As the summer begins, I’ve been recommending some things that my incoming students might do in preparation for their MA in Multiplatform and Mobile Journalism or MA in Data Journalism. I thought I’d share my advice here for anyone else starting a journalism course this Autumn… (oh, and these are just ideas — you don’t have to do all of these!)
1. Consume a *wide* range of journalism
When teaching journalism you notice quickly that the students who produce the most polished pieces of journalism are the ones who consume the most journalism. The more journalism that you read, watch, listen and use, the more journalistic conventions, techniques and tricks you absorb, and more instinctively reproduce.
The variety of journalism that you consume is important: one of the most common mistakes that people make is to write in the wrong style for the genre: writing a news article as if it was an opinion column, for example; or using broadcast journalism conventions in a piece for the web.
Different platforms are important: news and magazine websites will probably already be part of your news diet — but do you pick up printed newspapers and magazines too? Even the same articles can be written differently for print and online.
Listen to radio programmes — both local and national — and watch local and national TV news bulletins and news programmes when you can. You might find some of these old-fashioned or boring, but that’s not the point: the point is to become familiar with the languages of each medium and format because ultimately you may be asked to work on one of these programmes. You will also get a feel for their different styles and editorial priorities.
You’ll notice that the style is often quite different to broadcast video and audio, which is very important when you come to produce multimedia yourself for one or the other.
The more closely you read, listen and watch the better. Ask yourself “Where did they get that story from? How did they get extra info? Why did they choose to tell it that way?” and you’ll make it a lot easier for yourself when you face the same challenges.
2. Subscribe to industry news and mailing lists
As well as having a ‘feel’ for different types of journalistic output, it’s also useful to be aware of what’s going on inside the industry. New developments often mean opportunities for student and graduate journalists, and can help you focus your studies to take advantage of these.
It’s also always a great way to impress a potential employer if you can show you know what’s happening in their industry.
Luckily, there are lots of places where you can get updates. Here are just a few:
- In the UK Journalism.co.uk reports on new developments. It publishes a newsletter for regulat updates
- Hold The Front Page has a particular focus on local journalism, while Press Gazette has a broader remit and provides a daily email newsletter
- The Guardian’s Media section covers the industry in the UK and internationally, and produces the daily newsletter Media Briefing
- InPublishing covers the magazine sector — its newsletter is here
- International journalism organisations produce useful newsletters that provide an insight into a range of new developments and issues facing the industry worldwide. The Global Editors Network (GEN) newsletter is one example, while the American Press Institute’s Need to Know newsletter also provides a useful daily roundup.
- For an insight into industry experiments and research, NiemanLab provides email newsletters as does the Columbia Journalism Review and Reuters Institute.
- Then there are industry observers who provide newsletters which focus on particular aspects of the industry. Kevin Anderson uses Nuzzel to share a daily update of industry developments he finds interesting; Benedict Evans’s Mobile Newsletter covers developments on that side of news; and Frederic Filloux‘s Monday Note covers the business side (sign up for Medium and follow his account to get email updates)
The great thing about newsletters is that you don’t need to read them to get a feel for what’s important in the industry right now: a quick scan of the headlines is often enough to ‘feel the pulse’ of what’s being talked about, then you can read further if there are developments in a particular field of interest.
It’s also worth being aware of ‘flagship’ programmes that have particular importance in the news industry — controversial interviews or stories broken on these shows will be discussed in newsrooms across the country. In the UK, for example, BBC Radio 4’s Today programme is known for setting the news agenda, while on TV Newsnight performs a similar role.
3. Follow journalists on social media
Another way to get a feel for what’s important is to follow the people in the industry — particularly journalists in your local area, those covering topics of interest to you, and those at the cutting edge of your favoured medium or platform.
4. Start blogging — or at least develop a regular writing habit
Do people still blog? Yes, more than ever: posting on Facebook and Twitter is blogging; Instagram and Snapchat and YouTube is photoblogging and videoblogging. Tumblr and Pinterest is blogging too.
But the term isn’t the important thing here — it’s the idea of developing a regular content production habit.
Starting a blog and sticking to it can help you flex your writing muscles, and ideally your visual journalism and other media production skills too. It gives you an excuse to speak to people (“Can I interview you for my blog?”) and it shows a passion for what you do. (WordPress or Medium are obvious places to start).
It also helps you develop a journalist’s eye and ear: you’ll be more alert to interesting or curious sights and stories that you could blog about; you’ll be thinking about how to communicate that to someone else; and it’s the one place you can develop a personal style.
Try to be creative and experimental with your blog: don’t just post the same sort of content each time, switch from text to photos to video to audio; try news reports as well as first-person stories; interviews and liveblogging. Use different platforms to see what ideas that inspires.
You can also start a hyperlocal blog, reporting news in your local area. This is a particularly good way to build contacts and experience, and impress potential employers.
5. Read books
There are 3 types of books you can read when preparing for a journalism course:
- Books about journalism
- Books about wider social and technological change that is impacting on journalism
- Books about subjects that interest you
For books about some of the cultural and technological change journalists are operating in, try one on this list.
And as for books about subjects that interest you — look for biographies of key individuals in that field or journalists who reported on it; or histories of that field that give you insights into why things are organised in a particular way, or how that’s changed. Book-length investigations are also great to read: these will help give you ideas for stories in the future.
6. Learn a skill
There are many skills you’ll need as a journalist, so why not learn a little now? Obvious options include learning how to code, learning web design, learning how to use a camera, or how to film, learning how to record audio, learning how to edit, learning shorthand, or learning desktop publishing or design.
There are lots of MOOCs for these skills, as well as YouTube playlists, online communities and other resources. For example right now on Journalismcourses.org you can learn about data visualisation and mapping, coding, and podcasting. Vimeo has a video school, and YouTube has its Creator Academy.
But it doesn’t have to be journalism-related. Learn a new language, or take a course in refereeing. Join a knitting group, or learn a musical instrument. All of these will make it easier to connect with people — which is important in journalism — and give you different outlets and interests, helping you switch off or take a break when you need to.
7. Switch off and recharge!
Speaking of which, of course you shouldn’t be doing all of these things, or even a lot of them — it’s just as important to switch off and enjoy your summer while you can, so you’re fresh and hungry for when you start that journalism course. It’s going to be intense and challenging and fun and rewarding, so be ready to enjoy it!