A new group of journalism students will soon be arriving at the University of Huddersfield, where I’ve now started work as a lecturer. Here’s a selection of ten pieces of advice I’d give any journalism student, to help them get the best out of themselves and their course.
The Today programme podcasts page.
1. Keep up with the news
This sounds obvious, but it bears repeating. If you want to work in the media one day, you’d better start reading, watching and listening to the professionals. And it no longer means having to go to a newsagent or getting up at 7am to listen to the Today programme: use websites, apps, catch-up services and podcasts. Think about what was good, and what you thought could have been done differently.
2. Know the difference between news and features
News is new information. News stories are brief and to the point, and should have the most important details at the very start. Features usually come later. They are often longer, can explore different angles and offer more context and analysis. If you’re asked to write a news story, do just that, and don’t hand in an essay.
3. Use the phone
Picking up the phone and calling people is the fastest way to get things done. Be polite but firm, and if the person you’re talking to can’t help you, ask them to suggest someone else who might. Don’t just send an email to someone, then wonder what to do next when they don’t reply.
4. Google stuff
If you read about something you don’t understand, if you’re told about a person you’ve never heard of, if you want to look at an issue but don’t know much about the background to it: Google it first. Google doesn’t know everything, but it knows a lot of things.
5. Contacts are vital
People telling you about things that are going on is one of the main ways in which journalists find news stories. If someone helps you out with a story, be nice to them and keep in touch. Next time you’re struggling with a deadline, you might find they’ve got another tip-off for you.
6. Do student media
Put your training into practice. At Huddersfield there’s a radio station, a magazine and an online video news service. Getting together with other people who are talented and enthusiastic about the media is fun, and it’s a great way to make friends too.
7. Be a publisher
Use social media, in particular Twitter. Write your own blog about something you’re interested in. Building an online profile of your professional self will be important when you’re trying to get work experience and jobs. And you’ll pick up useful skills from basic html to how to moderate comments without even realising it.
8. Follow your interests
Journalists often specialise in something, and you should too. It doesn’t really matter whether it’s macroeconomics or fly fishing, as long as it’s something you enjoy. Do stories about it for the course or your own blog, make contacts, put those contacts in a Twitter list so you can monitor them, become a ‘go to’ person for information about that topic. Being an expert in an area is a good way of standing out from the crowd.
9. Read all sorts
Sure, you can learn about how to do journalism from reading textbooks and articles. But journalism is about telling all kinds of stories about all kinds of things. If you read for pleasure, whether it’s novels, blogs, history books, magazines, whatever, you’ll give yourself more knowledge and ideas you can use in your journalism. And besides, it’s cool to know stuff.
10. Be sceptical
Ask questions and don’t take everything at face value. Even lists like this written by people like me. This is just one person’s opinion after all. And there’s no reason why, in time, you won’t know better.
This list was largely inspired by (and slightly borrowed from) a similar post on Paul Bradshaw’s Online Journalism Blog. There’s also a useful list on Journalism.co.uk.