The biggest problem with doing work experience over Christmas is that nothing’s running quite normally. People are off who might otherwise be in charge or helping you, deadlines are completely different and there is much less to write about at a local paper.
With that in mind, I spent Christmas week and the one after (with bank holidays off, so seven days in total) at the Isle of Wight County Press.
For the first week, the normal News Editor was off so her Deputy was in charge, and he was very kind and realistic, checking I was okay, fretting I had things to do and letting me go home early if there wasn’t anything going on. There was no going home early the next week (except on New Year’s Eve when everyone left an hour early) but there was also a bit more going on, largely due to the storms and flooding.
One of the few good things about the floods was that it gave me lots of experience in the field. I went out on three occasions with two different reporters to interview people who had been affected, which involved both turning up to talk to people who were expecting us and just knocking on doors where we knew the floods had been bad.
People were much more receptive than I expected – people really do just want to share their stories – and only two people turned us away, one of whom did direct us to someone else he knew would be willing to speak.
Doing this also gave me loads of practice using shorthand, which in turn got me a good quote that a reporter checked up on afterwards. Unfortunately it had just been a rumour, but I was told that if it was true it probably would have been a front page story that I’d picked up on.
The other main thing that I did was go to court, which I did most mornings. Before this I’d only been to court once, on a learning trip to Kingston Crown Court, but I will be going a lot next term for the NCTJ Court Reporting module so it was great to see how everything worked at the Island Magistrates Court, see lots of different types of cases and get practice writing the stories up.
Unfortunately – and this really is my one big complaint about work experience – none of these stories are likely to be used. Even when I wrote one before the reporter had done his version and the News Editor thought it was good, he still wrote his for use anyway. It’s probably all politics, but it does leave you feeling quite redundant.
I also wrote several press release stories, although not as many as expected, probably because of the Christmas halt, and two book reviews. Annoyingly, I only phoned the contact who had left the first book to confirm their connection to the Island after I had written it, so when it turned out that the author’s twin brother lives on the Island but not the author and so the paper wouldn’t use it, it felt like a waste of time. Thankfully, I wrote another review shortly afterwards which will definitely be used at some point soon.
The big difference between this paper and the one I was at the week before is its size – the County Press is definitely one of the biggest local papers left and you can tell this just by looking at the office and the number of people writing and working in it. This is obviously a great thing for the Island, but it’s not so great for anyone doing work experience there because there is less they can (and want to) delegate to you and there is usually someone else who would rather do it first.
The other notable thing is that Internet capabilities are rather limited in the office, meaning most reporters either have to use their smartphones to Google things or go to a very old, very slow desktop in the corner. They will of course have their reasons, but it does make everything a bit slower to write and it is harder to adapt when, like me, you come from an online generation.
Thanks a lot to everyone who helped me out, it was great to see how the local paper of my childhood is put together.