Credit: Courtesy Lily Canter and Emma Wilkinson

Work placements and internship opportunities have vanished during the pandemic and most newsrooms still work remotely. This has left hundreds of journalism students and graduates without that important first experience in the media.

A year on, there are no signs of change. This is why the Virtual Work Experience Initiative, a mentorship project launched in November 2020 by freelance journalists Lily Canter and Emma Wilkinson, relaunches in April this year.

The scheme connects aspiring journalists with seasoned freelancers who offer their expertise and mentorship while students get the opportunity to work with them remotely.

"We surveyed both the journalists and participating students after the first scheme and we got some really good feedback," says Canter.

One of last year’s mentors, writer and author of ‘The Freelance Parent’ newsletter Catherine Hufton, was paired up with the University of Sheffield student Jessica Morris. On top of being journalists, both women are mothers which helped them bond.

"We just had a really strong connection right from the beginning. She understood my motives and what I was trying to do with my newsletter because it's very much about providing support to other parents who are freelance." says Hufton.

Although she was a bit apprehensive at the start, she found the student so helpful she ended up hiring her as a virtual assistant after the placement had finished.

"I feel like I'm so much more confident in my communication skills and feel like I've learned how to initiate contact with a variety of sources," comments Morris.

“Cat has offered me such valuable tips on things like pitching, finding case studies and experts, and general journalism communication etiquette," she says.

As the scheme grows, Canter hopes that university curriculums will pay more attention to the world of freelance journalism.

"A lot of the people that work in universities come from staff jobs and don't necessarily have freelancing experience, or they don't recognise that it is a viable career and not just something people do when you are made redundant. Both Emma and I choose to be freelance. That's an area where more work could be done."

If you are a student or recent journalism graduate and are interested in joining the scheme, sign up for the virtual work experience briefing on 14 April 2021.

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