Ten things every journalism student should know

If you are about to start a journalism course, here are 10 things you should know to give you the best chance of succeeding and getting a job in journalism.

Yes, you may only have had A-level results in your hand for a matter of hours, but you’re not going to make it as a journalist if you simply rely on attending classes and getting good grades.

Some of the tips we’ve come up with, most are from other journalists after we asked those who follow @journalismnews on Twitter for advice.

The suggestions are in no particular order and all are of equal importance.

1. You need to do much more than just attend classes. Start a blog, podcast and tweet get yourself known by building up a presence online (more on each of these below).

  2. Get as much work experience as you can. Sometimes this will turn into paid work, often it won’t. Checkout internship opportunities listed on Journalism.co.uk and other sites.

And if you’re reading this and wondering whether or not to take a course, here’s a thought.

3. Contacts, contacts, contacts. And that doesn’t mean just having a contact book. Connect with people via Twitter, engage online and get your name known within the subject area you’re interested in. It’s never been easier to do this so take advantage of social networking.

  4. Question everything. Develop an analytical brain. Learn how to spot a hoax press release, question figures and consider all the angles.

5. Be versatile. Learn to shoot video, be able to turn your hand to editing audio, get to grips with data journalism, make sure you get 100wpm shorthand, know your way round Photoshop. Journalism is not just about a notebook and pen but tools such as apps and your smartphone, Dipity, Storify and Audioboo, to name but a few.


6. Write, write, blog. If you’re an aspiring broadcast journalist learn how to podcast but anyone starting out should create a blog. If you don’t have a particular area of journalism you want to go into, pick a subject you are interested in and write about that. Follow others writing about that subject (see next point).

7. Hone your research skills and build up sources. Work on creating a network of contacts in Delicious, set up RSS feeds to follow subject areas that interest you, keep an eye on LinkedIn company pages. For example, if you are interested in fashion journalism, keep an eye on who is leaving and joining fashion houses listed on LinkedIn. Set up alerts to receive the accounts of these firms from Companies House. Publish the stories on your blog and pitch them to newsdesks.

  8. Get published. When you find a really strong, original story pitch it to a newsdesk ask get a byline and negotiate a fee.


  9. Build your brand. Your name is your brand so consider a Facebook page and create an online portfolio. If you’re thinking “I’m not the kind of person who says look at me”, get over that. You have to get your name out there.

10. Don’t give up at the first hurdle. You’re not going to have a great voice for broadcast or get your first pitch accepted by a magazine or national newspaper. When someone knocks you down, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and keep trying.


Here are five tips for aspiring journalists from Rob Mansfield.

Find out how some journalists got their big break in Journalism.co.uk’s Industy Insight video series.

Key blogs

Apart from Journalism.co.uk which has useful ‘how to‘ guides, info on handy tools and technology, daily tips for journalists and industry news here are some useful blogs to follow:

  • Wannabe Hacks, a blogging collective of aspiring journalists which is essential reading for any student journalist. Last years wannabes are now fully fledged journalists with great jobs and they’re about to hand over the reins to this year’s cohort;
  • Paul Bradshaw, head of online journalism at Birmingham City University, has a must-read Online Journalism Blog.
    • Got other tips for aspiring hacks? Leave a comment below.

14 thoughts on “Ten things every journalism student should know

  1. Alfred Hermida

    These are all great practical tips for students taking their first steps into journalism. There is also a need for students to gain a more conceptual understanding journalism and how the traditional role of the journalist is being transformed by always-on, networked and distributed forms of digital communication and transmission. Having these theoretical underpinnings will strengthen their journalism and help them to thrive in an evolving media environment.

  2. Georgia Lewis

    I’d add:

    – Learn to sub and use InDesign. Not as glam as interviewing rock stars but makes you more employable.

    – Don’t expect your first job to be your dream job. Editors are not fond of graduates with an inflated sense of entitlement.

    – If you are interviewing someone and you genuinely don’t know what they are on about, ask questions until you understand. Better to feel a bit silly at the interview than write something stupid or inaccurate and feel silly for all time.

    – Having said, it is sill to go into an interview without any prior research (although there was the time I messed up time zone differences and a phonecall woke me up at 3am to interview Hollywood starlet Rachel Bilson 24 hours earlier than expected. She sounded way perkier than I did…)

    – Accuracy always matters.

    – If you make a mistake, admit it, apologise, fix it, learn, move on.

    – PRs are not necessarily your mates. PRs who go out of their way to befriend journalists are to be treated with caution and suspicion.

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  6. Susan Mykrantz

    I got into journalism in a round about way. I had a couple of photography classes in college and took a dairy judging class where I learned how to write reasons on my placings. That class taught me how to organize my thoughts and the photography classes taught me how to take pictures. I am in the process of learning how to put together a small magazine and have been trying to learn Indesign and Photoshop. This article was very helpful for me.

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  9. Rachel Pishhorn

    Great article for aspiring journalists. As a first year journalism degree student this advice has really helped. Can’t wait to brand myself… watch this space!

  10. Alan Gray

    Build a profile early.

    NewsBlaze will help you, as long as you can actually write. If you can spell, that is a big plus, but if not, our 3 editors can beat you into shape. If you need help with getting interviews, we can do that. If you need advice on where to find information after you hit a wall, just ask. We expect you to have the initiative to get started, but when you get stuck, tell us what you already did, where you’re trying to get to, and we will help. We promote your work and show you how to help yourself. There are probably things you know, that we don’t – you can teach us – life is a journey.

    If you are an investigator, you’ll work out how to contact us.

  11. Emma Balan

    I want to write because I love it… Its my passion and I am really going towards it… please visit my blog, support and comment so that I can grow and improve… breakawaydreamgirlreality.blogspot.com

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