March 31, 2020 (Updated )
Lockdown is here, and it could be here for a while to come. Everyone’s looking for something productive to fill the time, not least student journalists who have found their terms cut short and print runs cancelled at the last minute.
Sure, we might all be inside, but there’s plenty you can do to improve your skillset or make up for lost lectures. Let’s face it, there are only so many half-decent things on Netflix to watch, and your single government-approved walk of the day can’t go on forever.
To help, Journo Resources and the Student Publication Association have bashed our collective heads together to bring you this list of stuff to do while stuck at home. Think we’ve missed a trick? Let us know.
Learn A New Journo Skill
First and foremost, you could use this time to add more to your journalism tool kit. Our top suggestions:
A daunting name for a skill that’s actually easy to learn the basics of, data journalism is very sought after in today’s newsrooms. In short, if you’re dealing with numbers, you’re probably using data and it’s a great way to add context to a story.
First port of call? Check out the SPA’s Freedom of Information guide for how to find and write some great original data stories.
If you’re looking to dive a little deeper, there are some great resources in the free Data Journalism Handbook and you can also look at the slides from Journo Resources’ basic introduction to data here.
Photo, Video, and Audio editing
With Adobe’s Creative Cloud currently free for students, and Final Cut Pro’s 90-day free trial, now is as good a time as ever to finally learn how to edit.
Try photoshopping people into space, re-clipping a political speech so they say funny sentences, or editing that podcast you and your friends are totally going to make during lockdown. YouTube tutorials are free, but are of mixed quality.
Learning to hand-write at 100 words per minute sounds ridiculous in an age of smartphones and laptops. Those who can do it will know that it’s not easy to learn either, but if you want to do news reporting, it’s an incredibly useful skill for note-taking and court reporting.
When you’re not allowed to record due to legal restrictions, or your phone is out of battery, or your recording equipment fails you, shorthand is there for you. Plus, news orgs love people who can do shorthand when it comes to employment decisions.
Most journalists use Teeline these days, and a quick Google will throw up lots of free theory and dictations. This blog, while from 2014, has some good resources to start you off.
One of the greatest benefits, in my opinion, is writing lyrics to your favourite songs in these weird hieroglyphics. To right is the opening lyrics to an all-time great, written in shorthand – can you figure out what it is?
Reviewing. Yes, Really.
Fancy yourself a connoisseur of the arts, or just want to try something new? Give reviewing a go!
Aside from the obvious, like critiquing whatever film is on ITV for the thousandth time, the National Theatre has launched a YouTube channel to stream a production for free every Thursday at 7pm UK time. The first is going to be One Man Two Guvnors, starring James Corden, on April 2.
The Royal Shakespeare Company are also offering a 30-day free trial of their streaming service, which gives you access to more than 200 dance, opera, and theatre productions. Plus, every celebrity you’ve ever heard of is putting on a concert from home, or you could use the time to spotlight some indie bands.
Even if you have nowhere to publish it, but still want someone to read them, send them to me at email@example.com. Don’t review your friends or family’s meals, though. Criticising your Dad’s bangers and mash for a lack of seasoning might not go down particularly well – trust me.
Check Our Top Book Recommendations
It will have been said many times before, but you really do have the time to power through that reading list now. Here are a few suggestions to get you going.
The clue is in the name, really. If you’re a journalism student, you will have read this. If you’re a working reporter, it has likely become your bible. McNae’s, while a little dense, is the best how-to manual on how to not get sued as a journalist. Not so much a cover-to-cover read, but a copy of this is a fantastic safety net.
Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis narrates her experience of frontline broadcast news journalism. She writes about interviewing Donald Trump in 2010, covering the November 2015 Paris attack, and even speaking to the Dalai Lama. It’s Maitlis’s first-person account of news reporting which doesn’t hold back in both self-criticism and commentary.
Even if, like me, you were only a tween when the News of the World phone hacking scandal broke in 2011, I am sure you know the story: reporters hacked into hundreds of people’s voicemails, including missing child Millie Dowler, and used the information for blackmail and stories. It’s like a crime thriller, except it’s all true: there’s corruption, private investigators, drugs, sex and David Cameron.
If there’s ever a time for some inspiration in your life, it’s now. Take it from Mishal Hussian, award winning journalist and broadcaster, whose new book is a glorious run through of all the practical skills you need to absolutely smash it in your career. And no, you don’t need to wait until after this lockdown is over.
If you’re a fan of Louis Theroux’s weird and wonderful interviews with conspiracy theorists, ex-cultists and many others, you’ll love this book. Whether you’re a Theroux mega-fan, or you’re mostly just acquainted with Theroux via his face being used as reaction memes, this is an excellent read.
An absolute classic from the front line of investigating the Watergate scandal, and also simply a great book. Check this out if you love a good conspiracy and some top-notch journalism-come-detective work.
Bag Yourself A Free Journalism Masterclass
Some places are providing their online courses for free, albeit for a limited time. Check these out while they’re still going:
The Poynter Institute is a Florida non-profit journo school which offers online courses. These guys are offering a bunch of free classes during lockdown, including a back-to-basics grammar and word-use class, a primer on how to write about numbers, digital audience engagement training, and a lot more. Check them out while it’s still free, as they’re usually at least 50 quid a pop.
Journalism workshops are being hosted on Zoom by News Associates completely free of charge due to the lockdown. The first one, on April 6, is a pitching workshop from none other than JR’s own Jem Collins! If you’re interested, hit them up on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Additionally, while it’s not a class per se, we’d also recommend checking out their series #WorkingFromHomeTogether. News Associates has pulled in guests including PinkNews senior production editor Amy Ashenden and Telegraph Women’s Sport reporter Fiona Thomas to create short how-to and advice videos. The News Associates Twitter feed is also, in general, a must-follow for any bored student journalist.
Student Publication Association
Yep, we’re here to big ourselves up. Main reason we’re here. Jokes aside though, we’re running a series of online workshops and lectures across the next few months based around what students journalists feel is missing in the conversation. Our first workshop will discuss how to cover stories on your campus remotely, and will take place on April 3 at 5pm. Email email@example.com to reserve your free place.
We’ll also be putting together more pieces and resources like this – keep an eye on our Twitter feed for more details.
Try Your Hand At Freelancing
If you want to start getting your byline out there, and get paid for it, freelancing is worth a shot. Start brainstorming ideas now, whether they’re lockdown-related or not – seriously, editors are looking for either.
Alternatively, creating a Tweetdeck column which searches the phrase ‘pitches about’, ‘calls for pitches’ and ‘looking to commission’ is a good place to find editors trying to commission writers. We’ve got a whole big list of other searches to try here.
Freelancing can be daunting, frustrating and full of dead ends – but also incredibly rewarding. It can often gives you a foot in the door to a future workplace, and receiving that first pay cheque (or, in our modern age, bank transfer notification) for something you’ve written is a moment you’re unlikely to forget.
Fortunately, there’s a website called Journo Resources, which you’ve probably never heard of, that offers advice on freelancing. Specifically, here’s a JR guide tailored to helping students kickstart their freelancing career. And, of course, sign up to the free Journo Resources newsletter for all the latest freelance gigs and job ops.
One piece of advice you can get without clicking one of our many hyperlinks – even if you’re young, or a student, remember to know your worth as a writer, especially when pitching to a big news org.
Give These Story Ideas A Go For Your Student Paper’s Online Section
If you really can’t face the prospect of socially distancing from your responsibilities as a student hack, we’ve got you covered there as well. Here are some evergreen story ideas you could try out to keep your site’s audience coming to you while you can’t go out and report in person, and while many uni press offices/data teams are not in work:
- The best places in your uni city for your daily excursion outdoors
- Things the student body misses about not being at your uni
- How your local government or university has responded to the coronavirus outbreak in the area
- FOI stories such as accommodation prices and expenditure, uni management expenses, diversity statistics in university management, the student body and their hiring policy, or gender and ethnicity pay gap data.
Or, if you can’t get to your own publication at the moment, feel free to pitch ideas to the SPA magazine! In the words of Mila, who runs the mag: “The publication is designed to showcase our community and their interests, as well as allow writers from across the UK and Ireland to branch out beyond their campus publication and gain experience writing on a new topic and for a wider audience.”
You can drop her a line on firstname.lastname@example.org.