates,’ and they offer courses in London and Manchester. Check out their website to learn more about free seminars and workshops they offer, as well as their comprehensive Journalism summer school: http://newsassociates.co.uk/
Overall, throughout the whole process remember that this industry is highly competitive and if you're serious about breaking into it, you need to give yourself the best chance possible. But on a more positive note understand that while it may be difficult, it isn't impossible. Whether you have a degree in Journalism or not, often what it comes down to is how much potential you have, and if you have a proven passion. Apply to as many internships as possible, utilise every single connection and most importantly, don’t give up!
Author: Sophia Waters