In My Opinion: Lindsay Cochrane: When work experience is worth it

WHEN I was offered a job just three days after handing in my last essay at uni, everyone around me was crowing: “You’re so lucky!”

And, okay, luck had something to do with it. Luck and a publisher who believes in harbouring new talent. But, at the same time, it wasn’t anything I hadn’t worked for.

In January, I fired an email to Denise Connelly, director of Glasgow-based DC Publishing, to ask if she had any work experience going with student title, Source. I was in luck – the magazine encourages contributions from students with dreams of making it big in the world of journalism.

For the spring issue, I was given the task of going backstage at the Clyde Auditorium to interview a boy band (I definitely fancied all of them), I wrote an opinion piece on My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding and I edited together an email interview with STV’s Grant Lauchlan. This was work experience I could get on board with -I had responsibility, I was having fun and learning a lot at the same time.

As soon as the final essay of my post-grad at Strathclyde University was handed in, Denise called me into the office and offered me the position of DC Publishing’s first full-time staff writer. I didn’t think twice about saying yes.

I’ve asked Denise why she gave me the job. With so many journalists out there with years of paid writing work and life experience behind them, why did she go for the girl who’d barely finished with education?

“I loved your enthusiasm,” Denise explained simply.

I’ll be honest. None of this has landed in my lap. I started in this business at the tender age of 16 after one cheeky email bagged me my own column at the Daily Record. It was the ‘diary of a teenager’, where I wrote all about my take on the latest headlines, how I was getting on at school, my friends, boys and McFly.

That was eight years ago.

Since then, I’ve worked as a freelance reviewer, I’ve undertaken an internship running charity news agency, the Street News Service; contributed to the uni newspaper; spent time doing work experience in radio; podcasted, blogged, tweeted; made a nuisance of myself in a newspaper office on a regular basis’ spent two-and-a-half years as an agony aunt; mastered shorthand at 100 words per minute and pestered every editor in Glasgow and the surrounding areas in the hope of learning as much as I could.

Some of it’s been paid, some of it hasn’t, and I’ve had more than one rejection along the way. But I kept trying.

So many people step out of uni or college and expect to be handed a job. It doesn’t work like that. You have to prove yourself. Jobs rarely get advertised in this business, but they are there. You just have to make yourself known. If that means bothering editors with feature ideas, chasing stories in your spare time or shadowing a reporter for a day, then do it.

Let’s not kid ourselves. As an aspiring journalist, doing work experience can be difficult. It can be boring, it can be tiring, and sometimes you simply get nothing out of it. Among my friends, the phrase “soul destroying” has cropped up more than once as we’ve trotted in to news desks to work for free.

However, it can pay off, which is why more editors should be taking chances on young, keen journalists and actually rewarding them with a job or, at the very least, basic freelance rates if they can prove that they’ve got what it takes. So many wannabe journos are being taken advantage of. Scotland is crammed full of talented writers and aspiring reporters who have a lot to offer broadcasters, newspapers and magazines. Media bosses should be making the most of it.

Work experience shouldn’t be about putting letters in envelopes or doing research for the ‘real journalists’. Students and recent graduates should be given an article and a deadline. See what they can do. And if you print it? Pay them for it. Even if it’s just a token gesture, if it’s good enough to go in your publication, it’s good enough to pay for.

It’s been almost three months since I arrived at my desk at DC Publishing HQ on Bath Street. I’ve learned so much in these past months, from honing my interview technique to seeing how magazines really work. My day can involve anything from speaking to a soldier injured at war to chatting with a T4 presenter, then throwing together a guide to dating for single mums later in the day. I also get to be involved in every part of the production of all four of the group’s titles, from formulating ideas to making suggestions for layout. I actually feel valued in my place of work.

All the hours and weeks and months of work experience does pay off. Don’t be proud and knock it back and never think you’re better than it. If you can prove that you’re good, someone out there will sit up and take notice. At the same time, don’t let people take advantage of you.

Denise and the team at DC Publishing are all about giving people a chance and bringing fresh, new voices to their publications. In a time when people are panicking about the future of the Scottish media, why aren’t more publishers doing the same?

DC Publishing is a Glasgow-based publishing company producing Source, a careers and lifestyle magazine for students; Re:SOURCE, an industry lifestyle magazine for teachers; Family Life; and Enable, a new, UK-wide disability lifestyle publication. If you’re a student hoping to gain more experience, contact Lindsay at