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6 ways to get media experience without an internship

Updated: Oct 12, 2023

Autumn is when many media students look to find placements and internships for the next year to gain valuable experience in the industry. It is crucial to get those 'air miles', as I call them, and learn how things are done in the industry. This process should get you to meet new people, develop new skills and gain insight into the way people produce content and target certain audiences.

There are many great schemes that are run in ways that offer huge value. But finding these opportunities is one thing, getting on them is another. It is very competitive and it can seem like a huge brick wall in the way.

Recently The Times launched an 'academy' with News Associates, where you have to pay to spend a week in the newsroom. £400 is the fee for this 'opportunity'. There are lots of issues with this, and it is a shame to see such a good training organisation (which already makes money from its NCTJ courses) getting involved in this. You will get to visit a newsroom, meet some people who will tell you how exciting their job is, but will you actually learn anything? For £400 I'd expect to learn a lot! If we want real diversity in the media, these types of schemes won't help. You have to get to London, cover accommodation and travel costs, on top of that fee. Most people couldn't afford it.

In future, I hope schemes like this exist where you are paid, rather than you paying for it. But maybe I am hoping in vain. So are there alternatives? Yes, I think there are much better ways to get experience with a little bit of initiative and creativity. A bit of planning and patience is needed but here are some tips:

1 Find organisations you like the content of and contact them directly. Try and make a direct contact in editorial or production, where you'd like to work. Think about how you can contribute and offer remote assistance. You don't have to get into the office to make a contribution. Research the organisation and show that you have an understanding of what they do and what the audience is.

2 Look for big events where newsdesks can be busy. We have had the Queen's funeral, the Coronation and big sporting events in the last year, where companies need extra resources. These may not be paid opportunities but offering your help to cover these events will be hugely welcome in many organisations. Also think about times when people are on holiday. No one likes working Christmas, and there maybe opportunities during the festive period to offer help and support.

3 If you have expertise in a specialist area you can offer help to media outlets. Languages is a good example. You can help cover big events in other countries and dissect coverage on social media and online, translating it for the news teams. Expertise can be niche topics or sports as well. During the Olympics, helping outlets understand lesser known events or sports stars has huge value.

4 Look at the social media of organisations, like local charities or sports clubs. If you think there could be improvements, find a contact and offer some help. Small organisations are always looking to increase coverage on platforms, and this help would have great value. Some larger media companies might also benefit from this offer. It is highly likely you are more in tune with the audience they are targeting on the likes of TikTok and Snapchat then the team producing it.

5 Look for local community outlets, such as community radio stations or hospital radio. Many people move from these outlets into the industry. There are local TV networks that need resources too and many local print or online publications. Helping produce a community newsletter would also be good experience.

6 Produce content yourself. If you are telling people you are 'passionate' about podcasting - for example - then prove it by creating one yourself. Doing this would give you a whole host of skills that have value. Writing, presenting, producing and publishing the podcast will get you knowledge and experience of that process. Think of blogs, videos etc where similar experience can be found.

All of these offer greater value for me than paying for newsroom experience. And value is the key word. Working for free has to be considered carefully. Two-weeks is the maximum you should do an upaid internship for, and you always have to weigh up whether you are getting insight from the opportunity. If it feels like you are actually 'working' and no longer learning, it is time to stop doing it.

Finally, it is also possible to find paid media work as a student if you have the right skills and mindset. Almost every job in media needs freelance cover and half of the industry is self-employed or the equivalent. On a good degree course, or with a good apprenticeship, you can have skills to do certain jobs before you qualify.

Good luck in the search and don't let the rejections get you down!


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