Work experience is a strange thing. You might end up doing any level of work – following people around, doing work that won’t get used, doing proper work like a proper employee, or just sitting in the office and letting the knowledge seep in.
This Christmas holiday I undertook two work placements, both with reporters at local newspapers, and while they shared the basics, they were quite different in several ways.
The first was with the South London Newsquest group, in an office covering the Surrey Comet, Kingston Guardian, Richmond and Twickenham Times and Elmbridge Guardian papers. I wrote bits for all of these, meaning I needed to be aware of several different patches and that I was flexible with who I answered to.
The office was small, with only six reporters and the editor in with us two work experience people (I believe two people were also off) to work on the four papers. It made for a nice feel, as everyone knew each other well, it was possible to chat with everyone in the office even if they sat on the other side, and everyone helped each other out. This meant it was less scary to be there than I thought it might be.
I was amazed when my first few assignments were not just rewriting press releases (although I did do some of that too). On my first day I phoned several people for more information on things we’d heard about or received a press release for and did three or four interviews that way. They’re nice little human interest pieces and it was a good way to ease into the week.
One of the best things about the week was that the reporters and the News Editor, David Lindsell, were happy to go through my stories with me and help me make them the best that they could be. Needless to say, it was hugely helpful to have someone actually in the job read my writing and either say it’s great or give very specific constructive criticism.
The scariest thing I did was definitely vox-popping in Richmond on the third day. I went out with the aim to get quotes and a picture from four or six people (it had to be an even number) about the Airports Commission’s report on the Heathrow expansion. I met up with one of the photographers who helped as he had gone along on these missions before but he didn’t do it for me – just offered encouragement and opinions about who might be a good person to talk to.
We had a good run of four people which left me feeling more confident before it all went wrong – people either didn’t want to stop or they weren’t from the area or they just didn’t have time; one mum said she’d be happy to come back and talk if we were still there after she’d been to the dentist, but who knows how long that could have taken!
We got great quotes from two separate elderly people who then very rudely refused to give me their details or have a photo taken (I wouldn’t mind a rejection, but they were so rude). After trying for a while longer, we decided to stick with the four we’d already got – hopefully it worked, I haven’t actually seen the edition with it in.
Between smaller pieces that didn’t take too long to write, we had received an email with an infographic about the environment in Greater London and I wrote a data piece on how transport emissions in Richmond aren’t great despite having the most casual cyclists. For this, I collaborated with someone at the company who created the infographic to get more data and an expert’s opinion, and I spoke to some of Richmond’s councillors. It was quite fulfilling when this was finished.
The last day was the Friday before Christmas and the night after the office’s Christmas party so everyone was quite relaxed but we got word in that a man from Kingston won the Popmaster quiz on Radio 2 that morning so I set about listening to the past couple of shows and getting in touch with the winner for an interview which I thought went very well.
Although I used my phone to record the vox-pops as I’m not so used to doing shorthand in the street yet, I used shorthand all the time when I was interviewing people on the phone so it was great practice for that too.
Overall, I gained a lot of confidence during that week as well as knowledge about how modern local papers are run which I think will be invaluable to me in the next year. Thanks a lot to everyone who helped me out and made it a great week.
Tune in tomorrow to read about the second placement…