Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Newspaper journalism work experience - Days 1 & 2

I was actually supposed to do an update yesterday after my first day, but as you can see, I failed in that task! So I've resolved today that I will post to this blog despite not actually leaving the office to go home until 8pm this evening.

I'd always imagined the office of one of the UK's most prominent national daily newspapers to be much like the stock-market trading floor: lots of yelling and shouting, dashing around, sweating and swearing over computer screens while the adrenaline and stress rushes round the room. Turns out that the office of one of the dailies isn't quite so noisy - but everyone IS definitely busy and stressed.

Yesterday (Monday) I turned up at their offices at 11AM as requested, only to be given the unfortunate desk of the person who answers the phones for the Arts department. The phone was literally ringing every five minutes and being the only person sitting in the Arts department who could man the phones (the others were all stressing over article deadlines), I had to handle all these calls from various people and sound like I knew what I was doing. Oh dear.

I got some pretty interesting work though. One was a recorded interview with a famous personality, which I had to listen to and type out the transcript of. Now, that was pretty revealing, in more ways than one: as well getting to listen to that famous individual's thoughts and opinions on his industry, I was surprised at actually hearing him talk and express himself - it was completely different to how I imagined him sound like in my head every time I read one of his interviews.

Transcribing a 15-minute interview seemed to take forever: I have never, in my life, been put in a situation where I have had to listen to two people talk and type up what they are saying as they go along. I'm sure it's a skill that can be easily learned - after all, secretaries and PAs seem do it effortlessly - but doing it for the first time in my 27 years of being on this planet, was certainly challenging at first.

The other pieces of work I was given yesterday included checking the facts that had been included in a piece of travel-writing journalism submitted by a freelancer - researching extensively on Google confirmed that the article only had one very slight error in it - and an article I've provisionally agreed to do for the Business & Finance department: finding an individual who was prepared to be interviewed about his or her financial circumstances, and writing an article including advice from three financial experts.

This kind of feature appears regularly in a lot of newspapers, but I never realised how much work actually goes into it: the Business & Finance editor wanted to know by the end of Monday whether the article was going ahead or not, so I immediately had to beg, badger and pester everyone in my iPhone contacts list (most of whom unsurprisingly said no to advertising their finances to all and sundry in the national papers. Can't say I could blame them, but the article still needed to be done!).

Fortunately I found one person out of the numerous people I pestered who was happy to fill out the financial questionnaire and send me a picture of himself for the newspaper - I really owe him one after this - but even after he completed it last night at my insistence, I submitted it to the financial experts and they will not get back to me with their advice till tomorrow (Wednesday). As the article needs to be submitted to the editor by Thursday that doesn't give me much time to write it up, but I don't think that can be helped! It sounds quite typical for an article deadline, anyway, so I won't complain.

Today was a similar sort of day. Every day various newspapers and magazine publications are placed on each and every staff member's desk, so they're quite good for flicking through to see what rivals are publishing, or even just to read different angles on the same story. It was handy to have these to flick through in my quieter moments, but I didn't get many of those (as proved by the fact that I didn't get home till 9pm). I did another interview transcription, this time of an interview with the chief financial officer of a company that has recently published its financial results - and I was much quicker this time. I'm also getting better at manning the phones - most of the calls simply want to send press releases in or advertise their client actor/theatre/rock band/author etc, and they were the easier calls to handle. Occasionally I got people asking for a specific person or department, to which I had no idea and had to direct them back to the switchboard. One PR firm wanted to get in touch with one of our freelancers, so I had to let someone else handle that.

The one call I did have difficulty with today was when an irate PR officer for another well-known personality (who I sadly can't name) rang up on behalf of her client about a less-than-complimentary article that had been published about her client on the website a few days ago; on finding out that the article had also been published in the hard-copy newspaper for that day, she was even less pleased. My colleague and I were beginning to get worried that she was going to threaten legal action, but instead she asked to be sent a copy of the newspaper in question... at which point I advised her she needed the Circulation department and sent her back to the switchboard.

The rest of the day passed much the same as yesterday, work-wise, although I now have this Thursday as a deadline for two articles. This was the reason for me staying late - I was already working on an article about South Africa which I decided to finish tonight before I went home to leave tomorrow free to concentrate on writing up the two with Thursday deadlines. It's certainly been an interesting experience so far, and completely different to previous accountancy jobs I've had.
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  1. Fantastic story! I feel like it's an exploration within an exploration. Please keep us updated as much as you have time for - it's actually very interesting to read the day-to-day of another career, especially as someone is learning it - feels like we're all learning it at the same time. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Ooooooooooooooooooooo!! Newspaper!! :D

    That's great - well done! It must be great being phonetortured by someone who knows someone who's famous :D :D :D

  3. Wow! You sound CRAZY busy there. Holy moly. Good luck on the articles. It sounds very exciting too!!

  4. Sounds like you're having lots of interesting experiences!

  5. Hi again guys - thanks for your comments!

    I promise I'll do my best :-) Great to hear from you again!

    1,000,000 Project:
    "Phonetortured" - love it. How's the job?

    remember moments:
    Crazy busy is probably the best way to describe it, yeah :-)

    Optimistic Pessimist:
    I was about to ask you about the change of name but then I saw it on your blog :-) Great to hear from you again too!