Advice on Gaining Journalism Experience While Still in School
Student journalists often find themselves in unique places. On one side, student journalists are often itching to get into a newsroom, report on big, breaking stories, and see their bylines in print. On another side, they are still learning the skills necessary in order to effectively deliver a news story, in addition to being confined by restraints such as laws and institutional budgets.
There are several ways in which a student journalist can properly prepare for a career in the media. By taking advantage of the resources available to them, students can begin to apply theories and ideas presented in the classroom and discover a student’s strengths, weaknesses, and preferences.
Start Writing Early
A large portion of journalists in the media industry use their writing skills every day, regardless of whether or not they are actually writing a story.
It is important for student journalists to start writing early in their educational careers, whether it is for a junior high or high school paper or covering a beat for the campus paper in college. The practice of writing frequently in a structured environment, such as working for a publication, gives student journalists a feel for how the industry functions in the real world, but in a lower pressure situation.
Write in Diverse Areas
Writers have their own preferences as to which genres they prefer to write. However, as rookie journalists in a newsroom, writers may find that they are forced into areas that they may or may not like to cover.
When writing and reporting, do not specifically stick to one kind of story, whether it is a feature story, sports, or breaking news. Writing a variety of stories helps demonstrate a wide range of writing skills, and may also help a student discover a new specialty.
Conduct Interviews Frequently
Interviewing is a skill that can only be learned effectively by practicing it at every opportunity.
For students who may not feel comfortable interviewing strangers, start by practicing on friends or family members. Remember that every interview does not have to be in your face investigative journalism, and that many interviews will feel more like conversations and should be comfortable for everyone participating.
For those who feel comfortable talking to strangers, remember to set up interviews frequently. Try to avoid succumbing to a busy schedule and conducting phone or email interviews regularly; while they are used in professional settings, they are not fully-effective replacements for talking to someone in person.
Many schools require internships in order to graduate, and some also give class credit to students who successfully complete an internship.
Regardless of a student’s school guidelines, all student journalists should look into having an internship at some point during their educational career. Not only will a student benefit academically from an internship, but the experience will also give students the chance to practice skills in a real-world environment and network with professionals in their field.
However, students should consider their duties before accepting an internship. Each newspaper or media outlet has different duties for interns, ranging from mailing letters and making copies to actually producing stories and putting together publications. When considering an internship, students should look for opportunities to practice writing, interviewing, and layout skills throughout the experience. Learning how to use the copy machine, while it may be easy, will not be helpful once a student graduates and accepts a reporter position.
In addition, student journalists should also keep any and all clips produced throughout the internship to help diversify their portfolio.
By taking advantage of opportunities available to student journalists early in their educational careers, student journalists can help to adequately prepare themselves for a career in the media by doing what they enjoy.