Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

10 ways to make the most of your journalism course

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism by Adam Westbrook on September 27, 2011

Image: Adam Westbrook

The signs of autumn are easy to spot: leaves turning golden brown, England in the grip of an Indian Summer (usually after a rubbish actual summer) and a new raft of young journalism students starting courses across the land.

Anecdotally at least, universities are not struggling to fill their places and, where possible, are opening up more spaces: all this despite the bad news surrounding the industry, and the prospect of starting on as little as £14k a year – if you’re lucky enough to get a job.

Because of this, new students this year face a challenge: there are now nearly 100 journalism courses in the UK – that is a lot of wannabe hacks all with the same ambitions. We’re far enough into web 2.0 now that most of these students use social media (the majority of new students I’ve met at Kingston University do); many of them are multimedia savvy (although not nearly enough) and loads of them have got work experience under their belts.

Having an MA in journalism? It’s not good enough any more. Writing a blog while you’re studying? Not good enough either. Getting a pass on your video module? So what. Making noise on Twitter? Everyone’s doing that.

If you’re going to stand out from the crowd you’ve got to bring your A-game to the table. Nothing else will cut it. Yesterday I gave a talk to the new MA students arriving at Kingston University, and suggested ten things they can do to really excel in the short nine months they have before they hit a turbulent industry.

10 ways to make the most of your journalism course

.01 write every day: if you’re in this because you love writing, then write -and write often. And write without thinking too much: as Seth Godin puts it: “No-one ever gets talker’s block”.

.02 blog every week: I said it’s not good enough to have a blog, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have one. It’s a great platform to force you to write, as above, but also to test ideas (and therefore have ideas). You must be comfortable with creating and publishing to the internet – no excuses.

.03  learn new platforms: you need to be all over Storify, Bundlr, Tumblr, Vimeo, Audioboo, again – no excuses. You don’t have to be prolific on all of them, just pick one and run with it. Student Joseph Stashko’s used Storify to great effect this way.

.04 practice your multimedia: chances are you’ll learn how to shoot video, photos and audio on your course. The key word here is practice. A semester-long module won’t equip you with the storytelling experience you need to stand out from the crowd. Force yourself to create content every week for the next 9 months. A guarantee: you’ll get better.

.05 read more. watch less TV: I say this every year, but I’ll say it again: the best thing you can do is cut TV from your life (or drastically reduce it). It’s amazing how much time you gain and brain cells you retain. Use that time to read. I know, pretentious or what, but like I said, we’re talking A-game here.

.06 watch more films: films teach you two things: how to tell good stories and how to tell them visually. A LoveFilm or Netflix subscription is a good start.

.07 teach yourself web skills: I’m talking HTML and CSS. You don’t need to know more than the basics but it’s a huge advantage not to get intimidated by code. The key phrase here is “teach yourself” – don’t pay to learn it, go online and find free resources.

.08 data and run with it: if you have even the slightest affinity for numbers or know how to interrogate an excel spreadsheet there’ll probably be a good job for you at the end of your MA if you can prove it. But you’ll have to prove it yourself, creating mashups, infographics and stat-based stories in your own time, and using a website to publish them.

.09 go to lots of events: if there’s one thing journalists like to do, it’s hold meetups: discussions, debates or just booze-ups. The web makes it easier to find out when they are, so start going to them. If you’re in/outside London or any other major city you really have no excuse. If there aren’t any events near you…start one! Simples.

.10 for the really smart and brave: if you’re really in this to win it, my advice is to start your own publication while you’re still studying. Pick a target market and a niche, get together with some other students and set up an online magazine. It’ll cost you about £50 and take a weekend to set up. Then use your free time to fill it with content: articles, video, interviews and use social media to share it. Why do it now? It’s really hard to justify the unpaid time when you’re in the real world, so university is your best chance.

Don’t think it’s possible? Exhibit A, Exhibit B, Exhibit C, Exhibit D, Exhibit E…….and I could go on.

If all this sounds like hard work, it’s because it is. You have to be motivated, ambitious, determined. You’ll need to sacrifice nights out and hangovers to get up early to shoot that video or update the magazine. You’ll have to become shit-hot at time management in order to juggle all this plus your actual studies. You’ll need to be constantly coming up with ideas – and keeping a close eye on developments in the industry.

In other words you have to make yourself really good; the Darwinist in me thinks this challenge to the next generation will be good for journalism in the long run. 

27 Responses

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  1. Nicole said, on September 27, 2011 at 11:57 am

    I’m not a Journalism at Kingston (maybe Masters in 2014?!) but these are some great tips! Thanks for sharing this. 🙂

    • Nicole said, on September 27, 2011 at 11:58 am

      I’m not a Journalism student* at Kingston… – My bad!

  2. Coloured Print said, on September 27, 2011 at 12:12 pm

    Agreed. I’m a Journalism student in Australia. Good points 🙂

  3. duckrabbit said, on September 27, 2011 at 3:58 pm

    Good post Adam. Strong advice. Especially if you’re not born in the right circles …

  4. John said, on September 28, 2011 at 6:54 am

    Good point on the html – I did the Cardiff course almost a decade ago and it was quite ahead of its time in getting everyone to build their own website. I had similar anti-tv views, but when the late Bob Atkins heard me say that I wasn’t going to have a tv, he got angry and said every student on a broadcast journalism course should have a tv!

  5. Adam Westbrook said, on September 28, 2011 at 9:34 am

    Thanks for the comments everyone!

    @Nicole – these are things you can start doing right away, before studying. You might find if you start your own online product now, by 2014 you won’t need to do a journalism course anyway! (see Poppy Dinsey as an example).

    @John yes if you’re studying broadcast journalism then watching some TV news is advisable! These days though my question is why study broadcast tv at all? The jobs right now are in online 🙂

  6. Liam said, on September 28, 2011 at 3:34 pm

    Great list thanks for sharing, any tips on how to get your blog out there once it’s all set up and running? I’m doing a module where I’ll learn a bit of CSS and Html5 but wondering how I can go about publicising my site after that? Thanks for any advice you can offer.

  7. robynbateman said, on September 29, 2011 at 7:50 am

    Useful post Adam, thanks. Just one point… you say “It’s really hard to justify the unpaid time when you’re in the real world, so university is your best chance.” What about those (me included) who are already working full time in the field but doing an MA to get better and open up new career opportunities? Time is even more limited for us… and we like to sleep every now and then ;0)

  8. david dunkley gyimah (@viewmagazine) said, on September 30, 2011 at 7:32 pm

    I’m just sending the whole MAJs to this. They’re already familiar with you 🙂

    • akoronto said, on October 2, 2011 at 1:51 am

      Thanks David for sharing this with us, MAJs at University of Westminster and also big thanks goes to Adan Westbrook for his invaluable advice. Worth taking a note of it.

    • jodylan89 said, on October 2, 2011 at 10:36 pm

      Thanks Adam, and David for the advice 🙂 Extremely useful…

  9. Monica Sarkar said, on September 30, 2011 at 9:54 pm

    Brilliant advice and just in time for the start of my course 😉 Thanks for sharing.

  10. flossieonfilm said, on October 1, 2011 at 12:56 am

    no6. YES. I AGREE 1000%.

  11. sousalz said, on October 1, 2011 at 12:17 pm

    Great Tips!! Let’s put them into practice

  12. prisliv obiegbu said, on October 2, 2011 at 8:38 am

    Thanks david this will be very helpful…

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  14. […] 10 ways to make the most of your journalism course: starting a journalism course this autumn? Make sure you read this before you begin. […]

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  16. Andrea G. said, on October 3, 2011 at 11:39 pm

    I absolutely loved this. I’m a Journalism student in Puerto Rico and these are really good points!

  17. Joanna said, on October 4, 2011 at 2:34 pm

    cool list! Just one thing- what’s wrong with TV? I am no TV-junkie but I do enjoy watching my How I Met Your Mother and Doctor Who. Also, as a journalism student I feel constantly guilty that I don’t have a blog…

  18. Stefania Barbaglio said, on October 7, 2011 at 10:44 am

    thanks David. I’m sure..wok out, be determinate and practise. thanks for your pushing-power.

  19. Short Marketing Course said, on October 16, 2011 at 2:03 am

    Thank you for such an interesting information. I will surely come again.

  20. Waldy said, on October 24, 2011 at 6:28 am

    Thanks for this post! I actually have to have a blog for class, and I plan on keeping it when the semester ends. It is a lot of hard work, but it’s so rewarding to see that people are actually looking at your content.

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