How to get the most out of student journalism
Job hunting can be a rather infuriating process when you don’t have the right experience. If you want to go into media and publishing, you have to demonstrate a keen interest in those fields. One way to do this is through student journalism. I collected responses on this topic from our editorial team here at TARGETjobs.
Getting started on your student paper
Getting the ball rolling can be quite a daunting prospect. However, most student publications will be receptive to writing samples or suggestions for articles. The first thing to do is make contact with one of the current editors: send out an email with an idea for an article or go along to a contributors’ meeting. Publications can get free press tickets for theatre, so you could suggest a show you’d like to see and review. Once you’ve completed your first piece, you can start thinking about writing more pieces to bulk out your portfolio. This will make you a good candidate for any roles that open up at the publication.
Become a section editor
As you start writing for a student publication, you’ll realise that there’s a lot of different tasks to get involved in. A section editor, for instance, might attend meetings, come up with article ideas to delegate, interview people, send requests for photographs, use online publishing programmes and liaise with designers. Content can vary across the publication and there are usually different section editors, such as a music editor, theatre editor or sports editor. A music editor, as well as managing articles, might also organise gigs and DJ nights in bars inside or near the university campus. They could also be interviewing local bands about their style and influences. It’s good to accumulate various responsibilities when you are an editor or a contributor because they are a goldmine for CV writing. When a job description asks for teamworking skills or the ability to work to a deadline, you can cite real-life experiences. It’s no use just saying you’re good at something if you can’t prove it.
The experience of student journalism will also help you make a decision about your career path. You could have your illusions of an ultra-glamorous desk job shattered. Working for a publication might make you realise how much effort goes into its creation and distribution. Perhaps you’ll find something tangential that you really enjoy and want to go into, such as radio presenting, given that some student publications have a broadcast section. A student newspaper is a great sandbox to muck about in, try out new things, make friends and learn whether you’re cut out for certain tasks. It could give you a great catalogue of reviews that you can reference in job applications, or just allow you to see how an article becomes fully-formed in print or on a webpage.
The art of the listicle
It’s also important to appreciate how much student journalism is now web-based. Online publishing now features styles like listicles and clickbait articles. Social media is also tied into online publishing as its promotion tool. A student publication usually circulates content on Facebook and Twitter, so knowing about how to advertise and design content is crucial – you could get involved in this side of the publication and learn these skills. This may open up job possibilities in PR and marketing roles.
It’s the people you meet…
The publication might also organise careers-related events. You could have the opportunity to visit a newspaper printing plant, attend a talk delivered by a commissioning editor from a publishing imprint, go on a tour of a magazine headquarters, or participate in a question and answer session with a managing editor. This is great if you want to hear anecdotes and exact ways people secured their desired job, which is far more interesting than just reading about what they’ve done. Being at a student publication might also be a useful networking opportunity: connect with industry professionals on LinkedIn and it could help you further down the line.
Writing to the point
One benefit of writing reviews for a student publication is that it teaches you a completely different style to the formal necessity of academic essays. If you spend your degree working on lengthy dissertations, then creating something that is punchy and to-the-point provides a welcome break. You’ll find that versatility is really valuable when you’re at a face-to-face interview talking about your experiences. You need to be able to write copy and adapt to a readership. The critical thing to remember is to copy-edit and proofread your own work before you submit: student writing can be a warzone of atrocious spelling and grammatical eyesores. Everyone needs to have their work checked. You should start learning draft-checking skills somewhere, since there’s nothing more unappealing than a shoddy article. Student journalism is a great entry point for acquiring these skills.
Better now than later
The benefits of student journalism really depend on how much effort you put in. If you want to create political or morally authoritative content, then you have to put the work in, but this will suggest your enthusiasm to employers. If you write something outstanding it could help you secure the graduate job you want. It is easier to begin writing as an undergraduate than to start picking it up once you’re already out in the wider world.
Nick Potter, UCL English graduate