Student journalism might not have the cache of a job at a national publication, but it can also offer a wealth of opportunities, says our Guest Editor Charlotte Lytton, who works at University of Birmingham's newspaper, Redbrick. But often the reality of journalism fails to live up to the dream...
The tag “student journalist” doesn’t exactly scream out high-profile glitz and glamour.
But the reality is that the opportunities offered to young writers affiliated with academic institutions are often above and beyond the wildest dreams of many freelance journalists.
Take my student newspaper, for example. In the past couple of months, I have interviewed Oscar and BAFTA award winners, been given VIP tickets to swanky events and offered free entry to as many productions and gigs as you can shake a stick at. Not bad, right? Admittedly, many of these luxuries have taken a large degree of legwork to organise, but others have simply been offered up hassle free. There is no doubt that I’m enjoying these opportunities while they last, but it will be a rude awakening when they become virtually non-existent post-graduation.
One of the many benefits of being involved with a uni rag is that it gives you an automatic identity and reputation when speaking to actors’ agents and the like. Would they allow me to interview their award-winning client for my blog, say, which averages around 100 hits weekly? Highly unlikely. But when they hear the facts and figures about a university newspaper’s readership, they become a lot more interested in what you have to offer. It is not as if sending one nonchalant email to someone’s agent will secure you an interview with a star, but some carefully worded correspondence really can go a long way.
It is daunting, then, to accept the dearth of high-profile opportunities that will inevitably ensue when I am no longer connected with a student newspaper. The overwhelming lack of staff writing jobs makes freelancing a necessary path for a number of aspiring journalists, but creating work for yourself in an industry where you are a lone wolf in a field of seasoned savages is beyond off-putting.
Graduate friends of mine who have gone into freelancing immediately after their degree have worked desperately to find themselves a secure job at a respected institution. While at the time they assured me that freelancing was a legitimate and profitable career route, their actions suggest otherwise. The vast majority of these people are indeed now working for national newspapers, but in a capacity that is, quite frankly, not journalistic. They operate on the communications/digital media side of things rather than producing the cutting edge news stories they dreamed of, and have sold out their journo dreams for the sake of job security and a flashy brand name.
Of course, it is easy to judge when not under the same financial pressure post-graduates are plagued with, but a dedication to your craft surely shouldn’t mean abandoning years of hard work for the sake of a steady (and usually low) income. It is undoubtedly difficult to make your mark as a freelancer, but changing career paths completely because there are less opportunities shouldn’t be an option for die-hard journos.
What's your experience of student journalism? Leave a comment below.
Image: Hollywood Interview! by Christian Haugen, available under a CC BY 2.0.