Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Dear workie person.......10 points to a great 'experience'

Ok, can I please, for the love of God, write a disclaimer on this blog to prevent a series of comments about how much of a nasty prick I am.
I am not talking about lovely little school children or those who pop into the office to get 'a taste' of what journalism is like before they embark on a different career path.
I love these type of work experience peeps. All fresh faced and dewy-eyed. I ask nothing more of them than they ask of me.
I am talking about the many thousand journalism graduates, media studies kiddies and those already signed up to a course on the multi-million pound roller coaster that are the NCTJ prelims. These are the subject of today's dissection.
Work experience is the best way to get a job in journalism. I have hired the best and recommended the most promising.
If you show willing and enthusiasm (and let's not forget talent) this is your time to shine.
A mate on another paper recently had 145 applications for one trainee position so competition is fierce and the old adage 'It's not what you know, it's who you know' still stands. Sorry HR people.
Sure working for free sucks, but if it is a way to give you an edge over the competition then it makes some sense.
At worst, a good reference earned on work ex gets you an interview. It's up to you to do the rest.
So having, I believe, qualified my position I ask something of you many workies.
Read a fucking newspaper.
Any newspaper will do. Preferably mine, but I will settle for any national (Independent excluded). Your own local paper - free, paid for or printed with a John Bull set. Hell, the Beano would be a start.
The number of workies coming through my doors who have no idea of what an intro on a news story should look like is shocking.
And these are not greenhorns, but soap dodgers two years into a three year journalism course or half way through their prelims.
Reading newspapers helps you learn what newspaper style is. It doesn't change much throughout the industry but look at PA for an easy style. Simple, straight and spare the adjectives.
Murder IS brutal. Thieves ARE heartless. Vandals ARE mindless. A tramp IS smelly. Spare the bleeding obvious.
Second, it's called work experience for a reason. It is an opportunity to see how the real world of work works. So try and look the part. Shoes not trainers, trousers or a skirt not jeans, a shirt or blouse perhaps. You might even fancy a tie.
But crop tops, fluorescent blue cardigans or football shirts with flip flops (oh yes) really doesn't cut it.
You may not be getting paid but I will, sure as fuck, send you back to your tutors in tears if you turn up dressed for a night out at a roller disco.
Third, if your first attempt at writing a news story gets taken apart by a news ed don't take it too much to heart. You are here to learn and the best way to learn is to listen to those that know what they are talking about.
Please don't take it personally that you write for shit and someone dares to help you structure a story. Even the most seasoned hacks on the nationals have sat down next to their bosses and had their tale ripped to shreds. Except most of them don't walk out and tell their mum about the horrible man.
Fourth, engage with the other reporters. They are a mine of information. They have a job and can tell you how they got it. They can help you with stories, contacts and general advice. Most don't even bite. It also shows that you have the ability to make quick relationships with strangers which is a key trait of a decent hack. Don't hang around in workies corner and discuss how it's going to be when you lot get a job. Look around you. The majority of your new work ex friends will never make it into anything resembling newspapers.
Fifth, push for a byline. Do not let other reporters nick your work. Make sure if you get a story in the paper you stake your claim to it.
Byline the copy before you send it and, if you have to, talk to a news ed or a sub to get your moniker on it. Cuts are king and most of the time a news ed or sub won't care much whose name goes on top of it. But if you make a (small) scene, you can get that precious cutting.
Sixth, come to work bearing gifts. Not biscuits or cakes (although these are a good thing) Bring stories. Find something out locally, even if it's a dud, it shows willing. Think about what the paper covers and come in with a few ideas. Bring in a tale and you will rocket in the estimation of every news ed. We see dozens of work exes a year. Those who bring in stories you can count on one hand.
Seventh, understand what you are getting into. Read journalism web-sites, HTFP, press gazette, Media Guardian, and FSB should be on your favourites.
If you don't already understand how hard it is to get a job and what a parlous state we are in, you soon will.
This is not a job for shrinking violets or those who want an easy time. This is a tough business and will become increasingly so.
Please don't ask me on press day, an hour before deadline, about what is happening in journalism. You should already know. It's called research and it is the cornerstone of our job.
Eighth, remember if you book a week's work experience someone else is missing out. So please cancel in plenty of time when you get a job or go on holiday or decide you can't be bothered. Phoning on the morning of your placement really doesn't impress.
Ninth, try not to call the editor or managing director mate, pal, buddy or chief. They really don't like that.
Tenth, if you are going to turn up late, hungover, stoned, still drunk or nonplussed on day one, don't bother. I already have my reporters doing that I don't need a workie taking the piss as well


  1. Excellent post, but as a new trainee who did their fair share of work experience, a few requests from the other side of the fence:
    1. Try to get some idea of what we can do early on. Differentiate between a 16-year-old forced to come by school and a hungry hopeful with real passion, flair and skill.
    2. Have something for us to do when we arrive. Gives you a chance to assess our skills immediately and gives us a chance not to sit there like a lemon.
    3. Have a chair and a computer for us (seriously not always the case).
    4. Empathise. You were there once. Be friendly. Maybe learn our name.
    5. We know you're busy, but don't bitch and moan about the how understaffed you are and i) not give out anything to do and ii) not listen to our ideas.
    6. You're right some workies will never get near a newspaper. But some will. Some in fact will go on to be fucking brilliant journalists. If we are able, you are getting a free worker to plug some of the gaps you keep bleating on about.
    7. Don't make us beg for by-lines. That's demeaning. If we do a good article, which would normally get a by-line, reward us with one. You're not paying us, the least you can do is write our name at the top of a story.
    8. Be wary. Some of the journalists I came across as a workie were terrible. So you got a job when getting into this field was much, much easier than it is now. Some wannabe journalists are talented, driven and tech-savvy. Don't patronise us.
    9.Don't be dicks. At one national newspaper, I overheard a team of senior feature journalists laughing at how they dangled shitty assignments in front of workies to watch them beg.
    10. Don't letch at the girls and ignore the guys. In fact don't letch at the girls full stop.

  2. 11. At least have a look at our CVs before we arrive so you will have some idea of what we have done before.
    12. Don't assume we know how to do simple jobs, eg. how to transfer a call or pick up the news desk phone when no one is there, and then look at us like we are as dumb as two posts when we ask you. We don't know because we haven't been shown. Surprise surprise.
    13. Have manners. If you have cake, or biscuits or chocolate then offer them to us. It's just rude to pretend we are not there or not worthy of the shitty chocolates your boyfriend bought you because he feels guilty about shaggin your bestmate.
    14. Similarly if there are work drinks/lunch, invite us. But if you can't bring yourself to do that don't brag about the amazing night you had the next day when we are within earshot.

  3. To the two anon. commentators above; some valid points there, but let's not lose sight of the fact that anyone going on a placement choose to go there - the newspaper doesn't usually choose you.

    To state the bleeding obvious anyone on an internship is going to a place of work and like everyone else there, you need to adapt to the office culture and do what you're told. If you don't like it then don't go back - it's not like you need the gig to pay the bills, is it?

    At the paper I work for we have a ton of work experience folks from kids to uni graduates and, as Blunt says, the vast majority have never even read a paper - and I know because I ask every single one on their first day.

    We are, however, lucky enough to get the occasional good-un and I'll always give a good reference to a talented intern even though a couple of them ended up working for a rival paper! For those who evidently uninterested, apathetic or slovenly, I send them packing as fast as possible to avoid a mutual waste of time.

  4. To the second commenter - agreed that in an ideal world it would be lovely if every workie were adopted, cossetted and generally treated as a human being, but when you have a different w.e. coming in every week with differing levels of social skills/skills/anything resembling a skill it can be quite wearing. You want to come to lunch? Ask! And FYI, I always offer cake to the workies ;)

    And to commenter #1 - surely it's your job to show the editor that you're someone with flair etc? By, y'know, having flair.

  5. The secret's out, in his spare time Blunt provides customer service training for London Underground staff, check out the result -

  6. As writer of the first comment above, agree with poster 3 who talked about adapting to office culture and doing what you're told, and not sure anything in my post clashed with that.
    I am not saying we need pampering, just a bleeding chance.
    And to poster 4, my point is we are often not given a chance to show you what we can do.
    It's a lazy way out to say "well show flair" when there are places I have been where they have no interest in what I can do or what ideas I might have.
    That's why I suggested giving workies a job when they first arrive to showcase what they can do as a happy compromise.
    But I do see where editors' frustration comes in. We had a lad come in recenlty who was asked to do a picture caption, and wrote nearly 1000 words without using a quote.

  7. Just got a press realease from some bunch of student tosspots telling us that its now illegal to take someone on as an unpaid workie unless its as part of a specific course - all workie who come to us are supposed to be paid National Minimum Wage.

    Turns out to be true as well.
    Well thats all the workies fucked, then.
    Cos i'm pretty damn sure they wouldn't get a foot in the door if we actually had to PAY the bastards. Should make our summers a bit more peaceful, at least...