Work experience is the unwieldy foe of any aspiring journalist. A must have on one’s CV, holidays become a desperate scrabble for placements which are often highly competitive and near impossible to secure.
After an incredibly dull stint at a supplement of a leading national newspaper a couple of years ago, I withdrew myself from this mini rat race, choosing instead to focus on writing for my own pleasure and seek employment where I would actually be paid for performing the mindless and the menial. But this would not impress future employers, and with that in mind, I arranged myself two very different placements for the summer break.
I completed my first week of work experience yesterday at an independent news agency in Birmingham. I was unsure of exactly what it would be like and what exactly my time there would entail, and to be perfectly frank, I imagined I’d be pouring cups of tea and filing documents.
I’m pleased to say, however, that I was completely wrong. Working at a news agency is fast paced and no holds barred: not only do you have to follow both breaking national and local news leads, but you have to constantly search for stories of your own in a bid to discover something weird and wonderful before the rest of the press does.
Thankfully, the boss threw me in at the deep end, and I couldn’t be more grateful. Whilst it was hard at times to keep up with the speed and skill of the work they produce, it was such a fascinating and educational week that a lot of the trials and tribulations became worth it.
I did a range of things from attending a court inquest to securing photo deals with extreme sports photographers, and interviewing people for stories from France, Sweden, America and Spain. The pressure was cranked up a notch due to the limited time frame and the underlying competition between myself and the other work experience girl (annoyingly also named Charlotte). For the most part, the rivalry felt incredibly unnecessary, particularly as we were pursuing our own stories, but hey – if people want to play dirty, you just have to give as good as you get.
There were, of course, many down sides to the placement – the very long hours (my shortest day was 9 hours with no break), the times when you’d be handed an assignment when you were dashing madly to complete the three you already had on the go, and the constant waiting for people to respond to calls and emails.
There was also the frequent feeling that I was becoming a typical journo vulture – there to sniff out the story at whatever cost. The incessant badgering people who didn’t email back within five minutes and attempting to interview friends and family of the bereaved were particularly unpleasant, and an unexpectedly rude awakening to the very unglamourous side of the job.
And perhaps the worst part of it all was how thankless working for a news agency actually is. You can spend days finding and chasing an exclusive, conducting interviews and securing photos, but ultimately, if a newspaper wants the story, they’ll pay for it and rehash all of your legwork, and put someone else’s name on it. Speaking as someone who still gets that tiny thrill every time I see my name in print, that was probably the most unwelcome aspect of the entire process. That, and spending time on so many stories that will never see the light of day.
But all things considered, the insight I was given into the industry went over and above any other I have experienced before, and I will definitely be taking up the boss’s offer of coming in one day a week when my third year of university begins. It will certainly be interesting to compare this placement with the one I am scheduled to undertake in two months’ time at a world renowned arts listing publication. Another day, another aspect of journalism to explore, and hopefully another step towards my ever looming post university future.