How to start a career in journalism

Journalism is one of the most challenging careers to get into, especially these days. However, imagine being a student journalist in a pandemic. To be a journalist means talking to people, being face to face with the public to get the stories the people want to know. However, with the world in a global pandemic, it makes this task even harder to do.

Then we have university students paying over £9,000 a year for an education that is, unfortunately, all online at the moment. If you combine these together, then you have a student journalist.

From my personal experience, I am doing all I can to make sure I stand out in the future, as well as studying to obtain my journalism degree at Nottingham Trent. Here is my point of view of what it is really like to be a journalism student (in a pandemic) and what I am doing on my path to getting a career in journalism.

My university course

how to become a student journalist

Whatever university you go to, there will always be differences in courses. However, with a journalism course, there will always be compulsory modules that are considered vital to gain a journalism qualification. These two modules are Media law and gaining practical skills.

On my course at Nottingham Trent, it is an accredited course by the NCTJ (National Council for the Training of Journalists), meaning when I complete my degree – in the eyes of future employers – it will show I have expert knowledge of specific subjects to do with journalism such as media law. This will make me stand out as a promising candidate for the job. So, a top tip from me is if you are looking to get into journalism and wanting to gain a degree in it, it is best to go for a course that is accredited by the NCTJ.

Now, what is media law? Well, this module is where you learn all the relevant law and defences you will need when being a journalist in case you ever come across trouble or difficulty in the job.

Then we have the practical work. On any journalism course, there will always be a practical module where you put your journalistic skills to the test and produce a piece of practical work. This module is where you will learn what you need to do to write the best news story, how to get the exact information you need to produce a successful news story and also teach you what is a good news story.

Like I said before, depending on what university you go to, there will be different optional modules to pick from. For me at Trent, this year I chose my optional modules as political journalism, photojournalism and global journalism. Not only did I pick these because they were more tailored to my interests, I also chose them because I thought they would gain me a range of skills that will again set me up for the future.

What do I do?

how to start a career in journalism

To become a journalist, it isn’t just a degree you need behind you, but experience is vital in this field of work. Take me, for example, since I was 15 years old, I have been gaining journalistic experience, and here I am five years later, with a range of experience behind me as I study my journalism degree.

By gaining any journalism experience – wherever you can – you are showing future employers you are dedicated to this profession, and you will go the extra mile to get that story.

Let’s start at the beginning, at 15, I began to write for the local magazine where I live, and over the next few years I continued to write for them. The best thing – especially when you are an aspiring journalist just starting out – is seeing your name in print. Through my school years, I contributed to school newsletters and even managed to establish my own school newsletter, and during sixth form, I became known as the “student journalist”.

At 17, I gained further experience by writing for a coach magazine. Despite this not being my interest, it was still seeing my name in print that would again make me stand out to these future employers.

Next came university, and as soon as I began, I made sure I signed up for the student magazine here at Trent – Platform Magazine – and began writing for the Culture & Entertainment section, which was the specific part of journalism I wished to work in the future. Alongside this, I began writing monthly for the arts and culture magazine in Nottingham – Left Lion – as a film reviewer and even as a Young Critic at the Nottingham Playhouse, where I was able to watch shows and then write reviews on them after.

As I continued to write for Platform magazine, I eventually became the Culture & Entertainment editor and continued to expand my journalistic horizons by writing for online publications in the summer, such as UniFresher.

The main achievement out of all of this had to be getting my first story not only in a regional paper – The Nottingham Post – but a story that branched out to a national publication – The Mirror online.

It is all this experience I have gained that will make me stand out to future employers because again, it shows I am dedicated to this challenging profession.

What is it like being a student journalist in a pandemic?

how to start a career in journalism

The Coronavirus pandemic has been tough for all students, however being a student journalist, it is one of the most challenging of all. As trainee journalists, we do not have the experience or understanding of this sort of dilemma, so in this situation, we have had to deal with it the way professional journalists are at the moment.

For example, when I first began studying my journalism course, we used to undertake tasks where we would literally approach the public on the streets, asking them for interviews. However, being in a lockdown, this was a task we could not do. So, the next best thing was video calls. For some of us, Zoom meetings or Microsoft teams have become something we are now too familiar with. In some of our assignments, we had to produce video content so the only thing we could do was interview people over video calling platforms and record the meetings, which is one way we have adapted to the pandemic.

On top of that,  if we were to film anything outside where it involved people, we had to take safety precautions, including health and safety and social distancing, to ensure everyone involved was safe.

In terms of gaining any work experience, this could easily be done remotely as most journalism these days is online, which you can easily do from the comfort of your own home. For me, I was already doing this, so this was no change for me. But for some student journalists, this was a new way they had to also adapt to.

So, beginning a career in journalism – something I am still doing myself – is a path where experience is vital! Although the pandemic has halted a lot of normal everyday life, this is not something that will get in my way of becoming a journalist and if you are a young journalist, this is something that should not get in your way either. If you have a dream, go for it!

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