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The Great Job Hunt

With around two months to go until all teaching is finished, all exams are over and all assignments (bar the dreaded final project) are handed in, my thoughts have turned firmly to finding a job. This is for several reasons: I would like some money, I would like to move out of my childhood home and into a houseshare with my lovely friend who is getting rather tired of waiting for me to join her in London, and (perhaps most importantly of all) I do not want to write another dissertation.

At Kingston, we have two options for the final three months of our degree. We can write hefty 12,000 word dissertations, or we can get jobs and spread those 12,000 words between 4 smaller assignments, including a portfolio of published work. I wrote a dissertation during my final year at Durham. I chose my topic with care, loved reading about it and thinking about it, but then came the moment when I had to write it. I screamed, I cried, I bit my nails until I had no nails left, and I nearly had a nervous breakdown when my well-meaning friend asked to see the finished product the night before it was due. I’m not sure that I’d survive writing a second, even longer dissertation in a shorter period of time.

So that means the pressure is on to find a job, and fast. I’m in the middle of a three-week Easter break, but I’ve spent most of that trawling through various websites, tweaking and re-tweaking my CV and trying to write original cover letters (and I hate writing cover letters almost as much as I hated writing my dissertation). It’s hard work, but it’ll all be worth it when I get that letter from The Times demanding that I write for them (I sent my application at least three days ago, it must be due any day now).

For those of you in the same position as me, here are some of my favourite websites for finding journalism job opportunities. But be warned, if you get any of the jobs that I’m going for, I will find you and I will hurt you!

Gorkana: http://www.gorkanajobs.co.uk/

Journalism.co.uk: http://www.journalism.co.uk/media-reporter-jobs/s64/

Internwise: http://www.internwise.co.uk/

Media Muppet: http://mediamuppet.com/

Media Nation: http://www.medianation.co.uk/content/indiesdetail/Broadcast/Indies/362

Hold the Front Page: http://www.holdthefrontpage.co.uk/

Think I’ve left a site out? Want to share your experience of job hunting? Please leave a comment below or contact me on julie.fisher@hotmail.co.uk.

 

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Work Experience Update 2

After six weeks of ‘Christmas holidays’, I am now preparing to go back to university. It would be nice to say that I’ve had a relaxing break, but in truth after almost five weeks of work experience I’m just as tired now as when I left uni in December (or perhaps that’s the after-effects of my friend’s Australia Day party last night). It’s definitely been a worthwhile experience though.

Firstly, I’ve conquered my fear of picking up the phone. Relying on e-mail alone as a journalist is dangerous, it’s a lot easier for people to ignore your e-mails than it is for them to hang up on you (although I have had this happen to me in the past). So coming into work in the morning and being told that my job is to phone seven different press offices and get statements on everything from the M&S financial results to Tesco’s response to the horsemeat scandal, while terrifying, has been hugely helpful for me in the long run. Now to get over my fear of listening to recordings of my voice.

I’ve also learned the importance of checking that my dictaphone is switched on. And of taking notes while recording so that I have a back-up if the recording comes out as white noise. I was taking notes while I recorded purely because the publication’s editor was watching me, but I’m very glad that I was on the day that my trusty dictaphone failed me. On a more positive note, I have learned that using a dictaphone is vastly preferable to getting ‘shorthand claw’ (although obviously not if you’re in court).

Finally, I’ve become more confident in my abilities as a journalist. If I can run an unfamiliar news website single-handedly for a week then I can do anything! Or anything journalistic anyway, running a news website probably doesn’t qualify you for winning an Olympic gold medal or becoming Prime Minister…

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.

Enrichment Week: A Short Breather

Photo by Ken McKay / Rex Features

This week was labelled on the timetable which I received at the beginning of the course as enrichment week. Having never had a reading week at Durham, I was quite excited at the prospect of having half term again. Then I went to induction, and the prospect of that glorious week of free time slipped away before my eyes. It was to be used for shorthand!

In the event, shorthand bootcamp only took up two days of enrichment week (although my days of freedom were quickly filled up with a family funeral, an interview for work experience, a small amount of socialising and an even smaller amount of law revision), but it was intense. Wednesday was particularly draining, with eleven hours spent on campus.

Those eleven hours were not all devoted to shorthand. The day started at 9am with three and a half hours of shorthand, covering much more of the book (and certainly many more long passages) than we normally get through in a lesson. We were all rather grumpy about being there so early, especially as the broken coffee machine in the postgraduate café meant that we had to venture into undergraduate territory (uninhabited due to enrichment week, but it was the principle of the matter), but we were cheered by a trip to Pizza Hut when shorthand was done with for the day.

Before long though we were back for the Media Summit, opened by the one and only Sir Trevor McDonald.  He gave an inspiring speech, and one which for once didn’t leave us feeling afraid about what we would face in the media industry (all of the other guest lecturers have succeeded in terrifying us). A networking class by Nicky Moran followed, with a little too much ‘talk to your neighbour’ for our liking given that we (or at least I) had been up since 6am, but which had some very useful pointers for the networking which we will all have to do in our careers.

Then it was time for a caffeine pit stop before Marian, Felicia and I finished the day with a crash course in web design with Adam Westbrook.  None of us knew anything about web design beforehand and before the end we were talking about creating our own websites, so it certainly gave us confidence in our own abilities. Whether we’d be quite as confident without Adam guiding us through the process is another matter entirely.

The next day was filled with more shorthand, and our very first unseen 60wpm dictation. Given that we’ve only been learning it for a month, it didn’t go too disastrously, but it also could have gone a lot better considering the fact that we have an exam at the end of the month. I have a feeling that the next few weeks are going to be interesting!