From 1st-6th March this year, the UK are marking their National Careers Week! So, it seems like the perfect time to publish a guide about how to be more employable as a student journalist. After all, if you’ve found yourself drawn to this guide, I’m guessing you want to get your foot in the door in the industry! So, here are some ways to help improve and expand your journalism CV.
Write, write and write some more
If you want to be a writer by profession, nothing can substitute practise. As the saying goes, practise makes perfect. If you study at a university with a functioning student paper, you should embrace the opportunity to write for them as much as possible. Write about what you like. Write about what you don’t like. Write reviews, news articles, interviews and opinion pieces. If you keep writing, you will be able to keep learning, refining and developing your craft.
If writing for a student publication isn’t a viable option for you, or you want to try and get some extra bylines, another option is to become a writer for volunteer-led platforms. There are a range of platforms out there which are frequently advertised on social media, but some of our favourites include:
- The Indiependent
- The Hysteria Collective (for minority genders)
- TABOU (for disabled people)
- Ashamed Magazine (for BIPOC minority genders)
- The Meridian
- The Collective Magazine
- Empoword Journalism (for minority genders)
- Mercury Magazine
- Candid Orange
- Happy People Music
- Words for Music
- A Thousand Lives
You might want to play by your own rules rather than those put in place by other publications. Want to work to your own deadlines? Why not start a blog? Platforms like Medium mean that it is easier than ever to just write and publish to your heart’s content, but if you want to make your blog a bit more personal, WordPress and Wix are both very user-friendly platforms that you can use to develop and customize your own blog.
If you’re involved with a student or volunteer-led publication, you can take your commitment to these publications further to help enhance your CV and learn more transferable skills. Student publications annually elect students into roles like News Editor, while volunteer publications may also accept applications for people to join their editorial teams as and when the opportunity presents itself.
Either way, these part-time voluntary roles will help you to gain crucial editorial and other transferable skills like sub-editing and time management that will help make your CV stand out.
A healthy work-life balance is important. If you feel that the publication you are volunteering with (student or otherwise) has unreasonable expectations, don’t feel guilty for setting your boundaries. A voluntary role should be something fun that fits into your schedule. It shouldn’t feel like a full-time job that takes you away from other tasks.
Finding work experience
If you want to be a journalist, it is important to start thinking about work experience as early as possible. Work experience placements, while unpaid, help you stand out from the crowd, and a lot of postgraduate journalism courses and graduate schemes specifically mention work experience as part of their requirements.
Work experience placements in the media industry are hard enough to come by as it is. But during a pandemic? It can be really rough. However, that isn’t to say that getting a work experience placement isn’t possible. While major news outlets like The Guardian, the BBC, the Financial Times and The Times all offer work experience placements, they are incredibly competitive – so it’s worth not putting all your eggs in one basket.
GoThinkBig is also, usually, a really great website to find work experience placements with publications like The Week and Grazia, but opportunities have been a little sparse currently due to the pandemic. But, still useful to keep them on your radar once things start to pick up again!
However, this is also competitive. By far, the best way to get a work experience placement is by sending a speculative email along with a clear date range and an up-to-date and tailored CV to the editor of the publication of your choice.
The email addresses of editors of publications can usually be found under the ‘Contact’ tab of a publication’s website, but bear in mind that the ‘Contact’ tab may be discreetly placed on a website’s footer – so make sure to look carefully! If you can’t find any email address, you can politely contact the publication via social media or phone to request an email address that way.
You’re more likely to be successful in getting places at smaller publications, but also don’t be afraid to aim high and email the editor of your favourite magazine, just in case! If you aren’t sure how to structure your speculative email, just treat it as a cover letter. Here’s an example of one I wrote that successfully resulted in a two-week work experience placement:
My name is Charlotte Colombo, a first year BA Philosophy and English student at the University of Southampton.
I am writing today to enquire whether you have any work experience or internship opportunities at your institution during the summer months (approx. June- early September).
I believe that the experience I have encountered during my degree as well as various extracurricular activities, editorial and leadership positions would make me well-equipped addition to your team, and would give me valuable experience as I embark onto my chosen career path.
For your interest I have attached my CV, which also contains links to my online portfolio and Linkedin account.
Hope to hear from you soon.
Of course, with the pandemic meaning that a lot of publication staff are working from home, it is important to make clear in your emails that you would be willing to undertake a digital, remote work experience placement. While newsroom experience may be rewarding, it is unlikely you’ll be able to get any during the pandemic, so make sure that it’s clear that you are expecting the placement to be remote.
It’s worth noting that hyperlocal newspapers and Business to Business (B2B) magazines are usually a lot more open to work experience, and you might end up having a more fulfilling experience undertaking a placement there because they have more time to devote to you.
It is better to get quality work experience where you can learn transferable editorial skills at a publication that you don’t find particularly exciting than to spend two weeks making coffee at one of the bigger names in the industry.
If you are struggling to find a publication willing to take you on, another option is to try and arrange a few days shadowing a journalist in the field you want to go into, or offering to assist a full-time freelance journalist. However, you might want to aim a little lower than shadowing Laura Kuessenberg.
Early-career journalists are more likely to have both the time and enthusiasm to ensure that you get the most out of the shadowing them: after all, it wasn’t that long ago you were in their shoes! If you find yourself unable to find someone to shadow or you don’t know where to start, Freelancing for Journalists can help to facilitate a work shadowing placement with a freelance journalist for you. However, it should be noted that they do charge an admin fee for this.
Work experience placements will typically range from a few days to a couple weeks. Don’t let places take advantage of you by making you work for free for an extended amount of time under the guise of ‘work experience’.
Journalism is an industry that is fundamentally rooted in communication, so networking is a vitally important part of succeeding in the industry. But networking doesn’t have to mean awkward black tie events where you feel out of place! Online communities* and student journalism networks have made it easier than ever to network with people in the industry on your terms.
The single best resource for young journalists wishing to network is the Young Journalist Community Facebook group.
With over 4,000 members, this group is a great way to access opportunities, seek advice and, most importantly, meet people who are in the same boat as you! People in the group sometimes advertise group chats, Zoom workshops and networking events: all of which are great opportunities to network with both industry professionals and other student journalists.
*Please note that common sense internet safety rules apply, even in a pandemic. People online aren’t always who they say they are. Stay safe and vigilant!
If you are of a marginalized gender, you can also connect with people through the Gals in Journalism Facebook group, which has over 2,000 members.
If you are a university student, you can also network and get to know other like-minded student journalists by getting involved with your student publication. From there, through events like the SPARC and SPANC conferences, you will have the opportunity to meet and interact with other student publications not only in your region, but across the whole of the UK and Ireland.
You can also stay in touch with other student journalists across the UK and Ireland through the SPA Facebook group, or your region-specific Facebook group (please contact your Regional Officer for more information).
In order to make and maintain meaningful connections with people you meet on campus or at events or conferences, it is useful to take advantage of social media platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn. Whether it be an industry professional, someone who hosted you for work experience or a fellow student journalist, don’t feel afraid to ask for their Twitter or LinkedIn details!
You will meet so many people throughout your time as a student journalist, and each of these people will have valuable insights and potential opportunities you can benefit from. Networking is harder than ever due to the pandemic, and a lot of student journalists are undoubtedly feeling the same way, so next time you’re in a Zoom workshop or interacting in a Facebook group like Young Journalist Community, why not propose swapping LinkedIn and Twitter profiles?
The more connections you make, the more networking (and friendship!) opportunities they can lead to. When it comes to networking, you get out what you put in. Never lose touch with a connection in the industry, whether it be someone speaking at a conference or a student publication colleague in the year above.
In terms of networking etiquette, it is important to be confident (fake it ’till you make it!) and to put yourself out there whenever the opportunity to do so presents itself. However, make sure to also remain respectful and to not cross boundaries (asking a BBC guest speaker for their personal phone number in the name of networking, for instance, is slight overkill.) Above all else, be respectful, polite and friendly.
While it is true that journalism is a competitive industry, that doesn’t mean fellow journalists are the enemy. In fact, they’re quite the opposite – other journalists are your most valuable allies: learn from them as much as you can and help each other wherever possible.
Freelancing is a great way to not just earn money while studying, but to also get some great bylines and write articles about things you’re passionate about! For the uninitiated, freelancing essentially involves ‘pitching’ article ideas to various publications.
When pitching, you will either be ‘cold pitching’ – meaning that you are the one approaching a publication’s commissioning editor with an article idea – or pitching in response to a call-out by said commissioning editor (more on how to find these call-outs later).
Either way, you will usually be pitching the commissioning editor via email, and if they like your idea, they will respond to you explaining when they would like a draft, how long they want the draft to be and how much they will be willing to pay you. They might ask you for other information like payment details, a headshot or your Twitter handle.
Pitching can be difficult at first, but JournoResources has a wealth of, well, resources including pitching guidelines for various publications and examples of successful pitches. The Young Journalist Community have a Google Doc of successful pitches too, and they also have a helpful spreadsheet with the contact details, remits and rates of student-friendly publications!
If you aren’t sure how to pitch a certain publication, you can look on that publication’s website for any contact details or pitching guidelines. You can also use websites like hunter.io to find email addresses for commissioning editors that you can send a speculative pitch to. As well as this, feel free to utilize groups like Young Journalist Community and Gals in Journalism to see if someone knows the right person to pitch to!
There are several ways to find calls for pitches from commissioning editors. You can search for phrases such as #callforpitches on Twitter, or stay in the loop by following Twitter Lists such as this one of commissioning editors. Instagram accounts like The Freelance Sessions also frequently round up and post content call-outs from commissioning editors a couple times a month.
Another great way to keep track of calls for pitches is via newsletters. Here are some of our favourites:
- Freelance Writing Jobs
- The Professional Freelancer
- Freelance Pitch Calls
- The Peak District
- Opportunities of the Week
- Bitchin’ Pitchin
- Northern Natter Newsletter
It is very common for pitches to get ignored and rejected, so if this happens to you, please don’t get disheartened. Also, if you do end up getting commissioned and becoming a freelancer, make sure to keep track of your invoices, taxes and finances!
Developing a portfolio
Developing an online portfolio for your journalism is incredibly important. Compiling all your best work into one place can help you not just as a freelancer, but also in your applications to postgraduate courses, graduate jobs, work experience and internships.
There are several ways you can go about making your own portfolio, and what works for you depends on things like the time on your hands, your aptitude for web design and whether you would be willing to spend money on a portfolio.
If you have a Twitter, chances are that a lot of your online bylines are already public on MuckRack, a database for journalists. If you want to customize your MuckRack profile and build a portfolio, it is just a matter of getting in touch with MuckRack directly so that they can make an account for you and give you access to your profile on this database.
Another free, popular and easy-to-use option for journalists to showcase their work is Contently. Updating your portfolio is just a matter of uploading links, and the results are a slick and professional look. While JournoPortfolio is another popular option and operates in a similar way, you will need to pay a monthly subscription to get the full benefit of this platform.
You might want more creative control over how your portfolio appears. So, if you have experience with WordPress or Wix (or are willing to learn!), you can also publish your portfolio on one of these platforms.
If you aren’t opposed to spending a little bit of money, you can purchase a customized domain name (such as yourname.co.uk) to help your portfolio really stand out.
Other helpful resources
As well as the resources mentioned throughout this guide, if you are interested in pursing a career in journalism, here are the best places to learn more:
- The SPA’s YouTube channel, which includes recordings of all our National and Regional Conference panels and speakers events, which are made up of various experts in the industry.
- So You Want to Be a Journalist
- Empoword Journalism’s Journalism Hub
- Press Pad Remote Season 1 webinars (Season 2 coming soon) and blog
- News Associates’ free journalism workshops and blog
- The Indiependent’s webinar series
- Views Our Own (Podcast)
- Jobs Bored (Podcast)
- Northern Natter (Podcast)
Looking for a grad job? Here are some of the best places to look…
- JournoResources’ Jobs Board and Graduate Schemes page
- MediaBeans (also subscribe to their newsletter!)
- Cision Jobs
- The Guardian Jobs
- PressGazette’s Jobs4Journalists
- TheMediaMentor (Twitter)
Jobs in newspaper:
Jobs in magazine:
Good luck with all your future endeavours!
Charlotte Colombo is Training & Opportunities Officer for the SPA and former Editor of Wessex Scene, University of Southampton. She is currently studying an MA in Magazine Journalism at City, University London while freelancing and working part-time as an entertainment journalist.