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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

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.


Whether you do it on a regular basis or not, you will learn how to manage deadlines, work in a team and practise skills like sub-editing, but you also have the chance to bring forward issues faced by your fellow students or campaign for changes on your university campus.

For example, The Guardian organises the Student Media Awards every year and student journalists can enter their work in categories like 'publication of the year' or 'student reporter of the year' and have their portfolio recognised within the industry.

Volunteering

Volunteering may sound a lot like unpaid work experience, but it normally lasts for shorter periods of time and it doesn't require many expenses.

Some media outlets organise one-day regional events during the year, such as the BBC's Digital Bristol Week or the BBC Food Connections Festival.

For example, in the run-up to this year's General Election, Sky News reached out to students to help with reporting on the results in constituencies across the country.

At Journalism.co.uk, we also take on volunteers for our news:rewired digital journalism conference, to help with blogging, live-blogging and multimedia coverage on the day.

Volunteering can also be a great networking opportunity for meeting journalists whom you might want to pitch your work to or interview later as part of your degree.


Journalism events also take place across Europe. The annual International Journalism Festival in Italy is free to attend and provides volunteers with accommodation and some meals.

You can apply to join the festival's magazine team to write articles and interview speakers, but there are also opportunities for those interested in video or photography, so expanding your portfolio is a given.

Blogging

Whether you just want an outlet for your creativity or a place to post food and book reviews, blogs are a great way of keeping you engaged in writing.

Getting into a routine of publishing regular posts and finding topics of interest to write about is a useful way to start and some students have turned their blogs into a main source of income, building communities around their websites and social media platforms.


You can create your own blog, team up with people that share the same interests or become a student blogger for outlets like The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Huffington Post or Wannabe Hacks.

The fact that it's flexible means you can write as often as you want and it also gives you an insight into pitching and what type of posts perform better with the audience.

Freelancing 

Freelancing is perhaps the scariest thing to consider while you're still in university, as you may feel like you're lacking a comprehensive portfolio to back up your skills.

The hardest part of freelancing is pitching your ideas for commission, but the key to this is confidence, as we found out in a recent podcast on pitching advice for student journalists.

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.

But whether you are crafting a lengthy pitch that includes all the details of your research – what, who, when, where and why – or a short email that briefly explains the idea and why you're the best person to do it, the most important thing is being confident in your story.

Don't be put off by initial rejections and keep practising your pitching skills, because showing that you have ideas and initiative can go a long way and will be remembered.

Writing for a hyperlocal

Every established journalist will advise you to apply for work experience at your local paper, as many of them have started out that way.

While that's a good idea and chances are it will be easier to get in than at a national newspaper, you should also consider reaching out to hyperlocal publications.

Hyperlocal journalism is a great resource for many people who are interested in what is happening in their community, whether it's events or political changes.


A report conducted last year by researchers at Cardiff, Westminster and Birmingham City universities found there are an estimated 500 hyperlocal publications in the UK, so chances are there will be at least one in your area.

Writing for a hyperlocal will give you the chance to go out in the field and talk to people, as well as report on issues that have the potential to make a change in your community.

Check out some of our previous posts on advice for crafting a CV and cover letter, as well as interview tips for journalism jobs.

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