Freelancing,  Journalism

Surviving university as a journalism student

  1. Stay away from the guild. No guild I have ever known has been without its share of drama. You don’t need to recreate high school all over again. Be aware of what they do as story ideas abound but maintain distance.
  2. Find a viable university paper or magazine that drama free or not is likely to run continuously without a hitch for the duration of your degree and join it. Even if isn’t at your university. See if you can wrangle your way in.
  3. Start a blog. Especially on the one part of journalism that you want to practice. Go big with a domain name that matches your real name. By the time your degree is done you will be the first search result on Google for your blog topic and your name.
  4. Learn social media inside and out especially how to use programs to monitor it and to set up marketing campaigns and to analyse stats.
  5. Start freelancing. Anywhere and everywhere. You are building your resume from NOW. Also your survival skills for lean times in the future AND THERE WILL BE LEAN TIMES.
  6. Take classes at university or elsewhere so you learn radio, TV, print and photography. Then take classes that teach you the ins and outs of various beats/niches/genres and then the classes on media laws and ethics.
  7. If it’s not in your degree offering but patches up a hole in your journalism knowledge, check online for free courses or find a class or course you can take elsewhere.
  8. If you have space for electives, make sure you take a world history class, a politics class, a cultural studies class, an economics class, an environmental studies class and a communications/media theory class. Why? If you want to be a journalist these classes will give you the basics you need to know so you can hit the ground running when you go out to cover the big stories of today. These classes will help you figure out why and how things are happening and where to start asking questions and about what. Can’t take these in your degree? Brush up on them online.
  9. Join your union. Seriously. Do not underestimate the opportunities and the contacts you will make.
  10. Take all the internships and work experience you can even in your first year, through the university or not. Talk to your lecturers and professors about this.
  11. Buy a copy of the Writer’s Marketplace/ Writer’s Market and contact everyone in it. Pick their brains for advice and submit stories.
  12. Save your money for a camera, a recorder and tickets & fares to the media conferences. Yes I know you are excited about alcohol and partying but if you are so super keen you will be hanging out with professional journalists, learning lots you wouldn’t learn otherwise, networking and they will be so impressed they will buy you drinks and take you out. To me that beats the frat parties any day.
  13. Learn to wake up early or at least practice it and make your peace with it so that by the time you graduate, it’s one less thing that takes you by surprise.
  14. Go to all the networking meetings you can. Get au fait with city council meetings. Sit in on parliament sessions (state or federal) if you can. Print business cards with your name and details so people can find you. It doesn’t matter that you aren’t out of university or employed yet.
  15. Ask everyone you meet for a story idea no one else knows about. You never know when you will find one even if you have to wade through a few horrendous ones first.
  16. If you can, listen to the radio on your phone during your commute so you are easily up to speed on the news.
  17. Stop coffee and soft drinks. Swap them for water, coconut water, fish, tomatoes, spinach and bananas. Seriously. The sooner you eat more of these the better you will feel.
  18. Get the license but forget the car unless you are trapped somewhere in the US where no one has done anything about transport upgrades since FDR. The car is a money pit and you need the cash for other things.

Marisa is a globetrotting freelance writer, journalist and editor with cat for hire (her, not the cat). She is usually based in Melbourne but is currently flouncing around in Perth for a week for the Inaugural 2018 KSP - Varuna Foundation Fellowship. She will be at Melbourne's Continuum and online running a Writers' Bloc course in the coming weeks.

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