Monday, July 15, 2013

Hints and Tips on how to succeed as a student journalist

Our intern Craig is back with his second blog 

The Editorial: Part 2
Hello again. Following on from my last blog post, in which I talked about some of the more obscure opportunities available within student journalism, here are the promised hints and tips about how to succeed as a student hack. I am currently an editorial intern with TARGETjobs, and the editor of The Saint, St Andrews’ independent student newspaper. If you have any questions about what is mentioned below, or maybe something which isn’t, feel free to contact me at
Journalism: Many famous names and faces started their careers on their student rags, and all look back on those times as among the best in their lives. Student journalism can be quite a harsh arena, but the time-worn adage of ‘you get out what you put in’ is seldom truer than in this case. You work hard and play harder. As is true of most societies, the friends you make can last a lifetime, and are bound to be useful contacts throughout your professional career.
You must be proactive to make the most of your time with a student newspaper. It is not enough to simply turn up at commissioning meetings and take an article or two to write when they are offered by the section editor. You should go into your section meetings with ideas, with interesting angles on a recent event, with scoops (as often as you can!!). This kind of enthusiasm will not go unnoticed, and will hopefully ease the way for your progression within the ranks of the paper. Not only that, but it will prepare you for the realities of journalism, where sub-editors compete for their by-lines at section meetings.
To find these ideas and scoops, follow all the local media outlets on Facebook and Twitter, and buy copies of the local papers when they come out. Check the university website for their (often daily) press releases and start building a network of contacts throughout the university – try and work out which friends study which subject or are in which society or team, or which officials sit on which panels and boards – you never know when it will be advantageous to you to have a name on the inside.
A large contact book/list is something which, as you progress in the industry, becomes increasingly of interest to employers, some of whom may ask about it specifically. A fantastic way to supplement this list is via the Gorkana Group, which sends out daily emails with details of promotions and new appointments within the industry by publication. Very quickly you can build up a list of the editors and writers at many of the dailies and trade magazines, which you can then follow on Twitter and, if the occasion calls for it, contact with regard to a story. Visit to sign up for these emails. Gorkana asks for your professional information in return; it is perfectly fine to supply them with your LinkedIn profile if you have one.
There are also national stories which can have a bearing upon your university. A fantastic way to keep abreast of these stories is Google Alerts: if a story breaks that meets certain criteria you have established (ie keywords such as St Andrews or Wills and Kate) then Google will send you a notification informing you, allowing you to be as on-the-ball as possible. These are just a few of the tools available to you – familiarise yourself with as many as possible and find out which ones work for you.

Socialise! Student journalists, who largely hail from Arts subjects like history, English or languages, are sociable animals who require frequent doses of the aqua vitae in order to survive. Go along to socials, introduce yourself, and start making friends. Some teams can be a bit cliquey, but perseverance will pay off.
Finally, be ambitious. Try and rise as far through the ranks as you can – the more responsibility you gain, the more appealing you will be to potential employers, so get stuck in and do whatever you can. Pull the all-day crash article writing sessions that end at 1.00am. Be that journalist on the end of the phone who just won’t go away (but be sure to stay on the right side of the law!) There is the potential for anyone at a student newspaper to make a name for themselves that they can carry forward into their professional career. You need determination, perseverance, and a good deal of nerve, but I have seen it happen – be that person – what buried secrets will you bring to light in the public interest?
If you have any questions about what is mentioned above, or maybe something which isn’t, feel free to contact me at

Today’s journalism law tip: Court reporting: If you are reporting on a court case, there are several legal pot-holes you must avoid. Firstly, it is best to be present in the court for the trial. This way you can take notes for yourself about what is said and what happens. You can then publish a story using the quotes you have taken down (as long as you are happy that they are verbatim). This is important because it is illegal to use second-hand quotes (unless they are from official court press releases) in your articles, in case the quote is inaccurate and you are perpetuating a fallacy. Secondly, be 110% certain when you are citing charges brought against someone in court. It is best to go to the horse’s mouth for the wording of the charge – the CPS, who will provide the official wording of charges upon request. If you accidentally get a charge wrong, then the defendant has an open-and-shut case for libel, which could lead to legal action brought against your newspaper, so be careful!

[Disclaimer: This is intended as advice only; do not use it as an accurate set of instructions for court reporting. For more information check your local courthouse website and a journalism law textbook or website.]

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