Aspiring journalists, whether fresh from education or looking to switch careers, should be preoccupied with one thing: getting work experience that will help them stand out from the crowd.
For those hoping to break into the industry, a traditional route is applying at established news organisations and magazines, but a large part of these are either unpaid or contribute only a small amount towards travel expenses.
Another issue is that, in the UK, many placements and internships are based in London and sometimes not very flexible in terms of duration, so people end up feeling like they are missing out on getting that much-needed foot in the door.
Here is a list of alternatives to work experience placements that can work as a launch pad in your journalism career without requiring a long commute or spending all your savings.
Student media is an obvious choice for students, as most universities have a student newspaper on campus, as well as a radio or TV station.
Writing for the student newspaper is flexible and you can choose whether you want to contribute occasional pieces, regular columns and reviews, or join as a member of the editorial team.
There are also student-led publications, like Empoword Journalism, that take on writers with less experience or on non-journalism courses.
Whether you do it on a regular basis or not, you will learn how to manage deadlines, work in a team and practise vital skills like sub-editing. You also have the chance to bring forward issues faced by your fellow students or campaign for changes on your university campus.
This will also give you something to submit for student awards, which look fantastic on a CV.
Volunteering may sound a lot like unpaid work experience, but it normally lasts for shorter periods of time or a one-off event.
Media organisations are increasingly hosting events as a way to connect with audiences and inform editorial content. Why not get in touch with the event organisers and volunteer time? It might just be passing mics around, but you might find this develops useful contacts. Think FT Weekend Festival or Sifted Summit.
At Journalism.co.uk, we take on volunteers for our digital journalism conference Newsrewired and they have been a huge asset for live-blogging and live coverage. Also a good way to get into paid-for media events, and network with journalists and editors.
There's also the annual International Journalism Festival in Italy, which is free to attend and provides volunteers with accommodation and some meals.Another good chance to bag articles and interviews.
The barrier to starting up a podcast is so low. The basics will not break the bank or your university might allow you to use their recording studios. It is easy to get your show hooked up on platforms like Spotify to find a wider audience.
This builds up your confidence on the mic and speaking to guests. If nothing else, editors will see the initiative and boldness to run with your ideas.
Your podcast does not necessarily have to be news focused either. Doing shows about your hobbies and passions might be the best way to develop the fundamentals.
Hyperlocals and startups
Nearly every established journalist will tell you to apply for work experience at your local paper, as many of them have started out that way. A good idea, but not your only one.
Hyperlocal publications are more realistic and will be grateful for the help as they are run by very small and stretched teams. There is a handy local news map developed by PINF that will show you nearby outlets to get in touch with.
It is the same for young startups. New local media publications are mushrooming up, like The Mill in Manchester and its two sister titles in Sheffield and Liverpool which have taken on students in their early years. Worth dropping publications like those a line.
Freelancing is perhaps the scariest thing to consider while you are still cash-strapped and time-poor at university. There is also the feeling that you do not have the portfolio to back up your skills.
The hardest part of freelancing is pitching your ideas for commission, but the key to this is confidence and understanding a publication's audience.
Most outlets will have some sort of help for pitching guidelines, so make sure you become familiar with the type of content the outlet is looking for, the audience and who to contact.
Start crafting pitches that includes all the details of your research – what, who, when, where and why – or a short email that briefly explains why you are the best person to handle the story.
Go in expecting rejections and keep practising your pitching skills, because showing that you have ideas and initiative can go a long way and will be remembered.
This piece was first published on 25 June 2015 by Mădălina Ciobanu and has been updated by Jacob Granger with new information on 18 July 2023
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