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November 14, 2023 (Updated )

Are you interested in social media journalism? Perhaps you spend your evenings engrossed in community Facebook groups or maybe scrolling through the latest TikTok trends? Well, there could be a career as a social media journalist on the horizon.

News Associates recently invited four social media journalists to their free online workshop series, where they discussed how to get your first role, how to network, and what the future of social media journalism looks like.

No, You Don’t Need To Have A Huge Social Media Following

First things first, the panel — comprised of Claire Rowden, Helen Meriel Thomas, Neha Gohil, and Stefan Frost — all agreed that you do not need to be an influencer to get a job in social media.

It may be that the job leads you to grow a larger social media presence, but many social media journalists work primarily on their publications’ accounts rather than their own. But, it can be an opportunity to raise your profile.

Claire Rowden is a social producer at MTV Movies and regularly interviews celebrity talent. As a result, she’s gathered 12,000 followers and over 2.6 million likes on her own TikTok. “I did not have a following in any capacity when I started,” she stresses.

However, having some experience will be helpful: testing out different platforms to understand their audience and how they work, as well as learning skills like video creating, editing, and interviewing.

“Try making a few TikToks so you know basically how it works even if they’re not super viral. The best thing is to show you’ve tried,” says Helen Meriel Thomas, senior social editor at VICE.

The key to getting more experience is putting yourself out there and showing enthusiasm. This starts outside of the workplace. Rowden thinks that a big reason why she got her apprenticeship was the blogging she had already done in her free time.

For Sportbeat’s social media editor, Stefan Frost, this meant approaching small grassroots sports teams and offering to manage their social media and live tweet their games. By showing that you can do it by yourself, it shows you have the interest and commitment to do it professionally.

Once inside your first internship or junior role, enthusiasm can lead to the offer of more opportunities. Rowden and Thomas would try to finish the administrative tasks of their internships early, and then approach their managers to ask for the chance to try out different areas of the business.

Journo Resources
"The more skills you can develop as early on in your career as possible, [the more] that it will reap the rewards in the future.”

Neha Gohil, Correspondent at The News Movement

“When I did work experience, I was just brazenly confident even though I didn’t know what I was doing. That really helped,” says Thomas.

Rowden adds: “I made myself known within my company by putting myself forward for things all the time — like pitching opportunities and stories. In the early years is when you really have to work and show that you know you’re committed to this job and you’re passionate about it.”

Engaging Audiences Once You’ve Got The Job

But, once you’re in the door, what next? It is important to hook in social media users within the first few seconds of a video. Frost says: “You need to have an eye for the spectacular, the sort of stuff that goes viral.”

He recommends keeping up to date with current trends to know what is likely to do well. In other words, you need to be using the platforms fully, as well as posting on them.

“What you’re trying to do on a social is make it pop and you’re constantly looking for new ways to make something that could just be fine, actually do a lot better and capture the attention,” he adds.

Study For Your NCTJ Diploma With News Associates

All the advice shared in this article was delivered firsthand to trainees at News Associates, who run the UK’s number one journalism course. As well as hearing from inspirational speakers, trainees can learn in a range of flexible formats depending on their circumstances:

Fast Track Multimedia Diploma In Person: Complete your NCTJ training in just 22 weeks, studying at either their Manchester or London campuses. Intakes start in both September and February and in addition to their award-winning training, you’ll also complete a guaranteed placement to hone your skills for the world of work.

Part-Time Multimedia Diploma In Person: Offered at both their Manchester and London campuses, you’ll complete the course in just 40 weeks. Depending on where you study, there are intakes in October and March. Lectures take place on Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings, with all sessions taught by an experienced tutor.

• Part-Time Multimedia Diploma Remotely:For those based elsewhere, the remote course can be taken entirely from a location of your choice — although their facilities and campuses are open to you if you’d like to use them. You’ll study every Tuesday evening and every other Thursday, with the programme taking 18 months to complete. All sessions are taught live by an experienced tutor.

Many social media jobs, especially if you are the one presenting the content, will require you to show your face to thousands of people online. This took the panellists some getting used to.

Neha Gohil, correspondent at The News Movement, recalls: “I never envisioned myself being on video but now I’m really grateful that I have that skill and can speak on camera.”

While she initially found being on camera uncomfortable — she’d always thought she’d end up in newspapers — she urges everyone to learn as many skills as possible.

“I feel as though the more skills you can develop as early on in your career as possible, [the more] that it will reap the rewards in the future.”

Dealing With Criticism Online

Sadly, the panellists’ work sometimes means having to deal with criticism and trolling, reflecting recent research from Women in Journalism that found 60 per cent of women had received personal comments online, and 50 per cent had experienced a ‘pile-on’ or backlash to a story.

Reporters might find resources from Headlines Network and the Committee To Project Journalists useful — but Rowden also found the following advice helpful.

“50 per cent of people are going to like you, 50 per cent of people are not going to like you,” she says, “the good thing is none of them are right because none of them know you.”

Journo Resources
“You need to have an eye for the spectacular, the sort of stuff that goes viral. You’re constantly looking for new ways to make something capture the attention.”
Stefan Frost, Sportbeat's Social Media Editor

Take The Leap And Experiment

While Gohil believes social media skills might put younger people at an advantage as the industry adapts to the preferences of its audience, her advice should resonate with anyone of any age.

“If you’re worried and scared (like me) about delving into video then, please, just take the leap because I think it’s so worthwhile,” said Gohil.

When it comes to packaging content for posting on social media, the panellists say creativity was crucial — while still maintaining the essential journalistic qualities of accuracy and integrity. The ability to present similar content in a fresh format is something that Thomas has tried to tackle by asking unusual questions or carrying out interviews in unusual situations.

In her role, Gohil must also be creative, presenting sometimes dry news stories in a visually impactful way. For example, she has used visual cues, like rice falling, to draw people into a technical story about rice shortages. “Thinking of different ways to start the video to hook people in is so important,” she adds.

However, they all warned against using clickbait to draw in viewers. “You might get more views but your engagement will probably be really low,” continues Gohil, who cited studies against the effectiveness of clickbait.

Journo Resources
Journo Resources

Neha Gohil (Left) and Stefan Frost (Right)

Say Yes And Have Lots Of Conversations

Finally, the panellists touched on how to further your career once you’ve taken that first step, warning against feeling too much pressure to network. Instead, they recommend building your network organically. Simply by being friendly, you can make connections in different organisations, naturally building your network.

Frost adds: “By just having conversations, you open up the chances of meeting people that will help you later on down the line.” As Rowden points out, some of your colleagues will go onto work at other organisations too, giving you connections further afield.

Being proactive is, again, important. Networking events, LinkedIn, meeting for coffee and sending a direct message to people you admire were all advised methods.

“Don’t be afraid to reach out”, urges Frost. “Everyone at some point needs a foot up and a lot of people in journalism understand that and want to help out.”

Rowden adds: “Say yes to things all the time; you never know who you are going to meet”.

News Associates
News Associates

News Associates are proud to be the UK’s number one NCTJ journalism course — and they do things differently. You’ll be treated like a journalist from day one, with an innovative and experienced approach to teaching.

They offer a range of part-time and full-time courses, with locations in London, Manchester, and remote learning.

Find out more about their courses here.

Ben Gardner
Ben Gardner

Ben Gardner is an NCTJ trainee at News Associates. He enjoys stories that allow readers to see ordinary things under a different light and stories about topics directly relevant to people’s lives. It is his goal to interview the world’s oldest person about their secret to old age.