Resident Ones to Watch blogger Caroline Mortimer rounds off her series of tips and tricks for getting the work experience you need to start a journalism career with her third and final piece on what to do when you actually get that work experience placement, how to impress and what happens when it all goes wrong…
After a recent stint of work experience of the Observer, where I got a investigative scoop and a front page byline through a combination of my own cunning, luck and a slow news week, it was suggested to me that this week’s blog post should be on ‘how to do well on work experience’. However when I thought about it, I didn’t know what I would say.
Whilst I’ve had a few successes, I’ve messed up on work experience quite often as well; for instance on the same Observer placement I also turned my ankle on a street corner at lunch, fell into the road and was almost hit by the 390 bus. I spent the rest of the day limping around the office with a giant hole in my tights and sporting a fetching bright blue plaster donated by a kindly security guard who took pity on me.
It should be a given, but bleeding is never a good way to impress any potential employers.
If that was bad enough, on the very first day of my very first work experience ever, I slipped on the ice outside the train station (it was January) and spent the rest of the day with a mild concussion. The rest of the week I was recovered but I don’t feel I did much to distinguish myself against all the other wannabes that came into the office every week.
However, instead of being disheartened by my mishaps and pratfalls I have always tried to not lose faith. I always try to pick myself up and dust myself off (literally a lot of the time) and it is through that, that I have done more work experience and gradually started to prove myself.
The problem with a lot of guides to getting into journalism as they neglect to mention the fact that you are going to make mistakes, sometimes you’ll get a boss who doesn’t like you and sometimes everything that can go wrong will go wrong.
There is no formula for ‘doing well’ on work experience but as I have always said, it’s the right attitude that’ll ensure you’ll survive.
The following is a few generalised tips for things I’ve found useful while working at various locals, regionals and a national.
1) Don’t be afraid to speak up - Whilst at the Observer I was sitting in a meeting when they were discussing who they could do their weekly profile on and they were all stumped for ideas. I had the idea to profile Mario Balotelli (this was on the eve of the Euro 2012 final) but was too shy speak up. Two, three days passed and lo and behold when I came to sub edit the pages on Saturday afternoon, they had decided to go with Balotelli anyway proving my idea wasn’t stupid and I should have said something. Never be afraid to speak up if you have an idea; chances are even if they aren’t interested they will still be impressed by you trying.
2) Don’t be afraid to badger – but at the same time don’t go too far and annoy them. It’s a delicate balance of course. I think I was starting to push my luck when I was pursing the name of a man linked to the aggressive tax avoidance scheme that Jimmy Carr was involved in. I thought I had found his details on Companies House and went searching around the internet for more information, even though I was told not to bother. When I found hard evidence, I’m sure they were only looking at it out of politeness until they realised I’d found a story. It ended up on the front page.
3) Always come with an idea – As someone who always struggles with investigative reporting, finding a new idea to take the newsroom on the first day can be a challenge. However, the Birmingham Mail expected it from meduring my placement so always be prepared. When I was at the Observer I came with a story idea they ended up not pursing due to space but they were still impressed that I suggested it. The best places to start is Twitter, searching hashtags etc because you’ll never know what you may stumble across that is likely to be missed by the less tech savvy mainstream media.
4) Don’t be afraid to show off - While it’s true you are there to learn, as someone who is bound to understand new media and all the mod cons of journalism today you are at an advantage when it comes to navigating the strange tides of the modern media industry. I have always been surprised at how few professional journalists, who are only ten, fifteen years older than me, don’t know how to code or touch type – having been practically raised in front of computer these sorts of things come pretty naturally to our generation. Coding a few links in their copy goes a long way to making the professional journalists around you, very, very grateful.
5) Do your best and don’t worry if it doesn’t work out – I didn’t impress on my very first week of work experience with the York Press in January last year. It was partly because after 18 months of student living I wasn’t used to getting up early, partly because it was January and I’m always miserable in the winter and partly because it was the first time I’d ever done anything like it and I had no clue what I was doing. All in all it wasn’t a particularly successful week. It was not that I did badly, it was more that I didn’t do well. I did everything that was asked of me competently enough, but I didn’t do anything to shine. Should this happen to you, fear not, just try to do better next time. Chances are you’ll end up doing more than one placement and each time you will find yourself getting better and better as you get more comfortable in your surroundings. I know I did.