So you want to study media…


Universities and TAFE colleges across Australia are currently preparing for their next influx of media, journalism, communications and PR students. If this is about to be you – there are thousands of young people just like you about to try and make their mark on one of the most competitive industries out there.

If you want a serious chance at getting anywhere in the media industry – you need to start preparing yourself now. As a media educator I support thousands of young people with an interest in a media career each year. Here are some of my tips for getting ahead of the thousands of others about to start on the same path.

1. Start volunteering/interning/creating NOW.

The best way to build your skills is to just do it. Many media/communications courses have an astounding lack of practical opportunities. By the time you finish your qualification, employers will expect to see a portfolio of your work and they will expect it to be good. Volunteer at a community radio station, offer to do admin at a local magazine, become a runner on the set of a student film – start doing something and do it now.

2. Social media is the new business card.

If you’re not on Twitter – get an account now. For the media industry, Twitter is one of the most useful and relevant forms of social media available. Follow and create conversations with people in your areas of interest and if your work is good, they will start to follow back and notice. Upstart Magazine have created an excellent list of “must follow” accounts for emerging journalists which you can find here.

3. Find a niche, but don’t become a one trick pony.

Many young journalists, writers and media makers have an ultimate niche in mind. You might love sports and your dream is to be a sports journalist or you might love fashion and everything it entails – fantastic! Your passion will shine through and stand out in topics of personal interest, but you must be prepared to work in other areas. It will likely be years before you can get paid work in your niche. In the meantime take opportunities in any area you can and show potential employers you can be versatile.

4. Learn and practice skills across multiple platforms.

Many parts of the media industry have shifted to the language of “content makers”. Content makers are now expected to be able to package their content in multiple forms and onto multiple platforms. It would not be uncommon for a journalist in the field to produce a television report, a radio report, a live cross and a column or live blog for publication on the organisation’s website. Producing exclusively for one medium is becoming increasingly rare. Learn the basics of each medium.

5. Always think about the impact your work could have on the audience.

Any media maker will face an ethical dilemma at some point in their career. Whenever making any kind of media consider the impact your words or images may have on the audience. This is particularly important for the physical and mental health of the community. Always ask yourself –  will this piece of media have a positive or negative impact on the community? If negative – why do they need to know and what purpose does it serve?

6. Learn to follow a brief.

When an employer gives you a brief – follow it. Teamwork is essential in most media production environments and you need to respect the voice of the team. Sometimes this involves compromise, but employers will assess you for your suitability in a team as much as your production skills. You need to match the style and tone of the platform you are creating for.

7. Have an ego, but know when to use it.

Ego isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you’re good at something you should own it and have respect for your own ability, but ego needs to be tempered and controlled. A little bit of ego can give you the confidence to push yourself harder, too much ego can blind you. Surrounding yourself with the right people can help you keep your ego in check. Find good mentors who can ground you when you most need it.

8. Always question.

Always question the information that is presented to you. In an age where “churnalism” is becoming increasingly prevalent it’s more important than ever that emerging journalists think critically about the information they receive. Check your sources, do your research and always consider the reasons people want your attention.

9. Articulate your audience.

Know who you are speaking to. Media employers will have a key audience that they wish to target. Each individual piece of media has its own unique audience too. Whenever producing media you must put the audience at the forefront. Who is going to watch/read/listen to this and why should they consume it? What reason are you giving the audience to keep consuming?

10. Consume and reflect.

Consume as much media as you can and reflect on what kind of a media maker you want to be. Find what you like and don’t like and ask yourself why. Think critically about the media you consume and analyse what works, what doesn’t work and the techniques they use. Connect with other media makers you respect and find out how they do it. Learn from the media making community and share your story with them too.

Good luck with your studies and I look forward to watching, listening and reading your work.

– Jonathan Brown

Jonathan is the Creative Director of We Matter Media. You can follow him @JB_AU

Edit: I’m already receiving some great extra tips from people working in the industry:

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