Supported content from City, University of London Journalism Department

January 26, 2022 (Updated )

Like many successful reporters, the lightbulb moment for Ali Mitib’s future career came das a student journalist. Now a news reporter at The Times, he says relaunching his university paper was the “highlight of my university years”. 

“The thing I’m most proud of is launching the paper and watching it continue to serve the university community – and provide opportunities to students interested in journalism,” he tells Journo Resources. “It makes me proud to see the journalists that have come out of that newspaper since. There’s a bunch of us and we all help and support each other.

“One thing I love about student journalism is anyone can get involved – it’s open to everyone in the university. A lot of people [start off] just being interested in writing one article but end up really enjoying the whole process They get that first experience of working on a feature or covering a story and they love it. And then they end up pursuing a career in the industry.”

Top Tips For Aspiring Reporters To Improve Their Journalism

With more than 150 student publications across the UK, almost 100 radio and television stations and countless more podcasts and websites, it’s an experience that will be familiar to many. But if you are one of the thousands of student journalists across the country looking to kickstart your career in the media, what should you be doing to make the most of your experience? And how can it help you bag a job at the end of it?

Always Think About Your Audience First

Journo Resources
Journo Resources

Ian Johnston (L) and Chiara Wilkinson (R) both studied at City University

According to Jason Bennetto, a lecturer at City University’s journalism department (where Ali studied) and The Independent’s former crime and security correspondent, one of the biggest pitfalls for student journalists is always “playing it safe” when it comes to stories.

While lived experience can be an invaluable jumping off point for stories, Jason always advises starting by thinking about who you’re writing for. “You’ve got to know who the audience is,” he stresses. “If you don’t know you’re going to be really stuck.” In short, you need to understand who’ll be reading your work – the answer shouldn’t be just you.

“Try to broaden it out. That’s why it’s important to be widely read, so you can be curious about other parts of the world, or parts of society, or issues that are going on. Look at what’s going on topically and start to make contacts. Talk to people doing interesting things.”

What Skills Do You Need To Be A Journalist?

Student media is the perfect place is to help you hone your journalism skills, giving you a real environment to improve and grow.

Jason Bennetto says: “It’s a great way to try out different types of journalism to see which you like the most — whether it’s news, features, social, broadcast, production, podcasting, or whatever. This should help you narrow down your choice if you want to do an MA. It also demonstrates to us that you are serious about being a journalist.”

In particular, our interviewees point to core skills such as understanding your audience, developing empathy and rapport with interviewees, and being curious about the world around you. It’s also a great place to experiment with digital and social media platforms.

If you want to learn more and level up your skills, join City’s annual journalism skills event — this completely free online masterclass is packed full of expert tutorials and open to everyone. This year, it is on 31 January, 2024.

In the past, they’ve covered everything from finding stories buried in data to advanced search techniques, shooting videos for social, and finding a journalism job. Tickets are free, but you do need to register in advance — check out their latest events here.

Be Curious And Talk To Real People

It’s a message echoed by Ian Johnston, who also graduated from City’s MA in Newspaper Journalism. Now on the Financial Times’ Graduate Trainee Programme, he says his time at a previous job in local media taught him how vital it was “just to ring people to speak to them”, as well as “understanding the issues that are important to them”.

For Jonathan Hewett, the director of postgraduate journalism at City, curiosity and empathy are also key traits of good journalists, student or otherwise. “You need curiosity about people and how the world works, why things are the way they are, why decisions are taken,” he tells Journo Resources.

Thinking about this on a day-to-day level can often yield the best stories that resonate with real people. For example, Jonathan points to understanding “how people want to know about things that affect their everyday lives, from transport and money, to health issues and going out”.

Journo Resources
You need curiosity about people and how the world works, why things are the way they are, why decisions are taken."
Jonathan Hewett, City Journalism

This in turn means journalists need to understand how systems work (or don’t) – such as “who collects the rubbish and recycling, who pays for it, what happens to it, and who’s responsible”. As a former local news reporter myself, I can also anecdotally confirm that stories about bins do serious traffic numbers.

“The ability to get on with all kinds of people is really useful,” he adds. “You might have to go out and interview a sex worker, or homeless people, or a local mayor, or the CEO of a big company. You’ve got to be able to relate to all kinds of people and understand where they’re coming from. You don’t have to agree with what your interviewee tells you, but you’re not going to be able to build an effective rapport unless you show some understanding.”

Put Together A Varied – But Focused – Portfolio

If you’re looking to build up a body of work in student media that will help get you a job, it’s important to be strategic about it. For Chiara Wilkinson, a graduate of City’s Magazine Journalism MA and current staff writer at Time Out London, her day to day job involves everything from news pieces to TikTok videos, listings pages to branded content.

Level Up Your Student Media Experience With A City University MA

After experience in student media and a stint at a PR agency, Ian Johnston decided to head to City to fast-track his journalism career. “I liked the idea that you were able to take the time to develop as a journalist, alongside concrete skills like shorthand and media law,” he tells Journo Resources, adding that it was the perfect place to hone his skills.

In total, the university offers nine different options for masters study, allowing students to specialise in everything from investigative reporting to financial journalism, all underpinned by the core skills you need to succeed in journalism. They’re also ranked first for media job prospects in The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2022 and offer a range of scholarships.

Find Out More

“It’s good to have a wide range of things,” she tells Journo Resources, “then you’ve got options.” However, if you know you’re passionate about a certain area of journalism, this can be focused around a particular theme. She credits her night-life focused portfolio – including being events editor of her student newspaper – with helping her to land the job at Time Out.

Chiara also encourages student journalists to explore opportunities beyond just writing. She recalls a module where her cohort had to produce a magazine, working in a replica newsroom. “I was a features editor once and I learned so much – [like] how to be sensitive to other people’s writing.” It’s something she thinks has made her a better features writer too.

Journo Resources
"The best news reporters are industrious, tenacious, and happy to put the hours in to get to the bottom of the story. They're always out there making contacts, trying to get to the bottom of what's going on.”
Ali Mitib

How To Start Your Career In Journalism

Portfolio pieces aside, student media can also give you the time to develop your online presence, hone your job application process, and plan your next steps. While some might be ready to apply for job applications right away, others might benefit from a more formal journalism qualification like Chiara, Ian and Ali.

In terms of honing your presence, Chiara’s first piece of advice is to get on Twitter. “That helps with getting to know who the editors are, and what sort of things they’re after. In terms of portfolio things, I think LinkedIn is really good, especially when you’re first starting out. Don’t be scared of sounding like you’re big-headed. And then a website is really useful too – it just makes you a little bit more professional, even if it’s a really basic website.”

Above all though, it’s important to persevere and be open to new opportunities. “Establishing yourself as a hard worker is really important,” concludes Ali. “ Finding and putting together great and original stories that have an impact on people’s lives requires a lot of hard work and determination. The best news reporters are industrious, tenacious, and happy to put the hours in to get to the bottom of the story. They’re always out there making contacts, trying to get to the bottom of what’s going on.”

“The main thing I’d say is don’t be afraid of making mistakes,” adds Ian. “You’ll learn much more from sending that pitch that isn’t that great or trying something that doesn’t sound that exciting. There are so many ways to get into this job and it’s a really rewarding career to be in.”

University of City, Journalism Department
University of City, Journalism Department

Wherever you are in the world, on any given day you are likely to see, hear or read journalism from graduates of City’s Department of Journalism.

Each year hundreds of people from diverse backgrounds apply to us who want the best education to enable them to get a great job in the media.

Here at City, we provide an intense and highly focused education to help you acquire the up-to-date journalism skills needed to enter your chosen area of the media.