I have been a student journalist for just over a year now. Given that there is no specific handbook for being a journalist, I learned a lot of things for myself. So if you want to write for a university publication, here are a few pointers to make life easier.
1. Read newspapers and know current events: This is fundamentally important if you want to perfect your writing skills. Reading the publication you want to write for will give you a sense of the target audience and what format they want the articles. Also reading up in current events makes the article making process much easier as you don’t have to start from scratch.
2. Join the university journalism society: Joining a society or club is considered a valuable piece of advice for all students. For student journalists, joining the journalism society is highly advised. You get the chance to talk to people who are in the same boat as yourself, you learn more on how to make it in the business and you get to have fun with journalism.
3. Beware of editors: When you write your article for the publication, you are satisfied with the content, grammar, layout, length, etc. and send the email to the editor. However the editor may not be as satisfied with it as you are (and not tell you). So come publication day, you pick up a copy and your article is unrecognisable. Sometimes it’s a necessary evil to edit articles if it’s too long or it’s incorrect grammar or the information needs updating. It sucks because it feels what you did wasn’t good enough and you don’t know why. Try not to dwell too much on it and try again in the next article. So make sure you know what they want to avoid the chop. (Note: editors are not evil. They are just doing their job just like you)
4. Expand into several areas: When I started out, I wrote in the features and entertainment section in the university magazine. Now I write features, entertainment, current affairs in the university magazine and features and entertainment in the university newspaper. I have done several types of articles such as interviews, reviews and news reports. I have also wrote different topics such as burritos, anime conventions, Snapchat, the Ferguson Riots and the Ebola crisis. It’s important to try different things as you’ll learn how to write different topics and you won’t be tied down in the future.
5. Don’t do too many articles at once: You will need to give time to make a quality article. So if you do two or three in a very short space of time, it will drive you crazy.
6. The key word of student journalist is student: It is very easy to prioritise writing articles over your essays, exams or projects because nobody ever wants to write about narratology in Wuthering Heights nor Francophones in Quebec (especially the latter). However you are in university for your degree. So if you have lots of essays to do, give the article writing a break for a few weeks. You’ll get your chance again when the essay/exams are over.
7. If you have an idea for an article, try it: Coming up with ideas is not easy. But when one spasmodically appears, let the editor know. If they approve, go for it. Editors love it when contributors have ideas as it makes life easier for them. My most recently written article was about Meghan Trainor’s song “All About That Bass” and the body positivity message in the lyrics. A friend of mine shared the song on their facebook page. In a comment thread, she mentioned how the message was original. At the same time, the editor was asking for ideas in the entertainment section. I mentioned my idea and she liked it. So don’t be afraid to try.
8. Building experience is rewarding in the long run: Of course being an unemployed student sucks. Sometimes putting down on your CV what exactly you do with the magazine may be irrelevant for the part-time/summer job stacking shelves at the supermarket. Nor does it fully help with the degree (except maybe the writing bits). But building up experience with your articles will get you noticed and your hard work will get you a job.
9. Get a copy for your mother: She will insist on it.