Student Writers: How being skint vouches for your commitment

Published in Wannabe Hacks.

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When trying to break into the field of journalism, it can be very difficult to focus on anything other than the final pay cheque – the one luring on the horizon of ‘publication’. While a lot of journalists now realise the benefits of having a degree, too many stop trying after the assignment deadlines. Attaining a 1st class honours degree will be an extremely valuable credit to your name after graduation, but will it take you anywhere if you haven’t put your skills into practise?

The trouble with working for free is the stigma attached to it. Onlookers will tell you to have faith in your abilities and demand payment or run the risk of being taken advantage of. And, while taking advantage of writers-in-training unfortunately isn’t as unheard of as you might hope, if made aware of the signs there is nothing stopping you from speaking up about it.


Something important to remember when writing for non-profit or free labour publications – generally student magazines and newspapers committed to giving inexperienced writers a start – is that they are reliant upon submissions to stay afloat. This means that while you may have loosely committed to contributing a certain amount each week/month to a publication, you have complete flexibility should circumstances change and you find yourself overwhelmed by workload. This works both ways, however: if you commit to a voluntary position like it were responsible for your whole income, you will reap the benefits.

Why should I write for free?

Not convinced writing for free will benefit you? I suggest you continue reading.

  • Building your portfolio:
    Willingly writing for free for print publications is a sure-fired way to build an exciting portfolio which demonstrates your passion for journalism and will, ultimately, land you in employment further down the line. You’re saying to future employers: ‘I’m not in this for the money. I love my art so much that I am willing to practise it for free.’ This is exactly the kind of commitment companies are looking for.
  • Learning the basics of the work environment:
    Reading about journalism is a good way to learn the basics of the work environment but nothing compares to on-the-job experience. It’s better to struggle through difficulties as a student than to find yourself in a highly established organisation with no clue what to do. Editors have no time to spoon-feed you tasks. Ask the relevant questions now and take matters into your own hands.
  • The art of multitasking and organisation:
    As a student, I regularly contribute to four student newspapers in my spare time. Juggling different publications with varied style guides and work ethics, I have learned the art of multitasking and put every organisational skill I have to use in order to stay on top of things. You think two assignments a semester is bad? Think again.
  • Getting your name out there:
    When working alongside people in the business, you give important professionals the chance to get to know you and pass your name about. The more you contribute, the more likely you will be approached with specific tasks and be relied upon. Earning the trust of your editor also enables you to approach them with even more original ideas and enquire for press releases and tickets to press events on behalf of the publication which will give you journalistic status.
  • Face to face contacts:
    While it is possible to connect well with people digitally, nothing compares to the impact of face-to-face interactivity. After all, it’s easier to ignore an email than it is a person. With this in mind, when you come to apply for your first paid role and you require strong references from reputable employers, will someone do you justice if they have never met or spoke with you in person?

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