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Five Tips for Securing Work Experience

As I mentioned in this post, I’m on work experience at the moment. In light of this, and not wanting to write too many identical blog posts on what I’ve been doing, I’ve gone for another set of tips for today’s post – how to secure work experience. Wannabe Hacks gave some good advice here, but I wanted to add my fifty cents:

1) Be early. If you’re a student, the chances are you’ll be looking for work experience in academic holidays, and the chances are so will everyone else. Some nationals, such as the Guardian, also stress that they give priority to candidates on bursary schemes and competition winners at these times, so if you want to get in, you should get in early. Don’t send out e-mails a week before term ends and expect a response.

2) Be persistent. Editors receive hundreds of e-mails every week (sometimes hundreds every day), so unless they happen to have been looking when your message came in, it may get lost in their inbox. Phone first before sending your CV so that they’re expecting it, or try something more unusual like sending a letter so that your application stands out from the crowd. Following up when someone has said that they’ll look at your CV is also worth doing, but not so much that you cross the line into harassment.

3) Be open-minded. We all dream of working on a national newspaper or big glossy magazine, so its unsurprising that these publications get hundreds of work experience applications. It’s always worth applying to these places, but keeping an open mind and trying smaller publications can get you further. And small publications with small staff bodies will often give you more actual writing to do than nationals, where you can end up doing mostly research and fact checking.

4) Be informed. In a tidal wave of applications, the round robin will be the first to be deleted. Find out about each publication you apply to and explain why you want to work there and why they should want you to work there.A quick phone call to find out exactly who deals with work experience will also avoid your message landing in the wrong inbox.

5) Be accurate. There’s no point in writing the perfect cover letter and having it ruined by a glaring error in the first line. Check, double check, and have someone else check what you’ve checkd before you send anything. Apostrophes and the spelling of names are the most common errors.

If you have any tips of your own, please share them in the comments!

Work Experience – Update 1

When I was doing my undergraduate degree, a holiday meant exactly that. A chance to relax, catch up with friends and ignore the large pile of holiday reading which I’d pretended was going to get done at the beginning of the previous term.

On this course, a holiday actually means an opportunity to do work experience. Not only is work experience essential if I want to get a job at the end of this (and I do, I really do), but it’s also compulsory for one of my modules. So although I did get a week off for Christmas, I’m spending the five remaining weeks of my Christmas break interning at Retail Gazette.

So far, it’s been good. I was thrown in at the deep end when the editor went on annual leave, putting me in charge of the site with two days of training under my belt. I had to prepare a news list every morning, and then write as many stories as I could manage in a day. It was stressful to say the least. But after a week and a half the site is still there, I haven’t been sued and other than the day when the biggest piece of news was the new Sainsbury’s back fat-smoothing bra, I managed to get the requisite four stories up every day.

As of today, the editor is back and it’s all change for me. I’m still writing news stories and suggesting stories for the news list, but I also have time to work on bigger things. At the moment, I’m planning a feature and have already had the proposal approved. I feel like a real journalist, and it feels great.

Kate Middleton’s pregnancy: a liveblog too far?

Photo by Beretta/Sims / Rex Features (2015386l)

Photo by Beretta/Sims / Rex Features (2015386l)

Ten days ago the news of Kate Middleton’s pregnancy broke. Cue outpouring of joy across the nation, the creation of the #royalbaby hash tag on Twitter and…a liveblog by the Guardian?

Liveblogging is the newest craze in the newsroom, and is used to report breaking news and collect views on current events from social media. And they’re popular. Research by Neil Thurman shows that the Guardian’s liveblogs attract 300% more views than their conventional news articles. Perhaps that’s why they do so many of them.

Whatever the reason for its popularity, it now seems to be widely accepted that liveblogging is here to stay. Writing for Wannabe Hacks, George Berridge argues that student media should cover breaking news in this way because it’s a skill which will be needed in the newsroom. Yet another piece of technology which I need to get to grips with.

I’m not the most technologically incompetent person out there (that would be my father) but computers do tend to run screaming in the other direction when I approach them. So when we experiemnted with liveblogging a few weeks back it’s safe to say that it was not my favourite lesson. We used a website called Storify, and it hated me. It kept refusing to let me pull in links from Twitter, and given that this was a large part of what we were doing, this was something of a problem. But fellow MA journalist Alice and I did manage to create this liveblog on Athena, the winter storm which hit New York in the wake of Sandy. It’s not quite Guardian quality, but it’s not bad for a first attempt.

The next logical step is to pick up where the Guardian left off and liveblog Kate Middleton’s pregnancy. All nine months of it (or however many months we have left). Every hard-earned update from St. James’ Palace, every outburst of Twitter hysteria, perhaps some creepy photos created by mixing their faces and updates on how large their baby should be by now. If I were to go ahead with it, it might end with me being labelled a stalker, but it would be sure to be an Internet sensation.

Five Tips for Learning Shorthand

Earlier, as I was browsing through my Twitter feed in an attempt to do anything but revision for my Essential Media Law exam on Wednesday, I caught sight of a tweet from a fellow journalist asking for advice to help with learning shorthand. Never one to pass up an opportunity to procrastinate, I decided to write a whole list of tips. In my defence, my first shorthand exam is also fast approaching, so this exercise has helped to remind me of what I need to do to pass.

1) Start early. The best piece of advice that I was given when I came for my Kingston interview was to start learning shorthand during the summer. If you haven’t started shorthand yet, but know that you will have to soon, get a head start. Even if you just learn the alphabet, it will make a difference in class.

2) Practice makes perfect. Any shorthand book which you buy will tell you that you should be practising for at least half an hour per day. This is an understatement. Often an hour or even more will be necessary if you have been learning difficult outlines in class. If you struggle to find a large block of time in which to practise, keep your notebook with you and do some outlines whenever you have a spare five minutes. I use my twenty minute wait on Twickenham station – excellent use of dead time!

3) Keep a pen in your hand at all times. During shorthand lessons, we’re told that if we aren’t reading shorthand then we should be writing it. Every single outline which you write improves your speed and accuracy, so even if you don’t have as much time outside of class to devote to practising, you can use every minute of your shorthand lessons.

4) Read shorthand as well as writing it. When you’ve written out a passage of shorthand, make sure to read it back. This serves a dual purpose: you can see if you’ve made any mistakes, and by improving your reading speed you will also become more familiar with the outlines and thus improve your writing speed.

5) Learn to associate outlines with sound. As you practise a new outline, say it to yourself under your breath (this may not be advisable if you practise on the bus – people will think that you’re crazy). When learning sentences or passages, try to get someone to read to you, or use a disc if your book comes with one. This will make the response to sound automatic.

Shorthand: We should not be amused

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Amidst my media law woes, I’ve found time in my busy schedule for something else: stressing about shorthand. It comes second on Independent blogger Martin King’s list of important journalistic skills, but is also one of the hardest skills to learn.

After two months of learning outlines for such bizarre words as ‘pebbly’ and ‘frolic’ (try using both of those in the same sentence) we have been deemed ready to sit our first exam. This entails taking shorthand notes on a four minute passage, read at a speed of 60 words per minute. Given that the average person speaks at two or even three times this speed, we have a long way to go before we’ll be able to take notes from actual people, but the idea of writing at 60 w.p.m. is still faintly terrifying.

Yesterday, our tri-weekly dose of shorthand was scheduled for 4pm. I had been at university since 10am, and had already endured three hours of local government and a gruelling law revision session. I was not in the mood. By the time we started dictation, I had already tried to read the word television as ‘T…V…shun’ and forgotten multiple words which I was supposed to have learnt already. Then Sue decided that as a special treat, we would do our dictation at 70 w.p.m. rather than 60. This was to be my undoing.

Surprisingly, the problem was not actually the speed. With shorthand passages, the word ‘a’ counts for one of your 60 but so does the word ‘supervise’. Therefore a 70 w.p.m. passage can actually be easier to write than a 60 w.p.m., which seemed to be the case here. Then came the fatal sentence ‘Mr Brown had returned from walking his dog to find that his pet parrot, Jack…’ Don’t ask me why I found it hilarious that a man would name a parrot Jack, but I did. So did several other members of the class. And the teacher. The passage had to be paused and restarted, but once I’ve found something funny, I can’t stop laughing. I tried to muffle my laughter enough that I didn’t disturb anyone else in the class, but unsurprisingly my own transcript had several large gaps. These gaps seemed to coincide with the mentioning of a certain name.

So my advice to anyone who is learning shorthand is this: do not find anything funny in the exam! Unfortunately, I have no tips as to how to help with this problem, and if anyone has managed to combat it then I would appreciate their help. In searching for solution though, I have discovered this useful article from Wannabe Hacks on passing 100 w.p.m. shorthand. There may be hope for me yet, providing that no other unusually-named birds show up, of course!

If you want to share your own shorthand-learning stories or tips for passing the exams, then please leave a comment below.

Media Law

Good old McNae’s…

For the past week, my life has been consumed by one thing and one thing only: media law. And with an exam in the subject fast approaching, that doesn’t look likely to change any time soon!

Law is taught in a two hour lecture every Monday afternoon, followed by a seminar in which we have the dubious pleasure of being able to apply our new knowledge to exam questions. The aim is simple, to learn how not to get sued in the workplace. As it turns out there are many, many things for which a journalist can be sued. We’ve covered an awful lot of them since the beginning of term: defamation, contempt of court, sexual offences, breach of confidence, copyright. Just thinking about it all makes me want to lie down in a darkened room, not sit an exam paper on my knowledge.

Undeniably useful though it may be, law is by no means my favourite module. It can be boring at times, but the theory is livened up by examples, often featuring our Hands-On tutor as a fictional murderess (sorry, alleged murderess). Our lecturer also enjoys telling us about his own run-ins with the law, including massive payouts, injunctions, and the time that he was followed home by a threatening black car after refusing to retract an article. And his job is to teach us how not to get sued!

The main problem is that it’s so specific. My exam answers will have to be precisely-worded to pick up the top marks, with four marks sometimes being awarded for remembering one four word phrase. Memorising these phrases means spending a lot of quality time with my textbook, McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists. When I develop a hunchback from the weight of my bag, I shall blame this law exam for forcing me to drag that book back and forth to university every day (because everyone knows that train time is reading time). But hopefully, this way I can avoid failing and having to fork out fifty pounds for a resit. And with that said, I must get back to learning the exact wording of the Contempt of Court Act 1981. Wish me luck!

Chasing the Dream

More than once in the past week, I’ve been told to make sure that I don’t get stuck writing about things which don’t interest me. I’ve been told this in the context of finding a work experience placement (which I’ve just managed to arrange at Retail Gazette), at a networking event, and by the great Sir Trevor McDonald himself at last week’s Media Summit. Whilst this was well-meaning advice, especially from Sir Trevor, to chase the dream and make sure I’m writing about the things which are really important to me, it presented me with something of a conundrum. What is it that I want to write about?

Those of you who read my blog post about blogging itself will remember that I struggled with finding a niche (if you haven’t read it, you can find it here). This latest dilemma has proven to me that I’m not very good at decision-making generally. Several of my classmates have clear ideas of what they want to do when they finish their MA. I just know that I want to be a journalist.

According to the woman who taught us networking as part of the Media Summit, this will put me at a disadvantage, at least in networking terms. Being too general is not a good thing, I need to be passionate. But can I not be passionate, just…generally?

So far, lacking a concrete end goal has opened more doors for me than it’s closed. In my last year at Durham, when I was most heavily involved in student media, I wrote articles about travel, music, history and theatre (and saw more different theatre productions than I thought possible, all for free). Here at Kingston, the focus has been more on hard news in order to fill the dreaded NCTJ portfolios, but that hasn’t stopped me from trying new things. Having never previously shown any interest in business, I’ve become Business Editor of the Kingston Courier and discovered that business is actually an extremely interesting subject to research and write about. This in turn has led to me getting work experience at Retail Gazette. I’ve also written a sports article, largely as a favour for a friend, and realised that I may have been wrong in ignoring the sports pages at the back of the newspaper  (in fact, if you include the business section, there’s a whole world at the back of a newspaper that I never encountered before starting my MA course).

I’m not saying that those journalism students who know exactly what they want to do and how they’re going to get there are wrong. What I am saying is that I don’t think what I’m doing is wrong either. When I come to apply for jobs, I may not be able to say that I’ve wanted to be an entertainment critic since I was five years old, but I will be able to be passionate. About what? It could be any number of things, and I have the rest of my MA year to work out which box I want to put myself into. For now I want to be a journalist, the rest will come with time.