With many work placements cancelled because of the pandemic, journalism students feel like their careers have hit a pause button. Working in a newsroom is vital to start cutting their teeth and put their learnings into practice. However, as social distancing and working from home became the norm in physical newsrooms, these opportunities also became few and far between.
The journalism industry is notoriously difficult to enter and the pandemic has made the situation worse. According to the High Fliers report, graduate jobs with media organisations have fallen by around 15 per cent in 2020 compared to 2019.
Some companies decided to offer virtual internships, allowing students to work from home and still gain newsroom experience. This also helped them save money on travel and expenses, making the placements far more accessible.
Journalism student Nicole Karageorgi from the University of Warwick completed a virtual work placement with MyLondon after struggling to find physical work experience when the pandemic hit.
"I researched, conducted interviews and wrote articles all from my own home. We had daily conferences which meant I got to interact with other MyLondon reporters," she says.
Remote working has allowed organisations to bring back the lengthy unpaid internship.Beth Brewster
Beware of unpaid work
Beth Brewster, head of journalism, publishing and media at Kingston University said that before the pandemic, the university never advertised unpaid internships to their students.
She added that some companies - and particularly startups - would often exploit the students' desire to get experience and publish work to get them to create all the content for free.
But, like many universities, Kingston requires work experience as part of the degree. Last year, only three out of Brewster's 40 students were able to get a placement.
"Students have taken these positions because there is nothing else. Some have been working for these organisations for months - not the usual 10 days on work placement," she says.
"Remote working has allowed organisations to bring back the lengthy unpaid internship."
However, at Cardiff University, journalism students worked with Reach Plc, one of the UK’s largest regional newspaper publishers.
Director of MA News Journalism at Cardiff University, Michael Hill, said that many students ended up with a "remote" placement in the area where they were from so they were able to go out and interview people for their stories.
However, "being in an office helps our trainees stand out to editors who often offer them permanent positions on the back of [the] placement," he says, adding that he wanted to see the return of physical work experiences post-pandemic.
Megan Smith, a journalism student at the Birmingham City University took part in two different virtual internships. In the first one, she felt overlooked as the team mainly spoke to her over email and she was working mostly on her own.
But in the second role, she received regular check-ins, feedback and calls which made her feel included, so much so she ended up working with the company.
Our Journalism Work Experience Initiative (runs twice a year) also costs £10 for the introductory webinar which pays for the admin costs of running the scheme. This also comes with bursary places and some universities have paid for their students. https://t.co/D2xtRAKxll— FreelancingforJournalists (@freelancingfor) June 14, 2021
"We realised early on in the pandemic that work experience opportunities had disappeared and yet there was a large community of freelancers who were happy to provide guidance, advice and training for journalists just starting out," they say.
Work experience includes shadowing, research, finding case studies, curating social media posts or having one-to-one coaching sessions. The next cohort will start in October 2021
Want to receive journalism news and job updates straight to your phone? Subscribe to Journalism.co.uk on our Telegram jobs channel for the latest job opportunities, and our news channel for a weekly digest every Monday morning.