Getting graduate work experience in journalism

Competition is tough for fledgling hacks looking to break into the industry. Here are some ways you can gain journalism work experience and how to apply.

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Don’t wait for schemes or internship adverts to appear online because they won’t – write a letter, make a phone call and go.

See the list of links below to jump to a subject that interests you. Or you can sample a little of each section to give yourself a good overview of what you can do to get graduate work experience in journalism.

Journalism work experience options | Journalism internships and schemes | Local newspapers | Local radio | Magazines/publishers/websites | Student newspapers and broadcasters | Alternative work experience | Is unpaid work experience worth doing? | Making the most of your work experience

Types of journalism work experience

Journalism internships and work experience schemes at well-known organisations

The Telegraph, The Times, The Guardian, Sky and the BBC typically run internships or work experience schemes in journalism or editorial. Check their websites and make sure you follow the organisations on Twitter for news.

Of course everyone wants to go to organisations such as these, which makes their schemes insanely competitive. If you’re looking for alternatives to the major brand names, then it’s best that you read the sections below.

Local newspapers

There are still independently run local newspapers in the UK and speculative applications are the standard approach. Don’t wait for schemes or internship adverts to appear online because they won’t – write a letter, make a phone call and go. During the pandemic, ask about remote working opportunities; you won’t be able to experience a physical newsroom but you’ll still be producing your own content and getting a sense of how things are done day to day.

You will most likely be assigned to shadow a full-time member of staff as they work on stories. The pace will vary according to how regularly a newspaper publishes. You may find yourself ignored somewhat on a daily as everyone scrambles to meet the deadline at the end of the day, but the work will be more challenging. A weekly will mean you get more in-depth advice from staff, but you won’t get the same news experience. As a general rule you’ll move onto researching (with sources) and double-checking quotes with people before they unleash you on stories.

It’s common for vox pops to be handed down to interns and work experience students. A vox pop requires you to ask as many people as possible the same questions on a single topic. This is the job that no one wants to do, but it is great for the readers, measures general public sentiment on current affairs and is a great way to hone interviewing skills. Suck it up, don’t be timid and go back with as much as you can get to make an impression.

From there you may move on to writing your own stories. Chances are many will be press releases which you will reshuffle and combine with information gleaned from telephone interviews and phone calls. This shouldn’t devalue the experience and you’ll get a few bylines at the end of the day to show future employers.

Local radio stations

Local radio stations now predominantly (but not entirely) mean BBC local radio. Competition is likely to be stiff to get onto one of the BBC schemes. Applications can be found and made almost exclusively through the BBC’s centralised application system online.

Work experience tasks will be very nearly the same as for local newspapers, although the ratio of shadowing to practical work will vary greatly from location to location. In addition to the research and vox pops (staples of journalism work experience), expect to learn how to write cues and use software such as Cool Edit or Adobe Audition.

Magazines/publishers/websites

Work experience placements at magazines or their online equivalents can be a softer way into the industry. While many will edge more towards office-based tasks (picture research, blogs, social media, comment and features) than news reporting, you will still get the opportunity to shadow the staff. If you’re lucky they’ll have a lot more time to teach you the basic rights and wrongs of reporting and writing.

Student newspapers and broadcasters

Many student unions have a newspaper, magazine, radio and/or television station (although it may have been more difficult to get involved in these while university campuses were closed due to the coronavirus). Sign up at freshers’ fair or go along to a meeting. Once you’ve joined, you can stand for election to a more senior role such as editor-in-chief or section editor. Experience across a range of different roles will also help as it demonstrates an understanding of the whole process.

Alternative work experience

The following can be good additions to your CV, especially while other forms of work experience have been harder to find during the coronavirus lockdowns. Normally we would recommend that you don’t treat these as substitutes for work experience. However, it would be an unreasonable employer that would not take into account the difficulties of undertaking an internship or similar scheme in 2020 and 2021 when considering your future job application. Recruiters seek evidence that you would make a good employee (that you are interested in the sector and have the required skills and qualities). More advice on getting work experience during the pandemic.

  • Blogs. Having a blog (or setting up a podcast or vlog) can show a commitment to current affairs or other topics of special interest. If you become successful it may be a good way of promoting your skills. However, bear in mind that you will make spelling or grammatical mistakes – you have no editor, no sub-editor and no one to tell you about inappropriate headlines or defamatory comments.
  • Social media. It now goes without saying that you will be well versed in social media when applying to any journalism job and employers will check. Make sure what you have is appropriate. It’s perfectly fine to keep your Facebook private, but platforms such as Twitter should be exposed to the world and free of offensive comments or references to your own state of inebriation at the time.

Should you do unpaid work experience?

The sad fact is that small newspapers and local organisations don’t have much of a budget or a need for work experience students, which can lead to a dearth of paid positions. To understand the situation fully, make sure you check out: TARGETjobs’ work experience and internships advice.

The upside of a lack of established experience programmes is that you may have more freedom to pick and choose how much work you do. Staff are normally too busy trying to get the daily publication/show out, so it will be your responsibility to ask for work while you’re there. Work placement schemes, national and local, will normally offer you anything from travel expenses to an average first job wage.

On a local newspaper you may be able to negotiate which days you go in and how often. This means you could minimise your work experience to a single day each week, for example, and could combine it with paid work.

Making the most of your work experience

  • Turn up on the first day with story ideas – even if the editors shoot them down, they will tell you why and you’ll learn. Don’t stop looking for stories while you’re there.
  • Ask for work. Editors will be busy, but newsrooms always need content and back up content. Find out if there are any press releases you’re allowed to chase after and get working.
  • Move around. See if you can get some time shadowing the sub-editors and photographers so that you get to see different roles.
  • Get the research paperwork done quickly – a real journalist would – then you can move on to the more interesting jobs.
  • Steer clear of office politics – national newspapers in particular can be quite tense and competitive. Just make sure you make good contacts for the future.

Last updated: 29 April 2021.

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