Advice I Wish I’d Been Given In My First Year Of Journalism School

It gets better.


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Starting university is a daunting task for students of any faculty, but combine that with a highly competitive industry, intense feelings of writerly inadequacy and a whole host of potential beginner mistakes, and a degree in journalism starts to feel more like climbing a mountain than breezing into party mode.

But that doesn’t mean a degree in journalism is the end of your life. In fact, it might just be the start of something beautiful. Here are some insider tips for surviving your first year of journalism school.

A Degree In Journalism Does Not Equal A Career In Hard News

For the first few weeks of your degree, all you’ll hear about is how to write news and how to make it in the news industry. While challenging, these assignments and lectures will provide you with the base you need to really get creative. But if you’re anything like me, who had a passion for creative writing and thought this journalism thing didn’t sound like a bad gig, this constant barrage of news-focused journalism can be incredibly disheartening.

Just because you’re getting a degree in journalism, it doesn’t mean your future is the bleak reality of a 24-hour news cycle. If you want to write about travel, write about travel. If you want to become an expert beard critic, do it. With the invention of the internet, there’s probably a publication to fit every niche topic your heart desires. The media world is your proverbial oyster, my friend.

Contacts Will Talk To You

Be prepared to be rejected a few times when writing your first story. Emails will go unanswered and voice messages unchecked, but don’t let this get you down. Nine times out of 10, your enquiries going unanswered is a case of misplaced emails or busy schedules, and not a personal attack on you.

If your email doesn’t receive a reply, pick up the phone. Can’t get through on the original number? Try the number of somebody in the company whose job is vaguely related to what you’re enquiring about. If you’re friendly, polite and willing to jump through any hoops they want you to, you’ll get through to your contact in the end.

Your Peers Are Your Greatest Allies

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had the perfect story lined up and the requisite amount of sources ready for me to bombard them with questions, when all of a sudden my star player decides to drop out three days before the assignment is due. Cue the desperate post on my university journalism club’s Facebook wall asking if anybody knows someone I can talk to. You’d be surprised at the diversity of people that your peers are willing to hook you up with.

University is a wonderful place full of people from every walk of life, and the other students in your school are struggling, or have struggled, just as much as you are now. Don’t be afraid to look to the people around you for advice.

Practice Makes Perfect

Whether it’s sitting down to mock up a magazine page in InDesign or offering to edit your best friend’s Australia’s Got Talent audition video, make sure to practise the technical skills you learn when you’ve got time outside of class. The media world is in a state of flux, and today’s graduates are expected to know a little bit about everything. Have an interest in coding? Pursue it. Want to dabble in design? Go for it. The more skills you can add to your resume – apart from being a kick-arse writer — the better your chances of nabbing your dream job.

Shannon Coward is a third year Bachelor of Journalism and Bachelor of Arts student at the University of Queensland. She enjoys period dramas, doughnuts and a good nap. 

(Lead Image: Crowd Expedition, Flickr Creative Commons license)