Journalism is one of those fields, like medicine, where the only thing that makes you better is experience. Luckily, we’re less likely to physically harm people with our mistakes — though we can certainly cause harm, alas — so a lot of our learning comes the hard way. That’s why it’s nice to practice in smaller-stakes settings like small-circulation websites or local newspapers.
This small piece about a forum for student journalists in India (published in The Hindu) has all the insight aspiring reporters (and their teachers) need: Students should do all they can to get experience and meet people working in the field. It’s fine, and even desirable, to do this while still a student if possible. Need to make extra cash? Do it as a freelancer or stringer if possible. I made most of my money in college this way, working for local newspapers’ performing arts sections (interviewing Radiohead before they were famous=not the worst way to make money) and anyone else who would let me. My school newspaper drove me bonkers — too many competitive overachievers at Northwestern — and besides, real local papers paid better and looked cooler on my resume.
I also love this Hindu piece’s note that J-school professors should have contacts in the “real” journalism world so they can hook their students up with mentors who can lead to jobs. I was too stupid to get take full advantage of my professors when I was in school, but a few of them referred students to me after I graduated and had a good job in New York. I’m still friends with many of those students, some of whom I kinda mentored, many of whom I helped, and many of whom are now editors who give me work.