Going back to university: How to make the most of your student journalism experience

Going back to university: How to make the most of your student journalism experience

This year will mark my final year as a journalism student. I have been thinking about what will happen after I graduate a lot recently which has simultaneously led to me thinking a lot about my journey as a journalism student and as a journalist. I have learnt a lot over the past three years and achieved many things I am proud of  – mostly because of my involvement with student journalism.

 

Last week, I gave a PressPad Remote masterclass about how to get started with and  make the most of your experience with student journalism, which will be on our YouTube channel soon.

 

So today, I thought I would share some of the things that helped me on my journalism journey with you in this piece:

Get started:

Getting started can sometimes feel like the toughest bit of the battle but there are some steps you can take to make it more of a smooth process for you:

Identify your interests, strengths, and goals:

Think about the things you enjoy doing and are good at. What sort of things could  you see yourself writing about? What have you maybe tried before? Alongside things you think you will enjoy or are already good at, think of things you have never done before and would like to try. Maybe it is creating video content, or writing a news story. There are so many different niches of journalism to choose from and student journalism gives you the unique opportunity to try out many of these niches in a more casual setting (rather than during your first grad job). 

Find your outlet:

Maybe your university already has a student paper, or an online publication looks interesting to you (remember, not all student publications are necessarily university bound; some are but some are not, so it’s good to look around beyond your university as well). If you can’t see anything you like, maybe consider starting your own publication.

Don’t let the fear of reaching out stop you from beginning your journey:

Maybe you are worried about joining a publication. My advice would be: Don’t be! I remember being worried about joining student publications at first because I had no idea whether I would be able to write well and I was nervous about approaching people. 

 

If this applies to you, take a step back and ask yourself – why am I feeling this way? If you are nervous about maybe going to an in-person meeting, see if someone – a friend or fellow student – would be interested in going with you. Or maybe see if you can get in touch with one of the editors by email in advance so you have someone to approach directly. Speaking for myself, now that I am an editor, I love getting emails from students asking me how to get involved. In the end, it is only through other people getting involved that publications can exist – so don’t feel scared to join in!

Build your portfolio of content:

Try different things:

As I said before, student journalism gives you the unique opportunity to try out many different niches of journalism in a more casual setting (rather than during your first grad job) and this can help you identify what your career goals are.

For me, for example, I really enjoy going to gigs or theatre shows. I love both music and theatre. Naturally, I thought that niche of journalism would be for me. But then I went and did some reviews of Edinburgh Fringe shows and gigs I attended and I realised that writing about them wasn’t quite my thing, or I just didn’t find it as easy as writing other types of content. I never would have known that early in my career if I hadn’t started my journalism journey early through student journalism!

Keep going as much as you can

Do as much as you can fit around your studies and other commitments and try to not let what others are doing distract you from your own work. Everybody is different and has different circumstances and there is no minimum target. One thing to consider, however, is that your portfolio becomes your way of showing your skills throughout your studies and when you graduate, so it is good to have content in it that reflects your current skill set and to keep it up to date as much as possible.

Treat this time as a learning curve to gain unique experiences before you graduate:

Student journalism can help you learn things that will in the end help you in your career and there are many benefits to starting early and making these experiences during your time at university. If you’re studying journalism it will help put theory into practice. Even if you don’t study journalism, it will give you an outlet to try things you are interested in or could see yourself doing as a career. You will learn important skills valued by many employers (even outside the journalism industry) – writing, editing, time management, networking, multimedia, and more.

It can also give you lived experience. For me, it was learning how to deal with negative comments on social media for one of my pieces. I had never experienced this before, where some journalists experience this everyday. While it wasn’t a pleasant experience, I am grateful that I got to make the experience early to identify ways for me to cope.

You might also see yourself being able to cover stories or events that are otherwise reserved for more senior journalists in newsrooms. I know other journalists that during their time writing for student publications were able to go on press trips abroad, interview famous artists, or attend big-name events like London Fashion Week. 

Promote yourself and your work:

Ever wanted to call yourself an “award-winning” journalist? Putting your work forward while you are still studying is a good way to attempt this. You will find that many awards ask for an entry fee once you graduate (which can vary but some of them are quite steep!), but there are many awards out there that either have categories for young journalists or students specifically that are free to enter.

You might be interested in:
A short list of awards open to students and young journalists
(and why you should apply)


If you are unsure about entering, I would say: Remember that you deserve to amplify the things you’ve worked hard on. Even if you don’t win, you might be shortlisted (which is an amazing achievement) – and even if that doesn’t happen, you will still have gained the experience of trying. You just never know what could come of it until you try.

Do not lose sight of the importance of your work:

Student journalism is not “low quality” journalism and writing for a student publication does not make you less of a journalist. The stories you write are  important and valuable, even if you’re maybe at the start of your career. Student publications have covered important topics before they appeared in national publications and issues that maybe affect students first can still affect society overall. Student journalism might be something you do at the start of your journalism career journey, but it is not a lower form of journalism than any other part of your career later.

Finally, trust the process:

The work you do during your studies will in some way help you later. I can’t say that it will always be instant success but starting early will give you so many advantages and student journalism might prove itself to be an important stepping stone.

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