Interview with young journalists: Part 5 - Advice for people wanting to study journalism

 by Martin Belam, 28 April 2010

All this week I've been posting a series of questions and answers from an interview I carried out with Helia Phoenix, Priyal Sanghavi and Ann Danylkiw. They are young journalists who recently made the transition from education to work, and I've been asking about how they've found adapting to the technology they now have to use in day-to-day work, and whether their training prepared them. In today's final question, I'm asking them for the advice they would give to those who might want to follow in their footsteps...

Martin Belam@currybet: "If you were giving advice to someone just starting out in studying journalism right now, what would you tell them?"

Ann DanylkiwAnn Danylkiw: Someone starting studying journalism? I'd say don't. Study something else so you're smarter than the average journalist. Study economics, environmental management, sociology, chemistry, advanced maths, physics, law, philosophy-- anything but journalism. If you've got the ability to write, it won't matter. I think by being in media or interested in journalism you learn about media and journalism. What is journalism today anyway? It's very fluid right now and studying journalism may lock your thinking.

Someone starting out in journalism? Two things: first, it's hard starting out in any profession now because of the economic circumstances, et al. So when you come up against a tough situation (editor, or interview subject, someone tells you that you can't): fuck 'em and press on.

Second: have a long hard think about what you write, the language you use, the format you use to express it, even the platform for the story. There is something that needs to be said about reviving or maybe infusing (for the first time?) journalism with a sense of social responsibility. The time we live in is not a time to waste. That's important. Think about that. I don't know if journalism schools teach 'ethics', if they do it doesn't seem like it, based on the state of media today (so that's not a reason to study journalism). Social responsibility is important in general, but it's particularly pertinent for journalism right now.

Priyal SanghaviPriyal Sanghavi: "Journalism is always learnt on the job so make sure you have internships lined up. Be a multimedia journalist, but specialise in one. Preserve the business card of everyone u meet. Hope and pray that there are jobs when you are done."

Helia PhoenixHelia Phoenix: "Definitely get involved with as much extra curricular stuff as you possibly can. All of the freelance jobs that I've got - all the projects I've been involved with - pretty much everything that I've achieved has been through the contacts I made at various points. They say it's who you know, and that's really very true - though you don't necessarily need to asslick to get anywhere. But the more things that you're involved in, the more likely you are to come across people who might be able to throw work your way at some point in the future. Generally, if you help people out, they remember that and will repay the favour when they can. I've found that this has happened several times for me. Let your friends know that you're looking for work, and what you're looking for, specifically. People do hear of odd job offers here and there, and if they know you're looking, they can pass opportunities on.

Getting involved is definitely important. If you're passionate about the environment, for example, go volunteer your writing skills with a local conservation society. Charities are always eager for any help they can get, and you'll get to develop your skills and learn new ones on the job. And more than that, it's the people that you'll meet when you're there that will help you on your way. If you're eager, accurate, prompt, and meet deadlines, people will remember that.

If you want to get into a competitive area of journalism - music, or fashion, or films, for example - then all this extra work will be what sets you apart from others. If you're having no luck, and have to pay your bills, consider applying for a job doing a less popular kind of journalism - financial, etc - get yourself some experience, and carry on writing about what you love - music for example - on a personal blog. Then, when you've got some years of experience, you'll have a much better chance of being able to get into that field.

Persistence is also really important. If you don't hear back after an introductory email, follow that email up with a phone call. If you want to work freelance and are trying to get work, then market your pitch to a number of different people. If they can't take you on, then perhaps explain your situation and ask if they'd be willing to meet for coffee, perhaps to offer your career advice. I've found that the offer of tea and cake is often more than enough to lure people out - and once they meet you face to face, it's a lot more difficult to refuse you in the future!

So I guess those are my two main bits of advice - get involved with as much as you possibly can (it's good for developing your skills and your contact book) and always be persistent (though not rude!).

Oh, and all journalism students should contact Media Trust and volunteer their skills."


This interview series was the second set of blog posts I've done this year which focus on students becoming journalists - earlier I had a series reviewing the digital presence of several student union newspapers. Coming soon I'll some more posts on a related theme - looking at some of the blogging being done by people studying journalism at the moment.


I'm from Mexico and I have a younger brother who want to study journalism. Most journalists here in Mexico are underpayed and it is a very dangerous countrie to be a journalist (drug violence problem). So, I agree with Anne Danylkiw, study politics, history, travel! (whatever) and just polish your writing skills!

I like Ann Danylkiw's comments the best. Extremely down to earth and direct!

Just study something that interests you and blog about it.

Great series, Martin. I just finished reading through all of them after stumbling across this one first. I think this series would also be useful for bloggers who are looking to make a transition into full-on journalism. Thanks for the Media Trust recommendation, too. =)

Keep up to date on my new blog