Tag Archives: university

11 key ways for journalism students to improve their employability

It’s a tough world out there in the media – what with grinding recession, a skillset that needs updating by the hour and a revenue model that’s been turned upside down by the web.

It doesn’t help that more students than ever before are being turned out by the UK’s journalism courses. That makes it even more difficult for journalism graduates to get a toehold in our industry.

So, here are 11 top tips for journalism students and graduates – and even those thinking about their UCAS application – to ensure you have the best chance to get some kind of journalism job.

It may not be the one you want – you know, the one that involves you interviewing J-Lo in a rooftop pool in LA, or drinking in Chinawhite with the F1 team. But this advice is aimed at helping open up the widest possible range of media options to journalism students, with a corresponding boost to their potential earning power.

Admittedly, this has a bias towards print and web. But a lot of the tips should be generic enough to be relevant if you want to specialise in TV or radio.

Any comments are welcome to add to the roster…

 

1] Don’t do your BA in Journalism

Yes – a bit of a curve ball, but it’s one I’ve talked about before. I’m a firm believer that gaining a specialism outside journalism as well as getting some journalism training has big benefits.

Reason: The more well-rounded your education and qualifications, the more desirable you are to media employers. Journalists generally create content about the wider world, not about journalism, unless you are working for the media section. So do yourself a favour and do your BA in something other than journalism. Yes, I know that if you’re a journalism graduate already, this piece of advice may be a bit late. But UCAS applicants take note. And for the rest, there’s always the Open University.

2] Get a BSc in life sciences

Are there other degrees that might work? Possibly – but science is the one that gets asked for most in job ads. 

Reason: It’s really useful to do a science degree because it opens your media career up to include things that otherwise you would be excluded from. You may have a fascination with biology, you may read popular science books about cosmology, but unless you have that piece of paper, you will simply be excluded from writing jobs and freelance subbing shifts on titles such as Nature and New Scientist and also from editorial work for scientific book publishers. Not interested in science? Fair enough – but this post is about maximising your employability. Science will do that. It will also help you gain credibility in the mainstream media.

3] Work on the student newspaper/web site/TV station/radio show

Reason: A no-brainer really. Your work will suck for at least a year or so, whatever you do – so make it suck when it doesn’t matter so much. Make all your most egregious mistakes at college and by the time you apply for a real job you might well have developed a decent style and learned some production chops. You get free access to all sorts of facilities and equipment and you’ll hopefully learn some production discipline. If you end up as editor of something, you also get to see that student journalism work can be utterly terrible – which will put you in a potential employer’s shoes and give you some valuable perspective.

4] Gain a post-graduate journalism qualification

Finally – journalism.

Reason: Unfortunately, HR box-ticking means you probably will have to have some kind of journalism certificate (though science graduates without a journalism qualification will probably find it easier to get a job in science-related journalism than a journalism graduate without a science qualification). But don’t spend three years getting it – an MA, or even a ten-week accredited course should be enough on top of your other superb skills to take you far.

5] Learn languages

I mean, as well as English. In my day the education system was against me, as I spent years learning French, of all things, in a range of different subjects, including geography and history. This has been totally useless, professionally speaking. But extra languages can be a big bonus for journalism jobs.

Reason: It will help you work abroad; it will help you work for foreign publications; it will help you with freelance assignments that involve contacting non-English speakers. Seriously, this is another no-brainer. Which ones should you learn? Think of [a] the news flashpoints in the world (so, Arabic might be worth a shot, or Russian) [b] where the jobs are (recently Dubai, so Arabic again, also German, according to the current job ads on Journalism.co.uk) and [c] what the rest of the world speaks (so Chinese and Spanish might be worth a punt).

6] Learn English

Seriously.

Reason: Your schooldays probably made you think correct spelling and grammar just isn’t that important. But for some people – weird old people who might employ you – it can be very important. So if you make an effort to polish your grammar and spelling it can really pay off. Top tip: Focus on apostrophes. You will gain a distinct advantage over nearly all other graduates…

7] Keep a blog (or other web site) and update it regularly

Reason: You’re a wannabe journalist. Writing is your life. So write. As I’ve said before, I can filter out 95% of all journalism students and graduates based on the fact that they just can’t be bothered to actually create content. Bonus points for making your blog nice-looking and adding plug-in-style functionality.

8] Understand the back-end of web publishing

Reason: Journalism is shading into web development and site maintenance. The more you know about this area, the more employable you’ll be. At the moment, this means being familiar with, probably, HTML/XHTML, CSS, and maybe PHP. If you have no idea what these are, take a course or, as I’m doing, plough through a heavy book until your eyes bleed. Crucially, this is not computer programming. But it is increasingly necessary for both web-layout and design. And don’t think that tools such as Dreamweaver or content management systems will allow you to work just with graphics and content. Understanding the code that lies beneath lets you troubleshoot why pages won’t load as you thought they would, and makes you indispensable around the production desk.

9] Learn to make compelling videos

Reason: If you understand the impact that YouTube and citizen journalism has had on the media, it should be obvious why video skills are vital. But while it’s important to understand all the technical side of video formats and uploading to the web, it’s also vital to make good, compelling video content. As well as learning the software you need, such as Final Cut Pro, also learn how to tell stories visually. Learn about storyboarding and planning. Understand visual language. And learn to tell compelling stories. Which is at the heart of journalism. Kind of works for audio too, but I think simple audio podcasting is on its way out (discuss).

10] Network, network, network

Reason: People give jobs to people. Never forget this. In my advice on successful freelancing on the FleetStreetBlues blog, I stressed the first key attribute for professional success was the ability to get on with people. For journalism students and graduates, This means getting to know media professionals, being friendly (though not pushy), asking about opportunities and generally trying to be helpful when you can. And you’d be surprised how willing many media folk can be to help if you approach them in the right way. Crucially though, be realistic about what, and who, you ask. There’s a lot more to say on this, so I’m going to expand on it in a later post.

11] Have a backup plan

Reason: You may not be able to land a proper reporter-style journalism job, no matter how hard you try, even if you’re pretty good. Because, as discussed, things are tough in the media world. But don’t despair. You can still work with words, pictures, audio and video in a creative way and get paid. Sometimes even more than the pittance that journalists normally get. 

How? Think laterally. Recovering Journalist Mark Potts has an excellent post here on life after journalism – but at a pinch it can equally apply to life instead of journalism. Your journalism skills – ie your creative writing, editing and research skills – can be applied in many different jobs. Closely related fields include PR and corporate writing (but brush up on your spelling and grammar).

And that’s it for today. Other suggestions (and courteous disagreements) are welcome via the comments column…

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Blogs are dying. Great news for bloggers… and journalism graduates

It seems that “the long tail of blogging is dying”. For those who prefer English to techie jargon, the long tail refers to the millions of blogs with few incoming links, compared to a relatively small number of dominant blogs with many thousands of readers and lots of presence in the wider web. 

But this is actually pretty good news for committed bloggers – and for journalism graduates.

According to the Guardian blog post, blog pingbacks to the paper are declining rapidly and many blogs on the author’s RSS feed had not been updated in 60 days. 

Why? Anecdotally, it seems that people prefer the quicker and easier route of Facebook updates and Twitter notes. 

Writing a blog post is a lot harder than posting a status update, putting a funny link on someone’s Wall, or tweeting. 

So why is this good news for bloggers? 

The same reason, actually. The great thing about the web is that it allows anyone to publish globally for very little outlay. But of course the human element can work against this. Not only do you have to actually want to write and post material online regularly, but you have to actually do it.

This is harder than it appears. I’ve run into the blogger’s brick wall, and I’m sure nearly everyone else does. It’s a bit like exercise – easy to start out with good intentions, but much harder to stick to.

Writing is a muscle too, and it needs a regular workout. Luckily, writing is more interesting than going to the gym (OK, I know I’m biased). But even so, there are times you’ll have to force yourself to do it. 

The upside of this is that it puts you in a similar position to the two people in a forest who meet an angry grizzly bear. To escape, you don’t have to outrun the bear – just the other person. 

If, as Technorati found in 2008, just 5% of the blogs it tracked had been updated in the past 120 days, that means 95% of any blogger’s competition is likely to fall by the wayside. Simply to get in the top 5%, all you need to do is not give up

This means that, if you have anything to say at all, and can say it engagingly, you are likely to do reasonably well.

How heartening is this for journalism? The key point of the argument is not that people aren’t consuming the web, just that they aren’t always up to producing it too – at least in a more substantial form. While access to production is wide open, its usage still depends on individual effort. 

Whether this means there will still be money for journalism is another matter. A natural limit like this does temper my argument that the web tends to raise the supply of content to infinity, but the supply of online content is still vast. 

However, it does suggest that perseverance and ability can still help you build an audience – and, with that, influence. 

In fact, this is a pretty good filter for journalism students. I look at the students I teach, and I can spot immediately the ones who seem to have potential. Not by the quality of their polished prose, but simply by whether they bother to update their blogs or other writing more frequently than when tutors tell them to. 

For journalism graduates this goes double. It’s tough in the industry now for employment, and it’s more tough because of the sheer number of journalism graduates coming off the conveyor belt. 

But the 95:5 rule works here, too. The vast majority of the new journalism graduates will give up at the first hurdle of not being handed a job on a plate simply because they are a “qualified journalist”. More will drift away as the pressure grows to find any old work for real money to pay off their student overdraft. 

To boost your own chances, therefore, you simply have to stay in the game.

  • Pick your chosen specialism and cover it
  • Start early (ie before you graduate. Preferably even before you start college)
  • Keep writing. Regularly. (I know it seems like there’s no time – but try doing it when you have a day job)
  • Get better at it 
  • Take the time to learn about blog design – and pick up some tech skills

When you graduate, you should aim to have a two- or three-year blog as part of your portfolio that shows (a) your commitment to journalism and (b) your ability to get your head down and meet deadlines. 

It will also be a very useful grounding in all the stuff about building an audience and driving traffic that will be part of a journalist’s skillset in the coming years.

There’s a certain amount of box-ticking that goes on in media HR departments now that means entry-level staff are required to have some kind of graduate qualification in journalism. I think this is wrong – as do editors of my acquaintance – but, hey, you can’t change everything.

But once you have that piece of paper, your CV and experience count for a hell of a lot more with the editors who will employ you.  They really don’t care whether you got a 2:1 in your degree. Show your mettle and present them with a decent, long-running and interesting blog or web site, and they will be much more likely to give you your break into the industry. 

[HT: Paul Bradshaw – who says he is blogging less these days. Maybe there’s an opening there?]

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Calling new journalism graduates

FleetStreetBlues is offering a fantastic opportunity to blog about your search to find work in the journalism business for no money at all

But you do get, you know, exposure. Go on, give it a go…

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Do we overestimate journalism students’ web skills?

From the Twitter feed: 

do journ educators misunderstand level of students’ web skills?advanced online journalism module set up at Sunderland-only 4 signed up

From my observations – yes, I think we do.

As I’ve noted before, journalism (and other) students live their lives on Facebook, but when it comes to actually using the web more, well, journalistically, they are pretty inexperienced. They’re also often not that interested, which puzzles me a bit. 

Their research is also woefully limited, in my experience. I love the Wikipedia as a quick-and-dirty tool for getting the gist about something I know nothing about – but I wouldn’t rely on it for core research. I always go to another, primary, source for definitive facts.

But, from what I’ve seen of their portfolios,  journalism students tend to use it exclusively – and cite it as the ultimate arbiter of truth. 

That means those of us working on journalism courses have our work cut out – not just in teaching students advanced technical skills, such as how to design a CMS, but also why it’s important to explore and understand the web more. 

The key is to understand the nature of the way the web changes the way we communicate.

We’ve moved from the ‘push’ supply model of media owner/publisher > journalist > consumer to one of facilitating (hopefully informed and intelligent) communication. 

But the trouble is that a lot of old-style journalism still hasn’t caught up this this. 

And apart from some high-profile exceptions, a lot of old-style academia hasn’t caught up with this either. Or if they have, then their academic framework won’t let them adapt to the changes in the media quick enough. 

Part of the trouble is that the new media landscape simply hasn’t settled down enough for us to know what it will look like. Let alone whether we’ll be able to make enough money from it to justify passing thousands of new journalists through college every year. 

But unless we, as journalists and educators, are clear about its importance and the need to communicate that to students, they will keep avoiding it.

(HT: journalism_live)

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Nice work at UCA Journalism’s graduate show

Adam_LeveridgeRegular readers of this blog will know that I can get a bit cranky and irritable about the generally poor literacy of undergraduates. 

Happily, however, there is still some very good work being produced by journalism graduates, as I discovered yesterday evening at the private view of UCA Farnham’s graduate show

Adam Leveridge – who I persuaded to pose, probably against his better judgement, next to his final year project here – produced a nice piece on the competitive psychology of Formula 1 racing. 

As well as phoning New Zealand to interview Formula 1 neuroscientist Kerry Spackman, Adam also snagged some quotes from UK racing legend Stirling Moss and made the most of his work experience at Autosport to blag some live action shots from an official F1 photographer.

It’s a sound basis for a feature, it’s well-written and has a nice solid layout. I was also pleased to see that, like several of the other strong pieces here, the copy was pretty clean. (Yes – a good sub would have had something to work on to clean up the style, but I’ve seen worse – even on the published page). 

ToonI also really liked this footie-based feature on Newcastle United manager Alan Shearer by Matt Burton. Now, I have absolutely zero interest in football as a sport, but Matt’s piece was well-written with a sense of authority – and he also made the layout work really well. It’s a solid, commercial piece of work, and he clearly has a strong eye for design and detail. 

When I first encountered UCA’s journalism course, I was a bit suspicious of its stress on students completing a project that required them to, in effect, act as everything from art director to sub editor. I thought there was a danger that undergraduate journalism students would spend too much time finicking with things like typography and not spend enough time worrying about things like, well, writing clear prose. 

I still think that’s worth being aware of. It’s far too easy for students to get bogged down in the minutiae of choosing background colours and forget about the big picture of their work. 

But in the context of today’s rapidly changing and consolidating media, journalism graduates will be forced to widen their skills base. Just being able to write, even well, isn’t enough these days. Layout, sub-editing, and now digital skills are all vital to ensure they are in with a chance to earn a reasonable living in the media’s increasingly cut-throat world. 

F1 fan Adam Leveridge has already got his business cards printed. On them he claims to be a journalist already. On this basis I’d say he wasn’t far wrong…

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Why journalism lecturers seem so drained at this time of year

Because marking student worked is tiring, my goodness yes.

Yesterday’s all-day marking bonanza was certainly interesting (it was my first time, but they were gentle with me). 

There were some shockers. Some of the spelling and grammar was pretty weak, and there was at least one example of a student writing submitted assessment work using SMS-speak (“u” for “you”, for example). Well, it was in the first-year. But still.

This is by no means confined to one university – it’s a reflection of general undergraduate ability when it comes to English grammar.

It does seem as if higher education – and also some work-based training –  is having to take on the responsibility for what should be basic literacy. This is a problem I’ve found with journalism students in general, as well as recent graduates, and it’s one that is echoed by publishing companies I work with.

What’s the answer? Stop spending millions trying to push more young people through university when you haven’t sorted out your primary education. And make young children believe literacy is a rule they have to obey.

No, it’s not the modern way. But I’ve seen the consequences. U no it makes sen5e…

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I stand in judgement of journalism students…

…fear my judgement – yeay, fear it!

Yes – today I enjoy actually marking the work of online journalism students in Farnham. After blathering to them about blogging and web video, among other things, I get to look at the end of year assessment work. 

But fear? Really? No. Actually I will stand as impartial as the Statue of Justice on the Old Bailey. Only without the toga thing she wears. 

I’ll have the sword, though, just in case – you have no idea of the passions stirred by Dreamweaver…

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