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The coronavirus pandemic means that, for the foreseeable future, journalism students will be jumping on Zoom calls and doing newsdays virtually. But then, the journalism industry is always evolving. So what academic advice holds true across generations?

At a PressPad masterclass held last week, students received guidance from industry professionals to take into their new terms. Journalism.co.uk attended the event, networked with lots of the students and gathered all the best words of wisdom.

Embrace the virtual world

Students can be much more ambitious with their interviews now that we are all forced into virtual working situations, said Laura Garcia, co-founder of PressPad and host of the event.

"Grab the fact we're all stuck at home and use it to your advantage," she says. "Embrace Skype for newsgathering, shoot high for stories even if they are far away."

There is also Zoom and Google Hangout for remote interviews on your computer. Or if you prefer to use your mobile phone, go with WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger calls.

Grab the fact we're all stuck at home and use it to your advantage.Laura Garcia, PressPad

It is much easier to get hold of people at the moment, agreed Lucy Dyer, editorial development manager of News Associates, the NCTJ journalism school.

She said that our mobile phones make it easy to shoot and edit with paid-for apps like FiLMiC Pro and LumaFusion but there are lots of free tools too. Digital and mobile journalism is the future so go and play around with recording software and apps.

"You are so lucky to have [a mobile phone] in your pocket and you’re unlikely to have a camera crew," she adds.

Master the new tech

When Ian Reeves, head of the Center for Journalism, started in the industry, newsrooms were still using typewriters. But even as computers began to creep into the news writing process, many journalists resisted the change.

"I realised how powerful that technology would be [whilst my] colleagues would be running scared from this hideous way of working," Reeve says. "I realised it was a passport to new things."

He made it his priority to be the ‘go-to’ person for using the new tools to stake his importance in the newsroom. That mentality still holds true today.

"Whatever the new bit of tech is, grasp it as firmly as you can. It's TikTok now, but it’s something else tomorrow - whatever that is, be on it and grab it."

Develop your patch

'Patch' is an industry term for the local area that a reporter covers. Do not be shy about making your presence known, says Lynn Butler, graduate teacher of multimedia journalism at the University of Wolverhampton. Introduce yourself early to local businesses and public officials.

"I treated my uni town as my patch. I just started making phone calls explaining that I’m a student, I have this equipment, and I can be their contact," she explains.

It paid dividends for her after reaching out to her local MP. She would later be asked to film a news story for him, which was an important piece to have in her portfolio. Having this pocket of contacts will be useful for upcoming newsdays when students need to turn around quotes and stories quickly. A ready-made contact makes the world of difference.

Connect with your peers

Nicola Slawson is the campaigns manager for PressPad and a seasoned freelance journalist with words in The Guardian, Tortoise, HuffPost UK and many more.

She said that her freelance work has been made possible because of the connections she made at university, so make sure to be a social butterfly and connect with as many of your course mates as possible.

"You should be networking with your peers just as much as senior people. They’re going to be your colleagues and potentially even people you commission with," she says.

"People will pass stuff onto you because they know how good you are from uni."

University is a great opportunity to experience collaborative work on projects and in student media. Take these opportunities with both hands because it will look great on your CV and portfolio.

Connect with your lecturers

Lecturers may seem intimidating at first but they are also human and keen to meet young journalists with a fire in their belly and a desire to learn.

Introduce yourself, ask for their advice and stick around after Zoom meetings and, hopefully, physical lectures in the near future, advised Reeves.

"Don’t just be in the back taking notes and then scurrying away," he says. "They can be hugely useful to you in terms of contacts."

Enjoy the academic side

It is also easy for your essays and dissertations to be seen as hurdles to jump over or barriers in your way. If you embrace the theory, however, you may discover a type of journalism you are passionate about or gain a deeper appreciation of its function.

“It sheds a different light [on the] purpose of journalism and the role it has in society,” says Butler.

Use all your external contacts

Many students will take up part-time jobs, hobbies and voluntary work throughout their studies. This, in fact, can be a great way to forge contacts and find stories.

"Everyone is a contact - you never know when you'll need to talk to a cat-sitter or a teacher or a hairdresser," says Dyer.

Quick-fire advice

  • Watch the news all the time and be immersed. Having a quality news diet is key to your development.
  • Believe in your own ability. Believe that you can compete with your peers.
  • Do not neglect shorthand, your phone can, and will, betray you. Your notepad cannot run out of battery or accidentally delete itself, though it is vulnerable to spills and rips.
  • Apply for every opportunity you are interested in, even if they seem out of reach. Whether you get it or not, it is a good practice. Having experience in completing applications will help in the future.
  • Do not leave work until the last minute. Be on top of your workload and try not to pull all-nighters if you can avoid it.
  • Stick to a schedule. Plan your day, be well-rested, work when you feel most productive, and pencil in downtime.
  • Keep copies of everything; all your bylines, interviews, notes and recordings. It is a good habit for the future.

Journalism students - check out more of PressPad's live recordings from its masterclasses on its Facebook account, covering a range of topics including breaking into freelance journalism, tackling imposter syndrome and the art of networking.

Journalism.co.uk is supporting virtual work experience placements at the moment. If you would like to spend a week or two with us, please email jacob[at]journalism.co.uk. Also, keep an eye on our jobs board for the latest opportunities.

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