Credit: Image by Andi Graf from Pixabay

UK university course leaders came together at the Broadcast Journalism Training Council (BJTC) summer conference (4 July 2019) to discuss how they can best bridge the gap between student journalism and the news industry.

A key obstacle for university students is unpaid placements.

"[One of my students] wanted to start at 10:30 am because she couldn’t afford a peak-time train," said Ben Falk, digital journalism lecturer, Coventry University, adding that she was worried how to put this to the editor.

"I got very angry at the whole system and I advised her to explain the situation as people are understanding. But she is not doing that placement which is a shame."

This is a very real issue for students who baulk at commuting costs and accommodation fees, as their budgets go down, literally, to the pennies and pounds.

To help students manage their budgets, Coventry University's 'Flying Start' scheme covers the cost of textbooks. Course budgets are put aside and can be used for resources, such as microphones, guest speakers and, crucially, networking trips.

That includes taking students to employability days, journalism conferences, as well as to visit overseas companies, including ABC News in New York, and De Correspondent and Blendle in The Netherlands. All of this has huge networking scope.

"This was about making them think outwardly," Falk said.

"People still go to Sky News and The Times – but those are scarce opportunities. The jobs at De Correspondent or Blendle don’t necessarily seem like the kind of jobs a journalism graduate would do, but moving forward that’s exactly what they would do."

The Birmingham City University's professor of broadcast journalism, Diane Kemp explained the benefits of taking students to landmark journalism networking events, most notably to the International Journalism Festival in Perugia.

"Particularly for students like mine, they certainly don’t see themselves as journalists or know any journalists," said Kemp.

With hundreds of speakers across the 5-day event, she said that students cannot help but bump into foreign correspondents and senior reporters.

"We can have simulations and guest speakers come into universities but there is nothing quite like [industry networking]. Students, who come from socially diverse backgrounds and often quite impoverished backgrounds, their whole issue is that impostor syndrome," she explained.

Immersing them into journalism communities is part of Kemp's strategy to change their mindset and accept themselves as a journalist, which is a key transition.

That networking potential was also explored by Olivia Crellin, CEO of PressPad. The company pairs aspiring journalism interns and work experience students with industry mentors at - sometimes competing - media organisations.

During their placement, the students are accommodated by senior journalists as a way to offset the costs of completing unpaid work placements, which in London can cost more than £1,000 a month.

But the scheme also challenges the status quo. Crellin pointed to studies which show 51 per cent of British journalists coming from private education and that figure is as high as 80 per cent in British editors.

To date, Crellin said that PressPad has helped to host 40 interns, with more than 100 hosts signed up. This represents 95 week’s worth of internships.

Significantly, 73 per cent of those applicants come from working-class backgrounds and 22.5 per cent from BAME backgrounds. But there is more work to do, she admits, as she wants to take PressPad outside of the capital.

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