Work placements and internships have long been part and parcel of getting into journalism.
The benefits are many: it looks good on a CV while also giving you real, practical skills that will serve you well in your career, plus it may lead to employment.
So once you get your chance in a newsroom, what can you do to make the opportunity count and leave an impression?
The benefits of work placements and internships
Mia Lyndon recently graduated from the University of Arts London, where she studied journalism. It was during her studies she interned at the News UK-owned Fabulous Magazine. She now works there full-time, pitching and writing content, compiling weekly shopping pages, contributing to social media output, liaising with PR agencies and beauty brands, attending press events and managing new interns.
"Go and show how enthusiastic you are and be ready to absorb whatever you are told and ask questions," she says. Keep the contacts you develop warm, she adds, as these are valuable leads when job hunting.
It is a similar story for Fruzsina Szikszai, who works for the Italian newspaper Quotidiano Nazionale following two separate internships during and after her studies. Be open-minded, she suggests, as these opportunities are tasters of what it would be like to work for the organisation.
"It’s very important to try out choices before diving into something head first – sometimes the idea of a profession or a career and reality are very different."
GRV Media owns a wide range of sporting brands focused on English and foreign football club news. The company offers three-month internships to journalism students, with the prospect of a full-time position if they really make their mark. That includes a paid training course.
"You need to work really hard, which means being better than everybody else to get noticed. You also need to have a high work ethic and be really committed to learning,” says executive chairman Vic Daniels.
Preparation leading up to your first day
Being unprepared can make you be remembered for the wrong reasons so do your homework.
Make sure that you are familiar with the style and content of the news outlet you are going to be working at, says John Thompson, managing director of Journalism.co.uk.
"Arrive with some of your own ideas, but be prepared to have at least some of those ideas rejected," he suggests. Scour social media for potential contacts and story leads in advance. Twitter / X lists and RSS feeds will be your best friend to stay on top of key developments.
If you are writing, a worthwhile read ahead of time is Harold Evans' Essential Journalism, recommends John Crowley, co-founder of Headlines Network, and a veteran freelance journalist and editor. It is widely considered the guide on best use of words as tools of communication.
Know the dress code and ask if unsure. If in doubt, you cannot go too wrong with smart casual outfit, like a professional dress or trousers and a shirt.
Know your new commute and do not be late. That said, quick thinking can turn a bad situation into a good one. Jacob Granger, senior reporter for Journalism.co.uk, was delayed on his first day of work experience with Aldershot News & Mail because someone had jumped onto the train lines. Rather than phoning in with excuses, he sent pictures to the newsroom with a quote from a train station spokesman.
- "Get stuck in, be willing to do the smaller jobs. Have a friendly and approachable attitude, this is an industry where you have to socialise and talk with people from lots of different areas." - Emily Regan, editorial assistant at Fabulous Magazine, another who came through the internship route.
- "Make sure you get all your contact's details and keep in touch with them so you can ask them for more work placements, references or even pitch a paid article to them." - Lily Canter, running and fitness freelance journalist, co-founder Freelancing for Journalists community
- "Check on your rights - some journalism organisations do pay for trainee or work placements. Make sure you do learn and you aren't lumped with the menial jobs. I remember being asked to make lots of cups of tea." - John Crowley.
- "Immerse yourself in the experience and try anything and everything you can, even if at first it does not seem very useful. This is the time for experiments." - Fruzsina Szikszai, contributor, Quotidiano Nazionale.
- "During work placements understand that people are busy and that they cannot always focus on you. Be proactive and show initiative." - David Spencer, journalist, lecturer and media mentor.
- "Be interested. Ask questions. Be aware of the news agenda." - Robin Elias, formerly managing editor of ITV News, now retired.
- "Be afraid to ask to be mentored. Make sure you feel comfortable with that. If you have a senior journalist you trust and want to learn off, don't be afraid to ask." - John Crowley.
- "Have a negative attitude to beginner tasks and accept only paid opportunities." - Emily Regan.
- "Just sit quietly. If you want to be a journalist, you have to be confident enough to ask questions and communicate." - Robin Elias.
- "Sit around looking bored, checking your phone, Facebook accounts etc." - John Thompson.
This article was originally published on 5 October 2012 by Sam Smith and has been updated on 6 September 2023 with new sources and information by Katy Spisak
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