It would be naïve and, frankly, cruel to give the impression that all students will waltz out from the hallowed university halls, paper in hand, and into a newsroom. The rampant, financially-driven ‘crisis’ in journalism, combined with a lack of entry-level roles for emerging journalists, has left the industry barren and gloomy for young journalists in Australia.
In combatting this, a student journalist now needs to come out of university not just with their piece of paper, but with some sort of portfolio demonstrating their skills. In many cases, this means taking initiative and seeking out ways you can branch out. It’s a universally acknowledged truth that arts students have few contact hours, so here are some ideas you could pursue to get ahead of the rest.
I don’t know how to tell you this without sounding incredibly obvious, but you need to start writing. Write in a diary, write in a blog, write on a fucking napkin I don’t care, just do it. Writing shit stuff will eventually progress into less than shit stuff, and so on. You’ll also find strengths and weaknesses in particular styles of writing. For example, I can’t write personal essays to save my life because I am a cold, emotionless husk of what was once a human boy.
Reach out to small sites or blogs, or start your own. There are writers and editors now sitting in office chairs at the New York Times that have certainly come from blogs. There are always publications looking for new contributors, and with an amateur media scene as diverse as Melbourne’s, you’re bound to find your nook. Farrago, Wasteland and other student-run publications are your friends.
Use those small shards of experience to learn and reach out to other, larger opportunities. Mention your writing history in your pitch to editors. Some publications prefer you to attach links to your portfolio or samples of your writing when pitching to demonstrate your previous experience. If you need a cheap method of setting up a portfolio website, there’s no shame in using a .wordpress domain to house all of your work.
As you begin writing for smaller publications, not only will you learn more about strong writing practice, you’ll begin to look into conversations previously unexplored. Figure out what you’re interested in writing about. Carving out a niche for yourself is exciting, and expertise in a specific area can be drawn upon down the line.
Develop Skills in Other Media
Mainstream, in-demand journalism is no longer confined to the written word. With every editor-in-chief and their office pet ‘pivoting’ to video and establishing branded side-projects, audiovisual skills are paramount to get ahead. Picking up radio skills are easy with stations like Radio Fodder and SYN. If you plan on hosting a show, make sure you record it for future demonstration of your media history.
While everyone is still frothing podcasts, it couldn’t hurt to ride that wave either. Podcasts are an inexpensive, but potentially time-consuming medium to get involved in. When editing, all you need is a phone microphone and free editing software like Audacity to get you started. Get your work up on Soundcloud and feel what every rapper who uploads their stuff to Soundcloud must feel. Please be original, for the love of God.
If you’re feeling agile and innovative, word on the wire is the next up and coming medium is the webseries. Certainly far more time consuming than the podcast, the webseries combines creativity, technical skill and camaraderie. Get together a team and spend every second Saturday filming and producing something small. This kind of content can be precisely the platform for showing off your prowess, while learning on the job.
The last thing to remember isn’t so much a physical skill but a reality check. There are chapters in every writer’s life clouded by doubt and a chronic case of imposter syndrome, but what’s important is to trace back your passion to a time you knew you wanted to pursue this field of work. Carry that certainty, walk forward and you’ll be fine.