Work experience: A journalism student writes

IN three months, I will be officially finished my post-grad diploma from the Scottish Centre for Journalism Studies, have my NCTJ [National Council for the Training of Journalists] qualifications and be ready to embark into the world of Journalism.

Well, that is perfect scenario; there are still a few exams to sit, folios to hand in and of, course, the hurdle of passing – the invaluable but dreaded – shorthand.

Still, compared to walking in tentatively to my first class in September, I feel far more ready to join the journalism ranks.

One of the main reasons for feeling this way is the amount of work experience I have accumulated during my course.

When I started, my only experience was a few weeks in my local paper and some articles written for the student publication. Looking back, apart from not having a natural ability to write shorthand at 100 wpm, it is my biggest regret that I never had more exposure to the newsroom.

Even just sitting and listening to other journalists. you pick up so many good habits, be it updating your contacts book, dealing with the public correctly, or simply the importance of being accurate with facts.

In addition, you begin to build up contacts and get your face known, which leads to further opportunities down the line to get back in the office.

You will also find the vast majority of journalists you encounter to be extremely helpful and more than happy to dish out advice. Indeed, they would much rather you asked questions and sound interested in what you are doing, than sitting silently in a corner.

Being there at the heart of the action also breeds good practice. Learning the theory in class is all very well, but there is no substitute for actually having to construct a news story, make the right calls, ask the right questions and meet a deadline.

However, not all students’ experiences are rosy, so be prepared for some awkward and frustrating situations. Nearly everyone has faced the situation of going in for work experience and all ready to make a good impression, only to discover their presence is not expected.

In some cases, there will be no desk available and, even if somewhere is found, the work may feel mind-numbing. The day can feel like a complete waste of time, especially when precious essay writing time or studying are being sacrificed.

But don’t worry, it happens to everyone. Stay enthusiastic, and, eventually, you will get your chance to display your talents.

A good idea is also to try and get some variation in the places you go. Your local paper will most likely be your first port of call and thereafter the nationals or any specialised publications in which you have an interest.

Given the number of opportunities online and every newspaper’s growing involvement with ‘new media’, it would be wise to get some level of know-how in this area as well.

Trying to get inside in the first place can also be a frustrating experience. But if you are persistent, you will get in, eventually. Utilise all avenues available. Of course, it would be great if you had a personal contact already, but, for the most part, you will be relying on your own resolve.

Emailing can work, but editors receive hundreds of emails every day and it’s possible yours will never be opened, so it’s best to phone and actually speak to someone so that your interest is recorded.

Putting in all that effort, usually without financial reward, can sound disheartening. But when you have bundles of by-lines, better job prospects and are, crucially, an improved journalist, it will feel a small sacrifice indeed.

Mark Henderson