Many students take journalism courses because they like to write, and many journalism courses focus a lot on the craft of writing.But the great thing about newswriting is that it follows a basic format. This paper explores how higher education providers can support journalism students to secure work placements in the media sphere. The demands upon academic institutions to help students make the transition from study into work have steadily grown as society and the higher education environment have evolved. Students, paying substantial amounts of money to study at degree level, are becoming more discriminating about which universities to select, which courses to pick and what careers to embark upon.
In the UK, the government have looked to universities to bridge this gap for a number of years and there is an increasing pressure to provide courses with ‘transferable’ skills and to be transparent about the number of students entering graduate-level employment. Commenting on the 2001 Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) report on teaching practices in Higher Education, which found fault with assessments linked to ‘off-campus learning’ and transferable ‘key’ or ‘core’ skills, Knight and Yorke (2003, pvii, preface) say there was almost complete silence from the 23 learning institutions over employment.
The notion of enterprise within higher education was embraced by the Employment Department’s Enterprise in Higher Education (EHE) initiative of the late 1980s (p.1). This has necessitated a gradual shift in approach from academics that are no longer able to focus solely on educational provision and the pastoral care of their students. Graduate employment is measured through the ‘first destination statistics’ in which graduates employment status six months after graduating is indexed (p.209). Clearly there is a role for some reflection over work-based learning, a concept described as metacognition by Knight and Yorke (2002) with their USEM model (p7-8).
Some subjects, including journalism, are more easily identifiable as providing potential routes into employment.
Those that combine practical skills development offer scope, not only for direct employment in the industry, but in related sphere like Public Relations, Communications, Social Media Management and Publishing. A National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) report also noted that over a 10-year period (2002 –2012) the number of journalists had remained roughly constant (Spilsbury, 2014). However, it is clear that the traditional newspaper industry has retracted with a stark picture being painted in a 2013 National Union of Journalists (NUJ) Report: “According to Press Gazette, 242 local papers shut between 2005 and the start of 2012” (NUJ, 2013).
However, there has been a steady increase in the number of graduates entering the workplace. With fewer openings into the print industry it has become more important for course tutors to help students identify other suitable career paths whether in broadcasting – where substantial cuts have also taken place- or in the burgeoning, but uncertain, digital media sphere.
Spilsbury’s (2014) “Emerging Skills for Journalists’ report for the National Council for the Training of Journalists (2014, p.5) recognised that a wider range of abilities were required of those entering the media industries. The introduction of course fees and the increase to around ?9,000 a year has so far failed to have a significant impact on university enrolments. This makes it imperative to ensure that the learning undertaken on journalism courses positions graduates in the best possible way to secure graduate media related employment. Employers consider experiential learning important and many actively look for on-thejob learning experiences on CVs. Research was undertaken to determine how effective work placement and career support was in the journalism department at the University of Worcester in equipping students for their future. The methods used to advise students of work placement and employment opportunities were Twitter, the journalism course Facebook page, emails, journalism module sections of the university intranet, Blackboard, one to one discussions with journalism staff, talks and advise in work placement modules, talks and advise in other journalism modules and via industry speakers.
It was surprising that social media was ranked the lowest with both groups and their comments indicated that a significant number of them were unaware of these outlets and felt that they needed to be disseminated more widely. When asked to indicate the usefulness of skills and knowledge the students were presented with a list of 20. Nearly all Single Honours students rated all 20 skills and knowledge highly (5 – 10). The scores differed slightly for the Joint Honour students, probably as they hadn’t had the opportunity to take as many journalism classes and acquire as many skills, for instance video production. The results for the Year 2 group differed and it was mainly noted that use of social media was higher for getting job alerts. Although there was a higher use of social media, overall the ranking of methods was very similar to the Year 3 group.
It is also worth pointing out that while the average number of placements was higher in year 2, one student secured 18 and this will have affected the result. Of significance, shorthand is rated higher by the Year 2 group along with analysing ways of monetising the web. Having an up-to-date CV and contacts building seen as main strengths for securing employment and work placements. The few scoring 4 and below were mostly skills that they didn’t take up as they hadn’t selected the modules. There were few suggestions for improving on ways of communicating work placements and jobs but those made were useful. Students were able to identify specific skills and knowledge gained while on the placement.
The students recognised the value of work experience in helping to secure permanent work and it was surprising to find a number of students already earning money following placements. The students were asked to state which placements they had been on and to indicate whether or not they were secured through university partnerships and links, namely via a BBC Diversity Media Partnership, a partnership with local community youth radio station, YOUTHCOMM, or via BJTC opportunities.
The students’ feedback on the placements was analysed to see if there were variations between organised opportunities, namely the BBC partnership, Youthcomm and BJTC and self-organised work experience. It was clear from this research that the course content had helped the students to secure placements and was effective in bridging the educational-workplace divide. The student feedback showed the range of work experience being undertaken and the breadth of knowledge required to meet employers’ expectations.
Billett, Stephen (2009)’Realising the Educational Worth of Integrating Work Experience in Higher Education,’ Studies in Higher Education, Vol 34 Issue 7. The course contains five modules, covering a range of general coaching topics, including the role and responsibilities expected of a coach, planning, safety, working with parents, communication, group management and inclusive coaching practices when working with people with a disability or special population groups. The Beginning Coaching General Principles course is available from the Australian Sports Commission’s new online learning portal.
But the lede gives us the story in a nutshell.Beginners often have trouble figuring out what to put into a lede and what to leave out. It considers the increasing importance of preparing graduates for work, not only in journalism but also in related fields like marketing and PR, Social Media Management and Copywriting.


Workbased learning is one of the innovations “attempting to engage seriously with the economic, social and educational demands of our era” (Boud, Solomon and Symes 2001, p.3).
Many students are encouraged while at universities to seek their own placements within industry to help improve their CVs.
For the educational institution they create links with new areas of educational need and diversify their sources of income” (Boud, Solomon and Symes 2001p.5). Employability can be defined in different ways – as graduates actually gaining jobs, through the student being developed by the extra curricula activity and, lastly, in terms of their personal achievements and the potential it generates (p4).
But as Knight and Yorke state: “the true value of employability can only be ascertained over a considerable length of time” (p. With work placements taken without attached assessment there is no formal way to assess the experience, other than through a rudimentary method as I have adopted.
A Labour Force Survey (ONS 2014) indicates that the number of journalists has actually increased from 57,000 in 2007 to 70,000 in 2013 (Ponsford, 2014).
Johnston Press’s annual reports from the five years from 2007 to 2012 revealed that the number of full-time journalists was down by 44 per cent from 2,774 to 1,558.
James Harding, the BBC’s head of news (2014), said despite their own plans to make “hundreds of job losses” due to cuts in news programming, digital jobs were increasing. He will singly be responsible for sourcing this content, collecting it and publishing it across all platforms.
The trend for an increasingly aging population with projections that number of over 65s will nearly double to 19 million by 2050 (Cracknell, 2010).
This is valued in the media industries as recruits are expected to work efficiently, to high standards and to tight deadlines from the minute they join the company.
Initiatives for notifying students of work and work experience openings including social media messaging were assessed to gauge their usefulness. This showed that, as indicated above, the latter group placed a higher value on industry speakers. These included a range of skills involving print, broadcasting and Internet journalism together with knowledge of law and ethics and politics. However, they rated shorthand, an optional module, higher, which is interesting and possibly reflects a focus more on print based work rather than broadcasting.
This may have been due to a general increase in awareness of Twitter and or more students being aware of the journalism student Facebook page. The skills and confidence I gained from my work placements were completely invaluable and being able to call on anecdotes from previous placements definitely played a part in me winning the competition and getting the opportunity I’ve had over the last year” (a winner of the Midlands Apprentice of the Year 2013). They included further developing social media, the alumni network and links with professional organisations and setting up a dedicated website, newsletter and LinkedIn course jobs page. Some of those that weren’t being taught on the course are listed below and provide ideas for further development of the curriculum. One student was freelancing on a motorsport website, Talkative Broadcasting, after work experience and went straight into full time work with them after finishing the course. It was interesting to discover that many placements were secured by students who used the prompts and advice supplied to make individual requests and connections. However, it is worth pointing out that having this databank has proved useful for providing advise about placements to those students embarking on work experience.
Students were enthusiastic about ways in which the course had helped to prepare them for employment, but also recognised the value of securing placements to fully equip them for that leap.
It was useful that students could identify specific skills they learnt during the placements and that they recognised the value they added to their skill set. The research provides an insight, from a student perspective, into what skills they found most helpful in securing placements, during the experiential learning and subsequently in seeking paid work.
A future with prospects and with knowledge and skills to enable a smooth transition from university into the world of work has become the central goal for many students. Its philosophical roots can be traced to John Dewey, and still earlier to John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau” (Boud, Solomon and Symes, 2001, p.9). The Dearing Report urged the HE sector to focus on ‘key skills’ (communication, numeracy, information technology and ‘learning how to learn’) (p.6). They describe work experience as “a class of university programmes that bring together universities and work organisations to create new learning opportunities in workplaces” (p.4). Hence there is a difference between the types of work experience being taken up by the students. Those in full time employment have risen from 30,000 to 37,000 over the same period with another 5,000 in part time employment.
Mail General Trust admitted that half of its 4,200 staff in the Northcliffe regional newspaper division had been cut since 2008” (NUJ, 2013). The ONS report on graduates found that people with a degree in medicine or dentistry had the highest employment rate of all graduates, at 95%, followed by those with media and information studies degrees at 93%” (Allen 2013). New entrants to journalism will have to be ‘digital natives’ and be completely at home with social media” (Spilsbury, 2014, p.5). A pattern of increased freelance usage (Jacobs 2013) makes it even more essential to equip journalism undergraduates with transferable knowledge and skills that will enable them to develop and make work transitions as necessary. High Fliers (2014) highlighted that more than half of the top graduate recruiters state that due to the very obvious benefits of work experience to an individual’s skillset, graduates with work experience are prioritised in their selection processes. Another aim was to get some feedback from students about the perceived usefulness of skills and knowledge secured while undertaking the BA (Hons) Journalism degree. It contained a series of closed questions with tick boxes and a number of questions consisted of lists requiring respondents to order them on a Likert numerical priority scale of 1-10 There were also a number of open questions asking for comment and views. This is likely as they would have had less direct contact with journalism tutors and also not taken as many modules where opportunities had arisen for advice in securing placements and work. They were asked to indicate which of these were acquired on the course and helped to secure a placement or to meet the challenges of the work experience. The use of Twitter in the classroom has increased even over the one-year period since the current year 3 group started their final year.
Learning how to upload content to the web was higher than with the Year 3 group, most likely as the multi-platform approach has developed.
They were keen to have staff involvement via personal recommendations over the relative merits of various placements and more guidance over what to expect.


One year two student turned out to be a complete surprise having secured 18 placements, none of them via the routes indicated above. The information has a particularly high value as it comes from students who have real experiences, although the changing nature of work environments and the staff needs to be taken account of. It was also evident that the range of skills required has shifted along with digital developments and that a constant updating of the curriculum is needed to keep pace with these changes.
Along with the more obvious developments, like data journalism and mobile news provision (both already underway at Worcester), there needs to be an awareness of the other technical skills that will assist graduates in gaining employment within the broader PR and marketing sphere. These skills can be used to underpin a range of actions in employment and, debatably, can also be transferable from one type of experience to another (p.4). Partnerships are one important element with work placed learning modules where frameworks for recognising prior learning and “capstones”, or the achievement of benchmarks are considered to be critical (pp.4-7). Furthermore 72% of journalism graduates are in employment six months after graduating with 27% of these going on to work in arts, design, culture and sports and a further 14% work in marketing, sales and advertising (Allen, 2013).
He was optimistic about the future of journalism as digital opportunities for employment were created (Harding, 2014). In particular it would be interesting to see which attributes they felt helped them to secure placements and or work and which were the most useful while undertaking the various tasks asked of them.
There were 16 questions and students fell into three categories, year 2 students, year 3 students and recent graduates (up to one year).
Any initiatives to further develop their industry contacts, their links with local organisations and with PR and communications sections of the university were also recommended. One of them had earlier turned down the offer of work with a PR firm where he had been on a placement.
Interestingly, the research also shows that while social media have an increasingly important role to play in helping students to secure work placements and employment that they continue to place a high value on one to one support from journalism staff.
The survey was distributed to years 2 and 3 students and a sample of graduates at the University of Worcester.
With this shift in focus to more occupationally specific courses have also come expectations that graduates will enjoy smooth transitions from their university studies into professional practice (Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills 2008 in Billett, 2009).
As stated in the Robbins Report of 1963, few would enter higher education without an eye to subsequent employment (Knight and Yorke, 2003,p.1). The ad-hoc placements secured independently by students tend to generate mixed feedback, with some providers clearly not being aware of the students prior learning and not offering them opportunities to develop their skills while being of use to the organisation. The proportion of recent graduates working in jobs not usually requiring a higher educational qualification, however, rose to 47% from pre-recession levels of 39%, ONS figures show (Allen 2013). They would also be able to identify anything they felt was missing from their education that they felt would have helped them more. It was decided not to extend this to Year One, as some had not secured work placements at the time the research was undertaken. There were a few rather hopeful suggestions, that there should always be a spare placement on hand and that the university pay expenses.
It is important that those personal links are retained while further efforts can be made to further increase opportunities for young people studying journalism at university. It concludes that the multi-skilled approach to journalism teaching is seen to be effective at securing placements and ultimately work by the students. Graduates are expected to have the capacities to engage immediately and effectively in the professional setting where they secure employment. This would help to ensure they are prepared for the workplace and to consider any necessary changes to the course. However, these are issues born out of an increasingly pressurised work experience environment. One student secured paid work as a Publishing Assistant for the Sustainability Department at the University of Worcester while completing her studies and was taken on full time when she graduated.
One to-one support from tutors in seeking work is valued highly while the use of social media is increasing. It has become harder to source some traditional work experience openings for a variety of reasons and where placements do occur, more students are being expected to undertake them at their own cost. After work experience on a regional paper one student said she was hopeful it would ‘maybe’ lead to work. The students were also asked to list any new skills and or experience they gained while on their placements.
It was decided to evaluate the responses not only across year groups but also depending on whether they had taken the single honours or joint journalism course.
Other students were advised to apply for the companies’ graduate schemes after successful work experience.
It was evident that many students were securing placements in addition to any required as mandatory for module assessment, and in many cases journalism staff were unaware of their activities.
It was considered worthwhile finding out the level of engagement with work being undertaken by students to not only establish how they had secured it but to obtain information to enable the value of it to be determined. Sounds weird, but all it means is that the most important information goes at the top, or beginning of the story, and the least important stuff goes at the bottom.We do this for several reasons. First, readers have a limited amount of time and short attention spans, so it just makes sense to put the most important news at the start of the story.Second, this format allows editors to shorten stories quickly on deadline if needed. Finally the research would provide an opportunity for students to suggest ways in which the journalism team could further help them in securing placements and work. After all, it's a lot easier to trim a news story if you know the least important stuff is at the end.Writing TightThe other thing to remember? Say what you need to say in as few words as possible.One way to do this is to follow the S-V-O format, which stand for Subject-Verb Object. And since the connection between the subject and the action she's taking is clear, the sentence has some life to it.
Two words may not seem like a lot, but imagine cutting two words from every sentence in a 10-column inch article.



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