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Looking for a journalism placement? Then make sure you ask some good questions

February 24, 2017

I was asked to participate in a careers fair at my old school recently and knowing that one of the most frequently asked questions of those of us representing the media would be how to go about getting work placements I thought I would see what advice was around to help students.

There is some excellent advice on CVs, covering letters, building-up portfolios and interviews but very little on what sort of questions a prospective journalist should ask. In my experience few things kill the prospects of someone getting a placement than not having any questions, so I put together some advice for the students which I thought I would share more widely.

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Applying for Journalism Work Experience

When you apply for a placement or internship you will be asked plenty of questions about why you want to work in journalism or the media. Always research the title or programme you are applying to by looking at its website (and the website of its parent company). If it has a print edition try to get hold of a recent copy (not always possible with specialist publications).

Look at some of the recent major stories it has covered and expect to be asked about them or similar stories and what the angle might be for their readers.

When you are asked why you want to be a journalist remember that journalism is as much about finding information as it is about writing so display an inquiring mind, a willingness to talk to people and a desire to communicate.

You may be asked about current media-related controversies such as the Leveson Report and state-regulation, fake news or celebrity privacy as a way of testing how deep your interest in journalism and the media goes. You don’t need detailed, erudite responses but be prepared to demonstrate an interest in the industry you want to work in.

There is plenty of advice available online about what to expect in terms of the sort of questions you might be asked. Journalism.co.uk is a very good source.

Ask questions

One area where people applying for placements frequently fall down is in not having any questions of their own. No-one is going to employ someone as a journalist who doesn’t ask a few questions.

Here are ten suggestions to get you started.

  1. Will I get a chance to write something that could be published?
    You should aim to come away from a work placement with something tangible you can show from your time there. Obviously, it would have to be good enough but you should be given the opportunity.
  1. Who are your readers/users/viewers and what are their information needs?
    Who you write or broadcast for is every bit as important as what you write            about. You should do some basic research on this before any interview so you         might frame it by saying “I know your readers are marine engineers/people in         Woodford but how do you identify what stories they are interested in?
  1. Where else do your readers get their news and information from?
    A good follow-up to this would be to ask about their main competitors and                  how they differentiate themselves from them.
  1. How has your publication/website/media station changed in recent years with the huge shifts in digital consumption?
    Every media organisation is being challenged by the digital revolution. It has disrupted media consumption and the revenue models. It has meant a shift from print to digital but if you are talking to a print publication never assume that print is going to die: by all means ask their view but don’t make it look as if you have assumed they have no future!
  1. What influence does social media have in your market/area?
    Or you could ask which social media platforms are the most important to them and how they use them.
  1. Will I get the opportunity to attend events?
    Depending on the nature of the publication there might be a variety of events, such as conferences, shows, launches or awards nights. Ask if you will be able to go to anything, especially where you might be able to meet readers.
  1. Is there anything you would like me to work on in advance?
    Suggestions could include getting familiar with the publication’s style, researching some story ideas, finding a fresh angle on a long-running story or just familiarising yourself with the news about the subject, industry, location, topics etc the publication covers.
  1. Will I have a mentor?
    For a short, two-week placement this might be a luxury but you should ask about opportunities to speak to people at different stages of their careers, especially those only a few years into it as they should have plenty of relevant advice.
  1. What should I wear?
    Dress codes are very flexible nowadays but they still exist and you need to make        sure you fit in. If you don’t get any information about this err on the side of                 being smart to start with.
  1. Will I get paid or get travelling expenses?
    This often causes embarrassment later on if everyone isn’t clear at the start.               Company policies differ greatly on this and often the person deciding whether            to offer you a placement will have no say over the policy so it won’t be an                     opportunity to bargain.

Pitch some ideas when you finish

At the end of a successful placement you should explore whether there are any opportunities for you to keep working with them.

This is might take the form of writing for them as a freelance – for which you should expect to get paid. However, you will have to make this happen by pitching some well-thought through ideas to them.

Or, you could ask about a longer placement during the holidays. If it has gone well they might view taking you on during the holidays as an easier option than finding someone new.

Download a pdf of this advice placement-advice

There is also an excellent article by Lucy Sherriff in Huffington Post about how to make the most of a placement.

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