The life of a journalism student

Your life completely changes once you start your BA in Journalism. A year into my three year course and looking back on life a year ago seems like five years ago. We have our ups and downs, moments where we’re close to throwing our MacBooks across the room and days when we just want to write, write, oh and write some more. Here’s some woes and some “I LOVE BEING A JOURNALISM STUDENT” points from a first year, going on second year *eep*

Woes:

  • When someone asks you what you study at uni, you know their reaction will go one of two ways when you respond with “Journalism”: either “Oh wow, what a cool degree,” or “Isn’t that just a cop out? Did you need CCC to get in? So you spend three years just writing articles?” NO NO NO NO NO. A journalism degree is A LOT of hard work. In first year we’ve covered such important areas of the field, such as Ethics, Public Administration, how to actually write a news-worthy story and the all important Shorthand (which really is learning a whole new language and learning to write it at 100 words per minute isn’t as easy as it sounds)
  • Onto the whole shorthand situation – you tell people you have to learn shorthand and so many people say “just record interviews on your phone.” I have had to transcribe 30 minutes worth of audio recording, and it took me a whole day. Listening back to audio is a lot harder as you have to get the information word for word, which isn’t the easiest thing when people laugh during a conversation, cough or there’s traffic. Even the interviewee’s accent can make things harder. Believe me, a southerner trying to interpret a Scottish accent from an audio recording is not the easiest of things. We learn shorthand because it makes our lives a lot easier, it’s also cool for everyday use, such as surprise party planning.
  • Nine to five? What is that? – We certainly haven’t signed up for a nine to five job. Even during my first year, we had 8am starts everyday. During a work placement they don’t expect you to arrive at 9 and when the clock strikes five packing up your stuff and saying “see you tomorrow” – expect to be working until the work you’ve started is finished. Long nights, early starts. Plan accordingly, and it’s always best to know early on what you’ve let yourself in for.
  • “I’m starting a journalism degree, I’m such a great writer” – I’m pretty sure the majority of first years will start their course and feel like they’re a professional writer already after spending a year or so blogging about their life and dream of becoming a journalist. Your first writing assessment proves that wrong when you don’t reach that amazing 1st or 2:1 and you have lots of feedback. Who knew that it was a crime to write the number one as 1, or that you have to avoid the fancy words you’d been used to writing in your A-level English? No more using thus – oh and remember that some people won’t know what you’re talking about, so you also play a role as an interpreter. I could go on forever.
  • The dull stuff – I deliberately avoided the word “boring” because if you’re a true lover of journalism and are wholly devoted to your course, no matter how dull a module may be, you should never call it boring. I must admit, Ethics isn’t the most amazing thing to get out of bed for. I’m still not over the fact that our department made us endure a wonderful two hour Ethics lecture over lunch on a Wednesday. But the good thing with a journalism degree, is that everything you are taught WILL help you out there when you graduate and have a fabulous job as a journalist. You’ll be thanking your tutors for it in a few years time.
  • You’re not in it for the money, and you certainly won’t be little miss (or mr) popular – For the long hours, standing out in the rain interviewing someone and covering a dry story, we know the pay isn’t perfect. But it’s a living we make for it and if you love what you do, then that’s all that matters. You tell people that you’re a journalism student and they all joke and say “I’d better watch what I say around you.” Now that is a fun thing, especially if they can’t read shorthand, you’re in for some fun teasing. But on the other hand, you’re bound to have a lot of cautious people around you.

The best things about being a journalism student:

  • The work placements. HOLY MOLY they are fab. Although we don’t have actual modules where we go on work placements and get marks for them which count towards our final degree classification, we do have a great work experience co-ordinator who, in our second and third years, will help us find work placements. For myself and a lot of the first years, we managed to bag ourselves some work placements for holidays, and although not arranged by the department, they are extremely helpful in giving us advice, pointing us in the right direction for insurance. Journalism students are lucky enough to have placements with the BBC, local newspapers and even go abroad to see what journalism is like away from the UK.
  • The fields within the industry – Journalism is just journalism? No, definitely not! You have the three main fields of Newspaper, Magazine and Broadcast, but they narrow down to travel journalism, fashion journalism, news, editorial work – yeah, I could go on for a while. You can also go into PR, become a health correspondent, work in a media / press team in a hospital or company like easyJet. There’s so much you can go into!
  • The add-ons to the degree – There’s a lot of journalism courses out there, do you know how to find the best ones? Look for accreditation, as accredited courses really do show how great a course is. Employers not only look at your CV, past education history and the amazing institution you studied at, but they look to see if you have the NCTJ diploma and, if you’re lucky to be on the Sheffield journalism course, you’ll also be on an accredited course by the BJTC and the PPA. What more could you want? Triple accreditation and a degree from the only journalism training centre in the UK that is in the top five of all the league tables. Sheffield it is!
  • Friends for life – they always say that your school friends are your friends for life. University friends can also be added to that pile. For once, you’re all studying something that you love and you have a lot in common. Back in sixth form, was it possible to discuss the latest breaking news in a lot of depth? Discussing ethical issues which arise from a particular piece of journalism? All complain over the plateau that you cannot overcome on your 80wpm shorthand? Nope, didn’t think so. Journalism friends are for life.
  • The people you meet along the way – I’ve met a lot of great Sheffielders since starting my degree. Interviewing people has allowed me to see life in a different angle, what it’s like for people in areas that are struggling with particular issues. It’s great to know that you’ve helped people out. Who knew that a story for your assignment could benefit the locals.
  • Seeing more of Sheffield – We’re all assigned a patch within the city where we find stories and write about them for particular assignments. I’m so thankful for this degree – before moving to Sheffield just under a year ago, I had only heard of the city centre and Hillsborough. For my first semester here, I had only really been to the city centre, Broomhill and Meadowhall, but this patch work has allowed me to explore all of Sheffield and some areas that are full of pure beauty, take Stannington for example. Oh, and I was told that Hillsborough was the grimmest place in Sheffield, but I love it so much. Nothing beats a little Saturday trip to Hillsborough.
  • Social media – It is finally excusable to spend unhealthy amounts of time on social media sights. Searching for stories and contacting potential interviewees. It may look like we’re not doing any work, but we sure are. Sometimes I love sitting in the library when a maths student is working out equations and there I am reading an article online about a fight in a Sheffield street. I love my degree.

There really is so much to being a journalism student, you finally find your feet and learn how to be yourself. Every journalist is different and it’s your opportunity to explore and see what is really for you. I couldn’t thank the journalism department enough for making my first year at uni one of the best years of my life, I’m just glad to have this relaxing summer break. I will, however, be ready and rearing to go for round two of uni!

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