It is tough to be a journalism student during the coronavirus pandemic. Many universities will require students to complete work experience to graduate but most opportunities will have been cancelled or postponed until 2021.
This may seem like the worst time to try to get your foot in the door. To help students spot opportunities in the crisis, Empoword Journalism, a network of entry-level women journalists, asked four media professionals to share their tips at Regional Journalism Workshop last week (24 July 2020).
"The best place to start is a local paper," says Emma Meese, director of the Independent Community News Network, with 30 years' industry experience.
Local newspapers and websites, or radio and TV stations, have always been a great place to develop fundamental journalistic skills. Although not being in a physical newsroom can feel like you are missing out, it is a chance to grow your contact book and source original, community stories.
Contacts are essential. If someone has spoken to you once, chances are they will be willing to do it again for a different story, so never delete a phone number or an email address.
Ask for virtual work experience
If you cannot be in a physical newsroom, ask for remote working opportunities. Try to phone, email, or send a direct message via social media accounts to get in touch with your chosen publication.
Many universities are now allowing virtual placements to qualify as work experience. Remote working is becoming commonplace in many areas of journalism, especially freelance.
Right now, most newsrooms are making-do and experiment with video conferencing tools for editorial meetings or instant messaging for team management.
"In lockdown it is incredibly difficult for day-to-day operating, in terms of logistics," says Laura Collins, editor of the Yorkshire Evening Post, who is open to providing remote work experience and hopes others in the industry will follow suit.
Fill the gaps in the newsroom
News publishers are stretched and many are short of hands. You could be attending virtual events on their behalf or doing short news updates for their website.
Show the initiative to do what they cannot right now - a byline is a byline for your portfolio and all experience counts.
"All you need is your phone"
Be active on social media. Post your work and achievements, share articles of interest and follow those who inspire you. When a publication views your profile, you want them to see your drive, passion and curiosity.
"The last three months have taught us that all you need is your phone," says Annie Lewis, an early-career journalist for Portsmouth News.
She pointed out that social media platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn are a great way to connect with fellow journalists or potential sources and to find story leads.
Newsrooms are always looking for new voices to tell stories that matter to younger generations. Being visible on social media maximises your chances to be discovered by editors.
As Faye Jessica, editorial writer for Living North, says: "The media are realising the importance of young people in journalism and that really motivates me."
If all else fails, do it yourself
Sometimes, your local news title cannot offer you remote experience or there are no local papers in your area. In this case, make your own. Be proactive. It has never been easier or cheaper to start a podcast, create a blog or send a newsletter from your bedroom.
Collins said that as an editor, she always looks at candidates' blogs when they apply for a job because that conveys passion and enthusiasm.
For journalists just starting out, it is a daunting thought to enter the industry at any time, let alone now. But as the industry tries to adapt to the pressure of the pandemic, it is worth thinking about how we can adapt too. How can we use this time to be the best version of ourselves?
Do you want to become a successful freelancer? Learn new skills and get a certificate in freelance feature writing, pitching, copywriting, sub-editing and more. Click here for more information.