Work experience with The Coventry Telegraph started off with trying to get into the building itself. After a 7am start and a rather tense car journey spent driving around Coventry trying to find the offices themselves, I wasn’t expecting such an obstacle so early on in the day. Little did I know that the public front entrance didn’t open until 9am precisely, so I rattled at the two entrances I could see, ignored by the people inside; I must have seemed like an angry interviewee who had been misquoted or something, desperately crawling away at the door.
I circled the building, found a car park and another door, locked of course. I even found the distribution workhouse, who directed me back to where I had just come from. But this was my first day of work experience at a newspaper; journalists are meant to be determined you see. I couldn’t give up. I kept walking around until the doors opened at 9am and sheepishly went inside.
The News section of The Boar generally enjoy a healthy and one-sided rivalry with The Coventry Telegraph, (or Cov Tele as we like to call it) and while on the other side of this unstable and awkward fence, I took advantage to take note of their practises. Unknowingly, we steal their stories, they steal ours, we race to get our stories up online before their next edition… etc. Not than any of them are probably aware of it. Call it healthy competition. I think they’re winning, they at least make a profit…
When I arrived, I was introduced to the News Editor and shown the newsroom which consisted of about 5 sports reporters, 10 news reporters and a team of sub-editors. And Les Reid, the single, brilliant, political reporter.
His first sight was me waving at him as I walked towards him grinning; I dread to think what I would have looked like. It didn’t help that I’d left any smart work experience type clothes at home and was stuck wearing my skirt from my restaurant job and a tank top, covered up by the smartest jacket I owned which hadn’t been packed already. Interesting way to start a placement. I didn’t know he’d written for the Guardian, Times and Independent before this by the way, otherwise I probably would have shook his hand instead. I wish I had anyway.
First on the agenda was the news meeting, where the News Editor and reporters gathered and discussed the stories they were planning to write that day that they had brought in. There’s something I’d like to bring to my students’ newspaper, people finding their own stories (like journalists should do, naturally). Since then I have actually used the phrase “you’re the journalist, you find out,” which I can only take to be good training for my ‘team’.
Les pitched us in for an update on the strike action of the teachers’ unions, so we got right on that. I spent the morning researching the background of the strike and trying to find out who was involved. By lunchtime, my feedback was that the information needed more detail, and it was clear to me I needed to start using the phone a little more.
The phone. That dreaded phone. I don’t know why it seems such a terrifying concept to call someone up to ask them for information they don’t really know or want to divulge, ask personal and invasive questions about things that people really want to know about… but it’s damn daunting.
I cringe to think about those first couple of phone calls, but it did get easier and by the end of the three-day placement I felt a lot more comfortable. I think that’s the skill I developed the most during my experience; the harassing. I’m not quite there yet, but it’s a necessary skill for a reporter.
During the afternoon Les disappeared off to the courts while I remained behind to add the final few details to our article. I then walked with another reporter at the newspaper down to the Council House in Coventry town centre. A group of teachers were protesting at the conversion of two local schools into academies. We interviewed them and chatted with them for a bit and a BBC Coventry and Warwickshire reporter also interviewed them on air.
The most interesting thing about this encounter – to me at least – was the apprehension at some of the protesters at being interviewed and quoted. Obviously the profession isn’t seen as the most respectable and trustworthy, especially not in the UK, but the suspicion and apprehension was beyond what I had ever experienced as a student journalist. After the outbreak of the recent phone hacking scandal, this will, sadly, only worsen.
My second day at the newspaper involved more on the same story. I was also invited back to stay for the rest of the week, which I promptly accepted and scrapped all plans I could. I did a little more research for another strike update including the school closures for the next day, and then headed off to the courts with another reporter.
Standard airport security regime – bleeping machines and scary security guards. Stop and search probably would have been necessary if I wasn’t with the well-known journalist who was seemingly good friends with said security guards. Luckily I wasn’t carrying any liquids over 100ml, or the whole ordeal could have gone very wrong for me.
The court room was a lot smaller than I had imagined it. Like the majority of the population, the most I’ve seen of the inside of a court room was the artists’ impressions printed in the papers, so this was a new experience for me. The wigs looked thoroughly unrealistic in real life, but I suppose if we are attempting to traditionally preserve anything in this day and age, it ought to be our system of law and order.
We witnessed a few pre-trial hearings which were not of much public interest until the trial itself started, but most of the day consisted of listening to a man appeal against his conviction for exposing himself to a woman on a bus. It was not overturned, and all the evidence supported this. It was a lot lengthier than I imagined too, with all the stopping and starting for the barristers to step outside to talk to the appellant , ‘all rise-ing’… and for the appealent to still have been found guilty was a waste of time for all of those involved.
Thursday was the day of national strike action by the National Union of Teachers, University and College Union, Public and Commercial Services Union and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers on the proposed changes to pensions plans. The strikers claimed they would be paying more, for longer, and getting less money. To demonstrate their anger at this, around 250 people demonstrated outside the Council House on Thursday morning, which Les and I attended and reported from. Speeches were given, many cars tooted in support and I attempted to scribble down any relevant information (which desperately failed due to my lack of fluency in shorthand).
The short afternoon was spent gathering details on any Coventry services that had been affected by the strikes, updating the next day’s article and then sitting back for a bit of relaxation and browsing BBC News. I left the office early in order to jet off to the train station to go to a journalism conference event, missed the train and instead ended up going for a meal at Zizzis and falling asleep around 8.30pm. A normal job really does take it out of you…
Lessons learnt from my work experience at the Coventry Telegraph:
- I need to learn shorthand. My scrawl is even more illegible than shorthand itself, and insanely difficult to keep up with.
- Not all journalism jobs are 24/7 – after 5pm, Wimbledon on iPlayer was of prime concern.
- Many phone calls are made. If you want to get anywhere, you have to be a bit arsey. If you don’t like phones, don’t become a journalist.