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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!

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.

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.

Learning to Blog

Imagine the scene.  A group of journalism students enter a classroom and are told that today they will be learning how to blog. This ought to be an easy task for one of them at least, who has been blogging for the past three years, albeit in a rather haphazard unfocused manner. And yet she sits in front of the screen, utterly unable to write.

In case you hadn’t realised, this is what’s happening to me at this very moment. Since 2010, I’ve blogged as regularly as essay deadlines and inspiration will allow, and yet when told to write a blog post today I found myself staring blankly at the screen with no idea what to do. It was the thinking that did it. I’ve always blogged for the love of it, with half an eye on my follower count and the idea of building an online portfolio admittedly, but mostly for the sheer love of writing. Suddenly, I had a whole host of things to consider, things that I perhaps ought to have been thinking about before, but which I had allowed myself to sweep under the carpet. What is my niche? Do I have a blogging “voice”? Why should anyone read the posts which I have chosen to put out into cyberspace?

Wannabe Hacks published a debate about blogging in 2010, with the idea that no-one can afford not to blog given the importance of an online presence weighed against the argument that blogging for blogging’s sake could do more harm than good. And thus we return to the idea of the niche. I do have one, not one which hasn’t been covered before, but how many truly original ideas are there in the world? As to the “voice”, I don’t know whether I have one yet, but there’s one thing I do know. Blogging and developing a voice are practical skills, which you can only learn by doing. And that, I think, is what today’s exercise was all about.

CV Clinic

CV Clinic

Image: the Italian voice (flickr: desiitaly)

This Saturday has been spent updating my CV and applying for work experience placements to fill up my holidays, and I found this link particularly helpful. It’s a guide to writing a media CV from HR expert Tania Allen, and while much of the advice is similar to that found on general application help sites, some of it is particularly targeted towards getting a job in the media. For anyone looking to improve their CV, I’d definitely recommend it!

Are there any sites that you’ve found useful in applying for media jobs and/or work experience? Comment below to share!