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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…

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.

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.