It’s hard to come across events that specifically cater to students wanting to break into journalism, which is why it is always a pleasure when the Walkley Foundation in conjunction with the The Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance and Media Super hold their annual MediaPass Student Industry Day. The event took place last Thursday in Melbourne and welcomed key speakers and journalists to share their knowledge on breaking into what is a very competitive industry.
Various panels were presented by leading journalists with a range of experience, from broadcast and print reporters to freelancers making a living from writing. This piece will look at three key discussions including making a start in media, freelancing and what prospective employers are looking for in the upcoming generation of young journalists.
Making it in media
David Hastie, journalist, Sunday Herald Sun
Jay Savage, reporter, NineMSN
Jesse Hogan, sports reporter, The Age
This session focused on making a break into journalism and various strategies and tactics employed by the journalists who presented this session. The general consensus highlighted the importance of completing internships and unpaid work in newsrooms to get a foot into the industry. Each journalist on this panel undertook various unpaid work while completing their bachelor degrees in an effort to build on their portfolios, make contacts in the industry and most importantly, to keep an ear out for possible opportunities of paid or permanent work. Their experience ranged from spending weekends covering sports events for the local newspaper and reading news reports for a community radio with little more than 200 listeners, to completing internships at newspapers before being offered paid work. On the job training has taught most journalists how to perfect their craft. The panelists in this session all agreed that they learnt more in a few weeks in the newsroom than in three years at university, despite the fact that a degree is a prerequisite to obtain a journalism role.
Another key point discussed in this presentation was the emphasis on simply getting published in your early days as a journalism student. Strive to get something published on your placements to prove that you’ve done more than just tag along on your work experience stint. It also shows that you can write and will stand you in good stead. The journalists who spoke on this panel said that it doesn’t matter where you’re getting published as long as you can accumulate by lines and a portfolio of work. They suggested getting a range of writing published, from 50 word captions and 200 word articles to lengthy features to demonstrate your range of writing skills. This will be more beneficial for your portfolio. And it is important to be proud of your work; care about the leads and body of your articles.
It also pays to be persistent. This was a key focus across all discussions at the seminar but particularly as you are starting out. Chances are you’re not going to find yourself in a reporting role straight out of university. These days, most students aren’t even starting out in a cadetship program at leading metropolitan newsrooms. Journalists who spoke at this panel all started out in different ways and most of it stemmed from work experience placements or as an editorial assistant answering phones and photocopying before climbing up the ladder. The fundamental lesson here? Don’t be picky about where you start your career in journalism.
Freelancing and working as a mobile journalist
Alison Aprhys, freelance journalist and photographer
Stephen Quinn, Associate Professor of Journalism, Deakin University
This workshop looked at tips and tricks for the new mobile journalist and how various technologies can carry you through the role. As mobile phones, laptops and digital appliances become more commonplace a journalist can now report and log a story live from the scene. The session looked at tools that journalists will need in order to produce work across different media platforms and how the mobile phone will be playing an increasing role.
The demand for the mobile journalist has emerged with technology. Gone are the days where a journalist can sit in an office and log stories. The future of news will mean that journalists need to be where the story is happening. Associate Professor Stephen Quinn has written a book on the practice of mobile journalism and a free copy can be downloaded online: http://www.kas.de/proj/home/pub/130/2/-/dokument_id-18599/
He also recommended the following websites for mobile journalists who want to engage in software options for reporting from a mobile phone:
The rise of social media also allows reporters to disseminate information quickly to an audience and will increasingly play a role in how we communicate news. Stephen Quinn is heavily involved in social media research and believes that having social media is a good way to build your brand and is a powerful way to do some self-promotion. He also emphasised the importance of having a blog that can double as a marketing tool and offer an online location for your portfolio. This makes it easy for prospective employers to visit one location on the web where they can get a clear idea on where you want to position yourself as a journalist. To view Stephen Quinn’s blog, visit: http://globalmojo.org/
Alison Aprhys is a leading freelance journalist in Australia and specialises in surf reporting and photography. She highlighted the importance of turning down unpaid work as it lowers the standard and expectations of publications willing to take on freelance writing. But isn’t this a catch for students starting out in the industry who need to build a portfolio of published work? Still, she argues that it is best to seek paid work as this will position you as more professional in the freelance domain and discourage undercutting across the industry. She also encouraged getting in-house experience or a staff role when starting out to obtain valuable training and the opportunity to work with some valuable people. This can then act as a springboard into freelancing as you would’ve already established a network of key contacts.
Tips for freelancing:
- When pitching to a publication, know their production schedule. Don’t contact them while they’re on deadline
- Be charming and persistent
- Don’t burn bridges with people – even if you don’t like them. You never know when they might be in a position to help you out or offer you work
- Self-promotion is key. Having social media to do this can be very powerful
- Offer something to the editor when making a pitch, e.g. your impressive list of contacts, ability to deliver before deadline etc.
- Show that you have guts and take risks. Try something different.
To find out more about Alison, visit: http://www.shewrites.com.au/
Pick me: advice from employers
Stephen Carey, news director, Seven News
Robin Jacklin, former Deputy News Editor, ABC
Colin McKinnon, editor, training and development, The Age
Presented by the people who recruit at some of the major news outlets in the country, this panel discussed the key qualities required by students wishing to enter the journalism field and tips for those seeking a cadetship. With an increasing number of journalism graduates flooding out of universities each year there is an uneven ratio of graduate newsroom roles available to take them all on. This is why employers can be incredibly choosy when it comes to taking on graduates. The main point is that most newsrooms want to eliminate the risk factor of taking on a young graduate with something as little as a university degree and a measly internship. They want someone that can hit the ground running and ensure that they will serve as an investment to the newsroom.
Cadetship candidates for The Age newspaper, for example, are now offering a bachelor degree along with significant newsroom experience – sometimes as much as an array of internships as well as one or two years in a role at a regional or community newspaper. In some instances, candidates are also coming equipped with postgraduate degrees to add to their competitive advantage.
Graduates need to demonstrate a passion for news and media. They must read various newspapers everyday and be able to talk about and critique the issues explored within. They must be able to indentify what a news story is and be able to relate to a story. Journalists are storytellers so good writing is essential; clean, clear copy is mandatory.
Some of the key qualities and skills needed include:
- An ability to analyse complex issues
- Be a team player
- Multimedia reporting experience
- Web skills (including internet research skills)
- Flexibility – to work across a range of platforms
Stephen Carey says that getting a foot into that journalism door often comes down to three key factors: ‘passion, persistence and a little bit of luck.’
To enter television, they want people who can write and present well on camera. They’re also looking for people who can relate well to the community.
The biggest element that all presenters agreed on was that upcoming journalists should not pigeon-hole themselves. The future of media will not see reporters working in one specific area and so an ability to work in a multi-platform environment is crucial. Even newspaper journalists are now branching out into video and audio as they engage with stories online so don’t limit yourself to a platform-specific role. And finally, be prepared to move out of your comfort zone. Go to a regional, interstate or overseas newsroom and acquire some valuable experience.