Internships and placements

Getting graduate work experience in journalism

22 Jan 2024, 13:25

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.

A pile of newspapers

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 | Your own projects | 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 often run internships or work experience schemes in journalism or editorial. Check their websites and make sure you follow the organisations on Twitter for news – bear in mind that the parent company of The Times and The Sun is News Corp.

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.

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 by-lines 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.


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. 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.

Your own projects

The following activities don't count as work experience per say and they are not a substitute for actual journalistic experience. However, they are a good way to practise your skills and to demonstrate your interest in journalism and content creation. In fact, we'd even go so far as to say that it's rare for a candidate to apply for a job in the media these days without links to the following on their CV.

  • 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. 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’ advice on unpaid internships and when you should be legally paid. Once you are informed, you will be able to make a judgement on what is right for you. For example, if you have no experience on your CV, it may be that you decide to undertake a very short stint of unpaid work experience just so that you have something to put on your CV – that is, as long as you are not being taken advantage of and you can afford it. Alternatively, if you already have some journalistic experience on your CV or if it feels like the employer is exploiting you (for example, for asking you to work unpaid for weeks or months), you may decide to hold out for some paid experience.

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.

targetjobs editorial advice

This describes editorially independent and impartial content, which has been written and edited by the targetjobs content team. Any external contributors featuring in the article are in line with our non-advertorial policy, by which we mean that we do not promote one organisation over another.

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