Work in progress: gaining the training

Published in The Walkley Magazine, April 2014

Brianna Piazza is glad she didn’t land a full-time job straight out of university, because it’s making her a much better journalist.

As a 22-year-old journalism graduate, I’m naturally disappointed with the lack of entry-level jobs in newsrooms. Most journalism students in my year were aware of the savage job cuts at News Limited and Fairfax Media, and there are far fewer cadetship positions today than a decade ago. But while many graduates may not be able to find their first job in a newsroom, this doesn’t mean they will never make it there.

The past seven months of searching, unsuccessfully, for full-time work in the industry have actually been very rewarding. Other graduates should view this roller-coaster period as a critical stage in developing into the type of journalist they would like to become.

There are a number of things you can do to improve your chances of finding a job. Internships are – and probably always will be – the best way to learn about your strengths and weaknesses and gain experience. But a number of media organisations won’t take you on as an intern after you graduate. As you’re no longer a student, you’re not covered by the university’s insurance policies. The simple solution is to call an insurance company, take out your own personal accident insurance, and ask around.

Speaking with journalists who have achieved the sorts of things you aspire to is also useful. In the past few months I’ve had the opportunity to be mentored by journalists as part of my assessment for the Warrandyte Youth Arts Award in Melbourne. The award helps aspiring artists – whether writers, painters, architects or performers – to further develop their careers with mentors guiding them along the way.

Peter Hitchener, presenter of Nine News in Melbourne, spent hours giving me one-on-one feedback on my radio and television stories, pinpointing exactly how I could engage audiences more directly. That’s invaluable feedback for someone wanting to make an impressive showreel to land their first job. He also shared tips on how to improve my chances of finding a job in a broadcast newsroom.

Herald Sun columnist Alan Howe took me back to the basics of journalism: writing. Although people may have said you’re a talented writer, chances are that if you’re in your 20s you still have a lot to learn. Strengthening your writing, even if it means pulling out the textbooks again, is a great way to distinguish yourself from other young job seekers.

Learning how to create high-quality multimedia is incredibly useful too. Today’s young journalists have grown up with technology that’s easily accessible and relatively easy to use. Knowing how to shoot and edit your own videos and record audio will be essential in the future. I imagine it will eventually become general practice for every single reporter, whether they’re working in a metropolitan newsroom or at a local newspaper in regional Australia.

What’s also important is taking the time to figure out what sort of path you want to follow and developing a career plan. That was one of the first things video-journalist Thom Cookes told me when we say down at the ABC’s Melbourne studios, and his advice was enlightening. Knowing exactly what I’d like to be doing in five years and working towards that ensures I’m improving on those things I need to master to reach that goal.

Cookes put me in touch with Sophie McNeill, a journalist whose work I’ve admired since I was in high school. She created opportunities for herself and didn’t even finish her degree, proving that while university may teach you the skills, it’s what you do outside of the classroom that shapes the type of journalist you’re going to be.

Thom and Sophie strongly encouraged me to follow my dream to freelance while overseas. Their advice, as well as their work telling the stories of ordinary people in often dangerous parts of the world, inspired me to film stories and travel to Peru. It’s a part of the world which receives relatively little media coverage in Australia. At the age of 22, I’m doing something I thought I’d not be able to do for at least another 10 years.

In this industry, journalism graduates have to create opportunities for themselves and throw themselves into the deep end, but very few actually do this. I may be more than seven months out of my degree and working long hours as I juggle various jobs, including unpaid work, but that’s just what many of us will have to do.

Had I got a full-time job in a newsroom months ago, as I had hoped, I would never have met the journalists I have, improved my broadcast and writing skills, or had this opportunity to work overseas.

Our journalism degrees teach students how to research thoroughly, think critically and produce multimedia, and such skills apply to a range of jobs within the media industry. Yet it’s the steps you take in the months (or sometimes years) after your degree that mould you into the journalist you’re going to be.

It takes perseverance, dedication and hard work. But then again, so does this job.

Brianna Piazza is a freelance journalist, part-time newspaper reporter, part-time content writer, intern and volunteer radio producer.

Categories: opinionTags: , , , , , , , ,

Brianna Piazza

Journalist and travel writer.

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