Non-profit supporting student journalists

February 15, 2019 (Updated )

The internet is great, we all know it. Aside from being the literal spawn of the devil, it can also be an amazing resource, community, and all-round general lifeline for new reporters.

Whether that’s helping you skill up to take on the world with a new side hustle, find a scoop without any contacts, or work your way up to Instagram success, in moderation it can be an incredible tool for journalists throughout their careers.

With that in mind – and the fact that so many journalists waste so much of their time on Twitter – we decided to embrace the sense of community and ask the internet exactly what the essentials are as a student journalist.

Think of it as the tick list of your journalistic dreams. Though, obviously, you don’t have to do *every* idea we’ve plucked out of the interwebs – it’s about picking a few key skills and portfolio pieces to make you stand out.

Play With All Of The Shiny Things

Whether you’re at the student paper or studying within the journalism department itself, there’s a solid chance they’ll have a fair bit of kit knocking around. To put it bluntly, student media is one of the few times you will actually find yourself with a heap of time and a lot of resources at your disposal.

Use all of the stuff you can get your hands on – try out video cameras, dictaphones, and even the fancy little lenses which you can attach to your camera phones. Heck, even just working out how to put a tripod up like a natural is a solid skill. It doesn’t matter about the standard of what you create – student media is your chance to experiment and get stuff wrong.

You might end up with a passion for a form of journalism you didn’t know about before, or you might just have learnt podcasting doesn’t excite you. The latter is equally valuable when you’re on the job hunt – you’ll both know what to avoid, as well as have empathy for other colleagues who do work in a different area. We’ve all been there when you realise you forgot to put the SD card back into the camera, right? Or maybe that was just me.

The Ideas List

  • Produce a video report or package, and cut it three different ways for social, broadcast and a short YouTube documentary
  • Produce a podcast series which runs for a few episodes on a long running theme, with a focus on on the ground reporting
  • Take a series of ‘Humans of New York’ pictures to go with a campaign or interview with a DSLR camera
  • Help produce a bigger radio or TV show in a studio. Do it twice, once helping solely with production, and once being part of the output
  • Publish multimedia live from the ground using only your phone (and a few add-ons), including doing a live report and some interviews

And Learn The Fiddly Bits That Make It All Possible

There wouldn’t be a newspaper if someone didn’t lay it out on InDesign, and there wouldn’t be a TV package if someone didn’t cut it all together on Premier or Final Cut Pro. Even if you’re not somewhere with the world’s fanciest tech, you’re likely to have a lot of software you’d have to pay real money to play around with in the real world.

Take some time out to get to grips with creative software like the Adobe Suite, getting a solid grip of the ‘basics’ of Audition, Premier, Photoshop and InDesign. If you want to get really funky hunker down with After Effects. Similarly, take some time to learn how the back-end of websites and social media work – WordPress is one of the most common CMS systems, while Hootsuite, Lightful, and Buffer are commonly used as free scheduling tools.

Also, take some time to get your head around metrics and making your content tailored to your audience. Google Analytics is free, if a bit of a wormhole, while tools like the CrowdTangle plug-in and native social media analytics can also help you get a grasp of how people engage with your output. It’s also worth spending some time with things which can show off your stories in a fancy way – Shorthand, for example, is a great way to show off long-form stories, while tools like Datawrapper can help create fancy visualisations of data stories, and you can also use tools like XCode to build apps.

The Ideas List

  • Find three publications in a similar area to your own, and spend a hour or two with a marker pen comparing how the designs differ, and what works best. Then redesign how yours works based on what you’ve found
  • Set yourself some baselines on how well you think content should perform on some basic metrics like click throughs, engagement, page views. Track them over a period of time, and work out how to improve them (and stick that percentage on your CV)
  • Transform a typical university story (think library fines, zero hygiene ratings takeaways, vice chancellors pay, you know the drill) into an engaging immserive project using something like Datawrapper, Flourish, or Shorthand, or building an app with XCode

Really Get To Grips With Your Audience & Original Newsgathering

It’s terrifyingly easy to end up spending three years simply rewriting stories from other outlets. It’s good for honing your writing style, sure, but the time you’ll have as a student to really dig out a story likely won’t come your way again for a while. Make it your mission to annoy the university and SU as much as you can, and try to create stories which students actually want to read, not things you’re interested in writing about at great length.

Also, try to put an emphasis on what you and your publication can bring to the table which no one else can. In essence, you probably shouldn’t be writing lengthy essays on Syria and the Middle East if you’ve got no experience in the area. Equally, you shouldn’t just be rehashing any old national story you find interesting. When you’re looking for a job after university outlets don’t care what kind of news you’re covering – what they want to know is that you were creating news with a specific audience in mind.

Benchmarking against your competitors is always a useful exercise, whether your rival is a student paper or the local paper. Sit down and map out all of the things they do which are either better or worse than you, and figure out how to capitalise on them. Are they better at pictures? If so, how do you up your game, or find a unique area you can outstrip them in?

The Ideas List

  • Instigate a rule where every piece you write has to have an original quote or angle in it. Even if the idea came from the local paper, think how you’d move it on, change the story to a student angle and get a new quote
  • Send out a series of FOIs (you can use our template here) either to your university or local council on an issue students care about. Stack up the data to find the story, then work out who you should be getting a quote from
  • Run a campaign about something students in your area are passionate about, with a clear achievable goal, and try to effect a tangible change
  • Follow a sports club which isn’t football or rugby throughout the season. Get to know the players, and run profiles and features across the year/li>
  • Attend a local press conference and ask a question related to the student population

Tap Into The Wider Student Journalism Network

As well as the people at your own university, there’s a whole world of other student media types out there it’s worth networking with. Seeing other student publications is not only a great way to give yourself new ideas – it also opens up the possibility of cross publication co-operation for bigger stories, and we all know that stories mean prizes.

The Student Publication Association, for example, is free to join, and runs low-cost conferences across the UK where you can get additional training from top journalists, as well as providing support on running your student paper. There are also similar organisations for TV and Radio bods. If you do decide to go into the media, having a support network of similarly minded people can be vital, as they’ll understand how to support you if things occasionally get rough, and will be able to tip you off about relevant opportunities.

Similarly, if you’ve produced a portfolio of work you’re proud of, be sure to enter it into national student awards. We’ve got a whole list of places which are free to enter and worth a punt. Take a look early in the year to see if you can plan content you might want to in the next award cycle, as well as check out previous winners and their entries. And, at the end of the day, it’s free, so throw that entry in.

Book Your Tickets To #SPANC19

Tickets are now on sale for the Student Publication Association National Conference, this year to be held in York from April 5-7. The weekend will include two days of talks from leading journalists, as well as a three-course dinner at the annual awards ceremony on the Saturday.

Book Now

And A Few More For Luck…

Yes, we know, we billed this as everything you should do as a student journalist, but there’s a myriad of opportunity out there and sometimes it’s hard to do everything, or even decide what are the most important things to do.

Overall, your time in student media should be about experimenting – working out what works for you, what works for your audience, and gaining some experience and skills you’re proud of. It doesn’t matter if some of your work turns out to be objectively awful, and, seriously, no employer is expecting the next Watergate. It’s just about showing you’ve done something. And, with that in mind, here’s a few more ideas from the ether to close with.

This post was produced in conjunction with the Student Publication Association, the UK’s largest non-profit student media organisation. As well as running prestigious (yet free-to-enter) student media awards, they also run low-cost conferences and training across the UK. You can book tickets to their annual student conference in April now.

Featured Image: Pexels