Tag Archives: journalism

How to get the most out of a work experience placement

Photo by Selina

Photo by Selina

I spotted a great post by Kettlemag.com the other day about how to get the best work experience in journalism – fantastic advice from Sian Elvin for up-and-coming journalists who don’t know where to begin.

It made me think about work experience and the importance of getting the most out of it while you have the opportunity because quite simply, it can completely change what you want to do with your life. I am a great example of this – I went to university where I studied English Literature and English Language and Communication thinking that I wanted to become a teacher. The summer before my final year at university, out of desperation from working at a terrible milkshake shop and card store, I wrote to the local paper and asked for work experience to save me from insanity and to have something to show for the summer.

Amazingly, they welcomed me in – I was the first person to be given the opportunity in several years because the previous editor didn’t allow it. Sheer luck? Or a great CV? I had previously done an extra course at university on perfecting your CV and highlighting your credentials, so I would like to think this is what secured me the position. I went along, smartly dressed and full of beans  for my first day at the paper. I was there for just five days, but in those five days, I wrote countless stories, worked my way through their picture tray, spoke to the public, interviewed, went out with photographers, went to court and inquests with another reporter, I was taken along to council meetings and all manner of other things. It gave me a wealth of experience and even led to me securing the front page story for that week. This incredible experience completely changed what I wanted to do with my life and career – deciding there and then that I wanted to go into journalism.

When I left, I was asked to take on a student writing column specifically about my life and adventures at university – I wrote this weekly column throughout my final year at university and loved it. I still get people, including the local MP, talking to me about it now several years on. I also was the paper’s first port of call when two reporters left their jobs quite suddenly and they found themselves short-staffed – they took me on with no qualifications and I worked there for the month before returning to university. It gave me a fantastic opportunity and helped me secure a job and training for when I finished university.

But it has become clear to me over my time working at the newspaper, when I have seen several work experience kids come in of all ages and experiences, that so many just do not have the confidence to make the most of this opportunity. Instead, many prefer to keep their heads down and struggle along instead of asking for help or guidance.

So here are my top tips for getting the most out of work experience:

  • Don’t be afraid – you are only hurting yourself by not being confident enough to ask if you are not sure, or to pipe up if you think of a good idea. Those around you will just think you don’t care or haven’t got the confidence to do the job.
  • Local is just as good as national or regional – don’t be put off by the thought of going for work experience at a local company, it can give you a much better experience where you can get stuck into a range of things while at nationals you might be left making tea instead of learning. Also, they will value your local knowledge – my knowledge of the area I have lived in all my life is greatly valued in an office with lots of workers who travel great distances to work.
  • Dress smartly and practically – don’t wear high heels if you are going to be running around all day and a short skirt is not appropriate.
  • Ask questions – very important! You are there to learn as much as possible by asking everybody questions about absolutely everything. If it is a busy office, perhaps keep a list of things you would like to know and ask if someone could talk you through them in a spare moment.
  • Don’t be rude – we had one girl in who tried to tell the editors how to do their jobs, needless to say she was not invited back.
  • Talk to everyone – for example, you may be in the editorial team but be sure to talk to people from different departments like photographic or advertising – there are lots of levels to offices and lots to learn from all members of staff, no matter how low or high up they are.
  • Don’t worry about getting stuck in the tea round – if you’re like me and don’t drink tea or coffee then the whole thing seems rather ridiculous. While it is nice to offer to make a brew for everyone, and in some establishments it will be expected, but don’t feel like you have to make one. However, it can be a great conversation starter with other departments.
  • Remember you are in a busy office/workspace – many offices work to tight deadlines and you have to remember that everyone around you has a hell of a lot more work to deal with, that looking after you adds to their workload. Don’t take this for granted and try to see if you can help ease their workload by running errands of taking on more – they will then have more time to help you or answer your questions.
  • Grab at every opportunity – always ask if you can do any more jobs whether it is writing more stories, calling people up, face-to-face interviews, going out with photographers or whatever happens in your line of work. A lot of the time the bosses will forget to send you out on stuff, but it will help you out and will show them how dedicated you are if you actively ask for things.
  • Learn as much about the company/their product(s)/their target market and anything else you can find out beforehand – it can really show you’re switched on if you can rattle off some of this stuff or apply it when in the office.
  • Take notes – copious amounts. Never arrive without a pen or notebook. These will help you remember things like computer login details, quirks of the systems, how to do things like saving stuff on to their systems and much more. It will also help if you are asking questions to note things down because it can all be a bit overwhelming and you don’t want to forget stuff.
  • When you finish your week/fortnight, be sure to ask for a meeting with the boss if you are not offered one – ask for feedback on your work over the week (this will help you hugely in future) and if there are any opportunities for further work with them either as freelance, jobs that are going or for further work experience/internships. Also, if you are in need of a reference, this can be useful for further work experience applications.

So there you have it – my top tips for making the most of a placement. Don’t waste the opportunity – they are few and far between in today’s job market and you really can’t afford to not take advantage of the situation. Just be sure to make it work for you as well – don’t be afraid to speak up if you feel you aren’t getting much out of the week, just do it in such a way that you suggest things you could do to help them rather than saying it is rubbish.

Have you got any work experience tips? Share them below.

Pathetic Fallacy – it’s all news to me

Photo by John O'Nolan

Photo by John O’Nolan

Something that has always stuck in my mind, throughout studying English at school and then at university, are all those literary devices and the terminology for all of these – things like alliteration, hyperbole, dramatic irony and anthropomorphism. I think we had them drilled to us so much, and had to apply them to so many different texts that they have just stayed in my mind. One that I will always remember from those long nights spent studying dense texts and all that poetry is pathetic fallacy – when the mood of the character is reflected in the weather or inanimate objects.

I bring this up now because I have noticed of late, since I have been feeling a bit blue, that things around me seem to be mimicking how I am feeling inside. I don’t know if I am just more aware of the negatives that are always present, or whether there is more sadness around me, but either way something is going on. I have spent the last two weeks writing the most depressing collection of stories on a range of topics including two terminal brain tumours and terrible hospital care that has left a man to be fed through a tube. It is horrible to have to write such painful stories and really has challenged me as a journalist, but all I can think is how much this should be putting things in perspective for me when really it is just making me feel even more confused.

It’s just left me wondering whether this sudden influx of sad stories is just coincidence or whether the world really is just a cycle of energies and I just seem to be attracting the more negative stuff at the moment. I’m not really sure what I believe but could certainly do with some more upbeat and happy stories to cover now so if you are in Norfolk and have a tale to tell that will put a smile on my face, it would be much appreciated!

What do you think? Are we all releasing good and bad energies and in turn attracting them? Or is it all just in my head?

Remembering my worth with some kind words..

It is so easy to doubt yourself and forget how amazing you are. We all do so much, but we’re all so busy that so much of what we do is lost in the ether when we fail to put things in perspective. I’m just as guilty as anyone of forgetting all the hard work I put in and just thinking that I am no better than anyone else despite all my training and experience, so it is wonderful when you spend time with people who are impressed with what you have done because it reminds you to be proud of what you have achieved.

I’ve had a few weeks like this lately where I have forgotten to be proud of all I have done because I have been too caught up in worrying about what I have yet to achieve. But thanks to a kind colleague who started talking to me about the future, I was able to put things back into perspective and ended up feeling pretty proud of myself. I also had a lovely Christmas meal out with a couple of friends, and a couple of others who I had not met before. By having to explain everything that I do for work, training and outside of work for the festival website I saw how impressed they were by what I did and it reminded me that I have done very well after a lot of hard work.

I also happened to be flicking through some old articles and came across a copy of an article that my former editor wrote about the weekly column I used to write while at university. He was defending my column after a couple of older people had complained that I was partying too much and not studying enough (Sure showed them when I left university with a 2.1!). It was great to see him write so proudly about my column and about my talents as a journalist, and it really spurred me on with my studies. It was also amazing publicity for both me and my column because the article was published on a huge journalism website called Hold The Front Page which is essentially news about news and newspapers. I still can’t believe that there is an article about me on this website! The piece also reminded me of something I had forgotten, that I had actually had a front page story on my week of work experience at the paper – only there for five days and I had my name on the front page. Maybe I am a natural!

My favourite quote of the piece is “She gets criticised by the boring brigade but she’s telling the readers what’s really going on.” – this is a great way of describing the way I live my life. Boring people might want to criticise the way I live, but I’m just doing what thousands of other people are – having a good time with life! Amazing to think this was only three years ago, but I really love that I was so controversial and that I was getting people’s back up – surely that is the point of good journalism, to provoke a reaction?

I also really love the comment at the bottom of the article saying “Jeffrey Bernard would have been proud!” – What an accolade!

Here is the link to the article if you would like to read it in detail…


Think you’ve sat your last exam? Think again…

Remember that feeling, like you were drowning in words and letters, like the pages were going to come alive in front of your very eyes and smother you with all the information you had yet to learn? That feeling of hopelessness and being so sure that you would fail? The constant cycle of fear of exams and relief when they were finished was how many of us spent the last five or six years through sixth form/college and then university. At that time, it was difficult to visualise a life outside of the cycle and to imagine actually going to work and finishing the day without homework and further reading…

Then, the end was in sight. That glimmer of light at the end of a tunnel made of books, it wasn’t just the reflection from your glasses, or yet another clock timing your essay writing. That glimmer was freedom! It was the realisation that there was a world outside of your studies and that you would soon be thrust into it and forced to find a real 9-5 job, to sign up to a pension plan and to make your own pack-up lunches. Wow. How exciting it was to think that after three years of studying for the privilege, you would finally be eligible for your dream job – or at least one at the bottom of the rung with hopes of making it to that dream job. It might sound sad, but after three years of studying, reading, writing essays, of partying hard and staying up late, I was ready to leave that world and move on to a real career. I had finally worked out that I wanted to be a journalist or to work in the media and I was eager to sink my teeth into a new and real challenge.

I was lucky, I had put the time and effort into extra work experience, unpaid positions, and had made the connections needed to secure me a job early on, but I hadn’t realised how much work was involved when one decides to become a journalist! The problem is, when you leave university, you just assume that you have written your last essay, scribbled madly in your last exam, made your final presentation and submitted your final piece of group work. But the shock comes when you realise it’s not the case. Now more than ever, with competition so high for jobs and everyone reaching incredible standards of training, it is important to keep ahead of the game by taking advantage of as many types of training as possible.

I have two friends who studied English with me at university and they are now elbow-deep in teacher training, creating learning resources and endless amounts of paperwork – they arrive at work two hours before the children arrive for school and continue to work for several hours after they leave, barely breaking for lunch, then carry on with more work in the evenings. They work harder now that ever before, and although it will all be worth it in the long run, I’m sure that both of them would love to be enjoying a 9-5 job which sees them focusing on the children rather than the paperwork.

As some of you may have already read on my About page, I chose to take the job offered to me and to enrol in my distance learning NTCJ Diploma in Journalism course rather than fork out the few thousand to study the 10-week course – it was cost-effective and meant I could work straight away rather than miss the job opportunity. My problem was the fact that after studying for three years and paying more than £10,000 for the privilege alongside mountains of extra work experience, I was still not qualified enough for the job! This was such a kick in the teeth. I had finally found the career I had longed for and I was finally given the chance to work full-time, but I was to be penalised in my wages for not having my NCTJ qualification. I understand that I journalism, there are aspects such as shorthand and law that you need to study in order to protect yourself as a writer – but it doesn’t take away from the fact that so many graduates are finding themselves still not qualified enough for the jobs they are applying for despite studying for a full three or four years!

It is a very unfair part of the education system, but even more so for those who managed to enrol on a journalism course that didn’t take them through all the necessary exams or to 100wph shorthand – that must be very disappointing – to finish a three-year journalism BA and still have to pay for the 10-week course.It just shows you, you really need to push yourself to get every advantage that is available to you to stand a chance in the big, wide, world.


The tough side of being a journalist..

A few days ago, the mother of an old friend and ex-boyfriend posted this picture on his Facebook page. Another tribute paid to a fantastic young man who was still finding his way in the world, when a horrific and shocking accident struck him down in his prime. I was one of the first to hear the news when he had tripped while camping fallen on a huge knife used for cutting wood, and while in the woods, with his brother, he bled to death.

It was horrible and I’m getting a lump in my throat just thinking about it. Even now, more than half a year on, the thought still sends a wave of nausea over my body and the news hits me all over again. With family and friends scattered across the UK and Canada, it was difficult to pass the news on to others who, like myself, had grown up with him. While his body remained in Canada, his mother attending the funeral, we held a memorial service in his home town where old friends, family and school chums all came together and spoke of memories we shared of that crazy boy, before releasing purple balloons.

It was a very emotional day and really tough to see so many tear-stained faces there. His mother gave a beautiful speech about him and others spoke of their time with our dear friend. Despite losing others in years gone by, this was easily the most poignant loss, partly because this was the first time I was old enough to really register the loss, and because it was such a shock to us all.

There was another reason why – because this was the first time I had to report on a death that touched my life so much. As a journalist, I am used to dealing with death, horror stories and shocking news on a daily basis (as well as all the more feel-good stuff – it does balance out). I have been dealing with horrible accidents and death knocks almost since I first started and remember clearly reporting on the case of a three-year-old child that ran out into the road while at the town’s annual Mart (fair) and was hit by a car and died shortly after. I saw the accident happen and it was devastating to watch the family’s reaction, then a passer-by holding the little’ boy’s hand as he took his last breath. It was horrifying and I was in total shock, but the next day, I took a deep breath and headed into the office to report on the ‘story’. It was one of the hardest days at work that we have had for a long time, and I was reporting on it with a woman who has a little boy the same age.

It was definitely one of the worst stories I have ever had to write, but it was easily trumped when I had to write a tribute to a boy who used to be one of my best friends, and who was a huge part of my teen years. Having to chase up with the Canadian authorities the details of what happened to him and how the accident came about was hard. It was tough to hear them talk about him as a case rather than as my friend, but I battled through it. Being a journalist is difficult because once you release that part of your mind, you are constantly looking for the story in everything. When you are trying to comfort the family and friends of the deceased, it is tough not to listen out for the quotes and the introduction to your story. It is not heartless, just amazing training coming into play. But the last thing you want in this situation.

It became easier after the memorial service, when I saw his mother alone to put together a tribute piece to him. It was a tearful afternoon but was filled with laughter at lovely memories and it really helped me. It helped me to come to terms with the fact that my friend was really gone, but also to know that he would never just disappear as long as we all remember him. It also helped me to write a fantastic tribute that really did justice to the type of person he was, and I hope that all of his friends agreed.

This is the first time I have managed to speak about this in so much detail since it happened and I hope that I have used my friend as a way of illustrating that journalists actually do a very hard job – particularly if they live in the patch they cover and have to report on loved ones in terrible situations. Not all journalists are heartless, many, like myself, become completely involved in their area and genuinely love it. We live each moment of pride and failure for our town and form strong bonds with the people who live there. Journalism is not just a trade, or a job, it is a lifestyle and a decision to become a huge part of your local community.

In your 20’s and don’t know which way to turn?

I read this article and it just seemed so completely ridiculous that I just had to share it with you. Written by Madeleine Dodd for the Huffington Post, it was entitled – Are you having a mid-twenties crisis?

Just the title was enough to make me laugh. It describes the “under publicised beast” that is the mid-twenties crisis, less obvious that the well-known mid-life crisis but describes those who are suffering as panicking when they realise they are too old to win the X Factor and then making huge changes in their lives such as quitting their job, ending a relationship, doing a Masters or going travelling. Dodd links these choices to three big differences between our generation and the last:

1.We know too much about what everyone else is doing thanks to social media
2.We’re the first generation to be less wild than our parents who lived during Woodstock times
3.We know our real value and it comes in at under 20 grand a year

What an incredibly negative and disillusioned woman. Such a shame to have such a jaundiced view of the world we live in at such a young age. Fair enough, times are tough and employment-wise we do have it a lot worse that previous generations, we are constantly aware of everyone around us and what they are up to, and perhaps some of us are having less fun – but perhaps this is more to do with what some people do with themselves. As a bit of a social media nutter (comes with being a blogger, doesn’t it?) I am on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WordPress and Tumblr every day and am constantly seeing updates of what other people are doing and where they are in their lives. To be honest, my Facebook is packed full of three types of people – the ones who had kids/got married young, the ones who are still at university or are on gap years/travelling and the ones who have moved on to work, whether it is something they love or not. The only ones to be jealous of there are those travelling! Fair enough, if you haven’t got the job you want it can be hard to see how amazing some other people’s lives are, but chuck a bucket of salt over that and you might see a glimmer of reality when the ones with amazing jobs are having problems at home, work hideously long hours, actually get treated like crap in the office or their relationship broke up because the job moved them away. There is two sides to every story – Facebook sees the best side (or sometimes the very worst side) but there is always more to the tale.

As for point two, I think someone needs to get out more. Being wild is not about having money from said job or going off and taking copious amounts of illegal substances or dancing in fields naked. It’s about finding your passion and your love and blowing off some steam by giving into it completely every now and again. For me, it is going to see live music including DJs or heading to festivals. And I think if people really knew what a night out was like with me, they would realise this generation are wild enough, in fact if anyone tried walking around Boomtown Fair 2013, they would realise what wild really is!

Finally, we all know our worth and it comes in at under £20,000 a year? Okay, I understand it is very demoralising to come out of university and be forced to work in a job that you don’t like or that you think you are better than. I understand that I have been very lucky in securing such a good job and training to accompany it, but a lot of work also went into securing that. People really need to stop moaning about the recession and employment market, there are countless jobs out there that don’t have people to fill them because others are being too picky about what they want to do.

I have never been under the impression that I would walk out of university and into a job in journalism – I studied English and didn’t have my NCTJ – and I didn’t. I was unemployed for six months but in the two years before me finding my current job, I had done copious amounts of work experience where I impressed by getting front pages in my first week, I had filled in for the company when they were short staffed and contributed a weekly column – all my own organising and forcefulness but it worked in the long run.

Much as I love my job, I have realised that perhaps straight journalism is not for me and perhaps I would prefer online/broadcast or magazine work instead – most of all I would like to try different things but in the meantime I am making sure I am fully trained so that I have the journalism qualification for the future. After realising this, I managed to work it so that I was managing the website and entertainment section of the newspaper to help broaden my experience. I also started volunteering to write for a festival review website for free in order to gain more experience. I have since been made editor which is great experience and will look fantastic on my CV.

Knowing your value is not about how much you are earning – god knows that some of the most valuable people out there are the volunteers and those at the bottom of the heap who work endless hours to perfect things so others at the top can take the credit. It is more about making the most of your talents – by going beyond the call of duty both at your own job by making yourself invaluable, and at extra-curricular activities such as blogging/writing/volunteering/work experience that could benefit you in the long run by giving you extra experience. Sure you might not walk into a producer job at 23, but you’ll have a wealth of skills and although you might be working in a job you hate (back in retail after university is a killer) but you’ll be doing something outside of this that you love and that could lead to bigger things in the long run.

Put simply, the world has changed since our parents’ day and that may not be a good thing in every way, but it isn’t all bad. There are plenty of opportunities for those who are just starting out in their industries – just look at the countless people who have started up their own companies. They have been able to do so because the lack of jobs in their desired area has been lacking forcing them to create positions, and the low interest rates have given them the capital needed. Win-win. And the use of social media has only helped to develop this by offering free marketing and advertising of products to customers.

This is me at my graduation, full of hope and excitement for what would come next career-wise. I left university without a job lined-up but I wasn’t afraid of what was to come. I used the time off between university and starting work as time to relax after my hard work towards exams and to research jobs and journalism training. It helped me decide to start a distance-learning course instead of spending the huge amount of money on in-house courses, which worked in my favour because another journalist left the paper suddenly and they called on me instantly. I was clearly within their minds after all my hard work and it paid off. Patience is everything and a negative attitude helps no-one.

And since when was quitting your job, going travelling or breaking up with a long-term boyfriend seen as flighty or as signs of a mid-twenties crisis? Surely your twenties is the perfect time to start afresh, you have no real commitments and nothing to tie you down. It is a common time to break up couples if their careers or travel fantasies pull them in different directions, it’s the time to find new love and fall head-over-hells for the wrong people. It’s also the perfect opportunity to try out as many different types of work as possible to gain experience and use jobs as a chance to travel, move away and gain independence. As for going travelling, when you’ve just spent nearly 20 years in education and firmly under your parents’ wing, a taste of freedom at university can give you the desire to see the world and get out there. To experience it all for yourself, and with difficulties finding the right job, why not work  in retail, save some dollar and head out to Thailand to find yourself?

What do you think about life in your twenties? Are you having a bit of a crisis, or do you feel like you’re got it together?


So, I wrote a guest post…

Does Distance Learning Journalism Work?

Does Distance Learning Journalism Work?

All about my experiences of becoming a journalist, my alternative route into the career and my training. Click on the image above to read the full article.

I would love any feedback on the article and to hear from other aspiring journalists – please do get in touch by commenting below.

Make mine a Pornstar Martini – we’re celebrating!

Happy dance!

This is me doing my happy dance – just a little post to say thanks to all my new followers! I now have more than 50, and it’s still only a couple of months since I first started on WordPress. I’m really enjoying my blog and I hope you’re enjoying reading it. Please do feel free to get in touch if you are interested in reading more of a certain type of posts or if you would like to give me any feedback on my writing.

I have also just finished writing a guest post for http://journograds.com/ about my alternative route into journalism and that should hopefully be going live this week. I shall post it as soon as it appears for those who might be interested.

Thanks for your support, and long may it continue!


Journalism: What’s it really all about?

“It is one of the professional tasks of newspapers to unmask the fraudulent and the scandalous. It is in the public interest to do it. It is a job which newspapers have done time and time again in their long history.”

Lord Justice Lawton

Age is just a number – and you better believe it!

I, as I’m sure many university graduates and young people, am getting rather frustrated with being patronised.

It is incredibly disrespectful, and seems to be a growing problem as I enter the working world. They always said while I was growing up, “respect your elders”, but respect works both ways and is necessary if anything productive is going to be achieved.

I understand fully that as a recent entrant into the world of journalism I am very naive and lacking knowledge of many aspects of the journalistic world, such as law and public affairs, and will remain so until I have completed my diploma. But it would be nice to be given credit for what I do know rather than being patronised and questioned at length.

I think that graduates who are entering the working world need to remember their worth – while I understand that each and every one of us must be prepared to start at the bottom of the ladder and pay our dues – we also have to remember not to give everything away at once, not to work beyond our means just to satisfy a new boss when they are expecting us to do far beyond our expected workload.

It is so easy to get stuck into a routine of working up to an extra three hours a day now that we are in a recession and companies are short staffed. If you arrive early to work and start immediately, work through your lunch and stay late at the end of the day, you are essentially giving up your life for a job that – at the end of the day – might just make you redundant or the company may go under at any time with such an unpredictable economy.

I have done this cycle and received no thanks for all my extra efforts – always claim your time back – and now I choose not to do this. I will work extra, but always take the time back. Just because people are older and more experienced in whatever your field, it doesn’t mean they know more than you – they just know different stuff! You are coming into the industry with a more modern and younger viewpoint, you have a fresh take on old ideas, you have new knowledge of the digital world we now live in whereas the older generation in your office – or those more set in their ways – might struggle.

I actually run the website in my office and am the go-to person for all things digital. It is important to make yourself indispensable (even the editor comes to ask me questions) but don’t give them lots of extra because they will come to expect it – and trust me you will get no thanks!

The problem is that now I am finding, and friends of mine, that the reaction to this attitude and knowledge is sometimes that other members of the office become patronising towards me. They pass it off as a joke, but their comments are out of order and certainly not funny. To any other graduates out there experiencing the same thing – don’t put up with it, but certainly don’t cause a problem about it. Just continue being endlessly helpful and proving them wrong by showing them how they are failing at certain things you know more about.

Never doubt your abilities because you have as much knowledge and as many ideas as any other member of the office. It is easy to let things like this get to you, heaven knows I do, but hey, look at me – I’ve just been made an editor at 23-years-old! Look at your qualities and assess their worth before you let anyone else beat you down – your age doesn’t mean you are worth any less!