4 things I’ve learnt after 4 semesters of journalism

Two years down, three to go. Here’s what I’ve learnt so far.

Sympathetic looks and condescending life lessons are a fact of life

I’m at a dinner party – or some sort of formal occasion that forces me to talk about my life with older people – and they ask me what I’m doing at university. I tell them. They immediately say “Oh, you know there’s no jobs in journalism at the moment” and they proceed to give me a life lesson I did not ask for and tell me about the someone they know – there’s always a someone – who did a journalism degree and never found a job. It’s not just journalism either, there cannot be a single student on the planet who hasn’t been through this. If I was studying education they would tell me that I’ll never find a permanent job, if I’m studying law I’ll surely only ever be a paralegal and if I’m studying nursing I’ll be informed that I’ll never make any money. It’s extremely frustrating to be spoken down to and have strangers assume that I’ll fail. I think the reason it annoys me so much is because there is truth to what they’re saying. A part of me definitely fears that I’ll be stuck in a job that I hate while I watch the people I graduated with on prime-time news channels. I know journalism is competitive, and I’m just going to have to get used to well-meaning yet irritating strangers tell me that like it’s brand new information. My advice to any student who has received this spiel is just to smile and nod, continue sipping your cheap champagne and tell yourself that one day you will prove this person wrong.

Having a Twitter is important, being careful about what you tweet is crucial

On the very first day of journalism class, the venerable Jenna Price told us all that if we don’t have a Twitter account we may as well not be studying the degree. I was actually ahead of the game on this. I created my beloved account when I was in Year 9 and used it to stalk celebrities. When I gave up on begging various Glee characters to follow me, I started to tweet random thoughts about the things I was interested in at the time. Harry Potter. Pop punk bands. Heavy metal bands when I was going through my emo phase. TV shows. NRL. People would find these tweets, for some reason enjoy them and I built up my follower count, which was at roughly 1100 on the first day of uni. It was all well and good to brag about how many followers I had compared to the people who were literally just creating their Twitter accounts that day, but I realised I would have to do something about the content. Aspiring journalists should not swear every two seconds (no matter how much emphasis it adds), rant for several tweets about a stranger doing a thing (no matter how annoying they were) and post drunk selfies (no matter how hilarious I find them). This is something I’m still working on. I recently interviewed a lady from a very conservative Christian organisation and thankfully, remembered to delete my venomous tweets about anti-abortionists that I posted a few days prior. I’ve been taught that “if you don’t show both sides of the story, then you’ve failed.” This is something I aspire to do in every story. But to do this, I need the sources, and they  need to believe I’m objective. Toning down my opinionated Twitter is a work in progress, but I figure that if I can hold rosary beads and sing hymns while I wait to interview someone from 40 Days For Life, I can do anything.

The degree itself is not enough

This is probably the most important thing to understand as a journalism student. It’s something that has been particularly challenging for me because I’ve always put all my energy into my studies. I got a great ATAR. It got me into the course I wanted, but after all that work, I will never need it again. I try to put the same amount of effort at uni and I get mostly Distinctions. While it’s great for my self esteem to get those grades – and it certainly helps not to flunk out of uni – I know now that when applying for a cadetship or job, employers don’t care that you got a High Distinction in a Spanish exam. They care about your past experience and your portfolio. Which is why we’ve had “do internships, get published, do internships, get published”  hammered into our brains since Day 1. No matter how much I love writing, working for free is not something that is easy to get motivated for. I’m too lazy to even keep this blog up to date. I’ve been lucky enough to get a job with my university where I’m both paid and published. I’ve done two internships, but it’s still not enough. I know I have to keep writing, pitching stories and look for more internships at organisations that will impress a prospective employer. I recently wagged class to apply for an internship at Reuters that I didn’t get. It was disappointing but I’m not giving up yet, and neither should any other journalism student who had their work vetoed by a publisher or didn’t get the internship they wanted. They say to be an actor you have get used to rejection but I think that’s relevant anywhere. It certainly is to journalism, but the fact is, I refuse to become The Failed Journalist Anecdote that friends use at parties. So “do internships, get published” shall be the go and hopefully, I will have my dream job one day. That is if my main plan of being a princess fails.

I actually love it

Before I started uni, I was told by parents and teachers that it’s quite likely I’ll decide I won’t like my degree and will change my mind, maybe a few times. It would be a lie to say that there weren’t times where things looked so bleak for me in regards to finding a story or sources getting back to me that I considered changing degrees. But the fact is, I couldn’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be. So I stayed, and eventually things worked themselves out. I got better at finding stories, at nagging sources, at writing and editing. I aimed a little bit higher every time. Eventually the good marks started rolling in, and I realised that unlike my friends who hate their degree or have been on a “self-discovery gap year” for the past three years, I know that I’m in the right place. Most of the time I’m ripping my hair out trying to find a story, begging people to give me the time of day even though I’m just a lowly student and not Leigh Sales, or recording footage for a video story only to find out that it’s unusable. But sometimes, a good story just falls into my lap. Sometimes, all my sources get back to me on time. Sometimes, I get to interview some truly incredible people. One of the best feelings ever is seeing a story that you worked so hard on finally coming together. Even better is seeing something you wrote be published. These precious few moments make me happier than anything. That is why I’m here. That is why I will put up with the “why bother you’re going to fail anyway” from strangers, the loss of freedom to tweet whatever I want and the internship rejections.


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