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4 Ways Journalism Students Can Succeed

Journalism is dying, with experienced editors and journalists losing their jobs and well-qualified entrants struggling to get a foot in the door… Or at least, that’s the idea journalism students might pick up from reading industry news and blogs.

A report from Press Gazette on labour force figures suggests a surge in journalist numbers from 57,000 in 2007 to 70,000 in 2013 and decries the decline in local newspaper reporters and the rise of digital new sites and content.

Entry to the industry remains highly competitive with prospective trainees often finding that they need to undertake multiple internships to gain the experience and contacts needed to land a job; gone are the days where newspapers would employ hordes of sub editors as this role is now carried out by reporters themselves or outsourced. Although there are trainee journalism roles available in the regions, the majority are still concentrated in London. The capital’s cost of living is another hurdle for recent graduates who might be struggling with high levels of debt while job-hunting. Add into the mix the fact that journalists are the second most distrusted professionals in the UK in the wake of the phone hacking scandal and tabloid sensationalism, and it’s clear that journalism is a volatile industry to say the very least.

In this atmosphere it’s vital that journalism students start actively planning for success during their degree, going beyond the requirements of their course and considering putting their skills to work in alternative industries.

Make It Multi-media

Journalism is no longer solely about reporters filing written stories, with newsrooms becoming multimedia platforms. Among US journalists the most desired training is in social media, digital and production skills.

Many journalism courses in the UK now offer training in these areas, but this doesn’t mean that students should assume that their courses are covering everything that they need to know. Getting involved with the student union’s social media presence or undertaking a module in video production could provide the extra edge on a CV that employers are looking for.

Experience, Experience, Experience

It’s a good idea to go beyond standard course placements and work experience. Guest speakers can provide a good point of contact for finding work experience, as well as making useful long-term contacts.

Local radio was touted by many as an excellent way to gain useful experience, along with local papers. Typically it’s possible to get more hands-on experience at these local publications or stations. This can be a particularly good idea for students who return home during the long vacation, as it opens up opportunities for long-term collaboration. There may be less competition for placements compared to publications in towns or cities where there is a university with a large journalism course.

When it comes to getting placements for major national publications, having clips from publications beyond a student newspaper can be a major bonus.

Create Your Own Platform

Some of the most well-known and widely read news websites in the UK allow individuals contribute their own articles, including BuzzFeed and The Huffington Post. This an unbeatable opportunity to write across a wide range of topics, in a variety of tones and to create pieces for different audiences.

Getting articles accepted by well-respected sites demonstrates quality writing and pitching skills, while also showing the initiative that is vital for journalists.

No budding journalist should neglect building a strong social media presence on at least one platform. Twitter is perhaps particularly well-suited for this, but depending on your interests Tumblr and YouTube are worth investigating too. It’s a chance to build up in-demand skills, create and maintain relationships within the industry and show an ability to keep a finger on the pulse of news and current affairs.

Don’t Focus Narrowly On Traditional Journalism

The rise of content marketing and social media means that there is a strong demand for writers who can spot, research and craft engaging stories and those with strong editorial skills to oversee production.

It’s not just experienced journalists who are making the move. New graduates may find it easier to find paid work in marketing than journalism. The convergence between PR and marketing is one of the hot industry topics and this gives journalism grads a real advantage. They already have an understanding of PR fundamentals, as well as experience of pitching ideas and developing contacts.

For roles that focus around content curation and management, editorial skills are vital and having these opens up opportunities for community management on news sites as well as for brands. So while the face of journalism is changing, for bright and enthusiastic students there are still plenty of opportunities to use those skills and develop their career.

Written by Sarah Willis, Online Editor & Writer