Thursday, 4 June 2009

Newspaper journalism work experience - Days 3 & 4

Yesterday (Wednesday) I slunk into the office at 10:30AM, feeling rather guilty about turning up so late... only to realise I had no reason to. People turn up between 10 and 10:30 in the morning, and unlike my previous workplaces, no-one bats an eyelid. I discovered this on turning up this morning at 9:55 at a virtually empty office. If' I'd ever done that at the accountancy firms or bank I previously worked for, I'd probably be shot.

People start to drift off home around 6PM (some head out at 5:30PM, but they're a very rare breed) but it's not unheard of to keep working until 7:30, or even later. Around this time, the "evening shift" workers come in, manning the newsdesk for any stories that come in in the evening. I wonder if anyone ever stays overnight watching for stories coming in?

So as you can tell, it's a completely different environment to what I've worked in previously. Large plasma TV screens are everywhere, displaying Sky News and live news updates, and occasionally people stop to watch and jeer when any member of the Government come on screen. People turn up wearing whatever they feel like, whether that's smart suits or more casual clothes. I was amazed to see most of the girls wandering around in mini-skirts and shorts all week, and no-one batted an eyelid: in one of my previous workplaces that was tantamount to inviting the more socially-inept among your male colleagues to sexually harass you.

Don't get me wrong, I'm actually all FOR girls having the right to wear mini-skirts and shorts to work (especially when it's been as hot as this week has been) but I remember the last time I wore a skirt that was only marginally above the knee was in my first accountancy job: one of the directors actually got on his hands and knees and attempted to look up my skirt. This "happily married man" didn't even try to disguise what he was doing and saying - and my skirt wasn't even that short. Yuck. I avoided him like the plague after that. So much for being "happily married". Anyway, my point is that until now, I simply couldn't conceive that it was possible for a girl to wear whatever she liked to work and not be made to feel uncomfortable for it. Either it's amazing, or I'm amazingly blinkered and naive.

I had two big (well, big for me the work experience temp, that is) article deadlines today. The first one was that personal finance article I mentioned yesterday - the three financial advisors giving advice on a person's situation. As the deadline was today, I had originally intended to work on it yesterday when the financial advisors got back to me, but of course things didn't quite pan out like that. The financial advisors got back to me with their advice fine; I was drowning in other stuff.

The South Africa article was being edited and scheduled for publication next week with my byline (yes! They're ACTUALLY agreeing to put my name on something in a national newspaper! I'm so excited!) so yesterday, emails were being fired back and forth between the Travel Section editor and myself with all the edits. In addition to that, I was fact-checking a freelancer's article again: another travel article, this time about Andorra, and information about Andorra isn't that easy to find, even with the godsend of the Google search engine. Around midday yesterday, I decided to start on my second Thursday deadline article: a "Ten of the Best..." article, complete with good-quality legally-obtained images of each item. As mentioned, the deadline for this one was by close of play today, so I started it yesterday lunchtime, thinking it'd be a walk in the park and I'd knock it out within a couple of hours at most. How wrong I was.

For a start, I knew absolutely nothing about the "ten best" items I was writing about, so it required some careful research before I could even produce the required 40 words for each of the ten featured products. It was hard to concentrate with the phone constantly ringing, as again I was supposed to be manning the phones:
Caller: "Hello, can I speak to the Arts Editor?"
Me: "I'm afraid he's on a business trip and won't be back till next week. Can I take a message?"
Caller: "Is there anyone else on the Arts desk I can speak to?"
Me (as colleagues gesture madly that they're busy and stressed): "I'm afraid there isn't, sorry."
Caller (annoyed/deflated/confused/hopeful - delete as appropriate): "Oh well, it's just that there's an exhibition on at such-and-such art gallery and I was wondering if there was a newspaper correspondent who could come and do a piece..."
Me (giving standard response to all non-urgent questions): "Ah, I see. The best thing for you to do is to email us at and one of our correspondents will pick it up from there. Thanks very much. Bye."

Yeah, I admit it's not great, but I don't know anyone there, I don't know anyone's telephone extension numbers, and I don't know how to operate the telephone in the first place. And of course, you can't really admit that to the caller, either.

So... in between answering the almost-constantly ringing phone, I had to do some constant ringing of my own: phoning companies' PR departments to ask them to email me high-quality images of the products I wanted to feature in my "Ten of the Best..." article. The newspaper have very strict guidelines on the images: most of the images on the internet can't be used so we have to ask for 300dpi, hi-res images over 100KB, which must be on a white background. Phoning the correct people isn't quite so simple: as with any telephone service in this country, you end up speaking to at least ten people before you get through to someone who can help you (and sometimes you're not even that fortunate). Needless to say, the "Ten of the Best..." article didn't get finished by the end of yesterday (Wednesday), and the personal finance one didn't even get started. I was so busy I didn't take my lunch hour till 4 o'clock, and that was only for ten minutes. I spent the whole of last night at home stressed and worried that I was going to miss both article deadlines.

I resolved to get in early this morning and work on them solidly, hence that I got in to an almost-empty office at 9:55AM. Refused to answer the phone, refused to talk to anyone, and to my shock and relief finished both by close of play today. I even managed to get all ten product images for the "Ten of the Best..." article, after much persistent and swift ringing round, and submitted everything at 6 o'clock. By this point I felt like a victorious boxer: slightly punch-drunk and totally exhausted, but swaggering out of the office with euphoric pride. I don't know why, and it sounds ridiculous, but I really felt like I'd achieved something massive.

Was late going home again though, as the Business & Finance editor called me over to discuss my article and ask me about myself. I don't mind a bit of constructive criticism, so he tried to offer some - except that he ended up being so complimentary I'm not sure he actually did. He was surprised to learn I was a chartered accountant. "Why would you want to give up a career like accountancy?" he wondered incredulously. "Because I don't like it," I fired back. Touché.
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  1. Oh I'm so glad you are getting into the thick of things and getting a byline on top of it all! Do keep us posted!

  2. Sounds like you are enjoying the busy atmosphere, it all sounds so exciting. Can't wait to hear more.

  3. You're so busy but it was all rewarding at the end. Good for you. Please keep us posted with your latest 'adventure', if I may say :)

  4. Thanks again guys!

    Yup, I really hope they keep their word about the byline - none of my stuff will be published until next week so we shall see :-)

    Squirrel Queen:
    It's pretty cool, yeah. Will try and keep you all posted!

    Heya - good to hear from you again! As I said to SQ, will definitely try and keep you posted! :-)

    Now to check out all those blogs I didn't have time to check out during the week!

  5. Sounds like things are going well! Congrats on your hard work!

  6. Sounds like a wonderful experience! And you picked up some stories to dine on, that's always a plus!
    Thanks for the birthday wishes, and yes, do send on the Cornwall photo!

  7. You write very well indeed! Nice job! :-)

  8. Glad the work experience is going well! It's great that they are actually giving you the chance to write something (guess they could have just had you doing tea and photocopying :) ) and brilliant that they're going to put your name in the byline. Sounds like you are getting a real taste of life as a journalist; and the experience is bound to be really useful to put on your CV if you do decide to go in that direction.

    Guess it's amazing how diverse workplaces can be; what you describe here sounds like my work (I often get in around 11 and stay till 7 or later, and it would never even occur to me that anyone might harrass me when I get out my shorts when it's warm- though in hot weather my boss does sometimes come in in a loose basketball vest which shows rather more than I'd ideally want to see so I suppose there is a downside... :) ). I would hate to work somewhere where you had to wear a suit in all weathers, come in at 9 on the dot or else, and keep a record of what I'd been doing in 6 minute chunks to bill to different people (I've heard accountants do that?) so I think people who work in finance must be masochists :)

    Hope the second week of work experience proves as exciting as the first, will look forward to reading about it! And hope you've had a chance to get a bit of a rest over the weekend because it does sound pretty frantic!

  9. Great to hear from all of you!

    Optimistic Pessimist:
    It's quite busy and stressful, funnily enough :-) but I guess on a daily paper you expect constant deadlines...

    Prodigal Tourist:
    It's great fun, yeah! Hope you had a good birthday. Will send on the Cornwall pic(s) as soon as poss!

    Thank you - really appreciate the compliment! Thanks for being my new follower too!

    That's so true - I actually did expect it to be making tea and photocopying like my first accountancy job, and thankfully it's not. You're right, accountants do have to charge their time like that - I had to charge mine to the nearest 3 minutes and it bloody drove me mad. I will be quite happy never to fill out a timesheet ever again, frankly!

    First week was fun but very hectic. Didn't get much of a break over the weekend either - dinner parties meant I didn't have time to post - but I guess there's no rest for the wicked :-)

  10. Whoo! You should give yourself a big pat on the back, and maybe treat yourself to a nice massage or cupcake while your at it. What an experience! What an accomplishment! Hope they offer to pay you. Looking forward to reading what else happens.

  11. Hey Cheryl!
    Nah, I'm not going to get paid for it, but who knows, it'll help with the writing portfolio anyway :-) How have you been? You keeping well?

  12. I'm just rolling with the punches. I was turned down by Disney :( but am working on a concept artist test today. So, I figure if I keep up this rate (of at least one interview per ten/twelve resumes sent out) I'll find work...sooner or later.