Ah, the nationals. Shiny buildings, rows of desks, and TV screens, glass doors with board-room tables. Key cards and lifts. Sounds fun, doesn’t it? Always something going on, somewhere to go, phones ringing and people nattering. Pret a Manger on my doorstep, and walking past Tower Bridge every morning. The buzz.
Work experience with The Times was all that. But, that was about it. I think perhaps I over-hyped my time there, I expected too much. Especially after day one, when I met the Deputy Editor, Keith Blackmore and was sent out to report on the St Paul’s protest.
‘Me? On a national story? Collecting quotes? Working with real reporters and doing actual research? Telling people I’m a reporter from The Times? Oh my God, this is the dream.’
Seeing my name in print on one of the top stories the next day was pretty magical, as were the free hot chocolates from the kitchenette and the huge pile of newspapers artistically laid out for all the staff to collect. But it went downhill from there.
When I was at a national newspaper, I knew that people didn’t really have the time to be looking after the work experience girl. The Times isn’t a place where you’re going to be babysat.
The majority of work I did was fairly trivial (in the grand scheme of things!). A lot of what I did was research. Research on Tony Blair, into student law contracts, and creating a fake Facebook profile for an underage girl. I wrote the ‘You, The Editor’ feature, which I’m told that every work experience person is asked to do. Even my St Paul’s copy contained few of my own personal quotes and information, which is understandable really; would you trust a 19 year-old student with a national scoop?
A friend who worked for the Guardian spent most of his time searching through comments for the Comment is Free desk, and others I knew who went to the Evening Standard were just performing admin tasks and preparing briefings. Big publications don’t have the time to find stuff for people on work experience to do, it’s up to us to prove that we’re decent, hard working journalists and we can do it ourselves if no one else does.
It’s not that I didn’t try, although I do look back and wish I’d done more. I said ‘yes’ to every task I was given, and sent emails around the office offering to help anyone out when I had little to do. I worked on trying to get something different from my research, calling up my own contacts for information. I asked questions to those around me, and threw myself into every task I was given. I tried to stand out (as much as I could in a huge, open plan office filled with hundreds of staff).
Of course I was nervous. It was the first time I’d ever seen the inside of such a company, and here I was in Wapping inside the News International building, where just months ago, they had been the main news item with the News of the World allegations of phone hacking. Maybe I should have been a bit more pushy, come along with more of my own ideas, and been less afraid to pick up the phone. After all, you’ll never get anywhere in journalism without being a bit forward.
More than anything, my experience with The Times was more for the sake of being there than anything else. It showed I had the determination (and to some extent, capability) to actually be offered work experience, and obviously such an esteemed publication looks fantastic on the CV. It was great to see the ins and outs of the office, talk to and help out the esteemed journalists who work there, and I’d definitely go back again. Just don’t expect front page bylines, to have a constant ‘to-do’ list and someone looking over your shoulder the whole time, or you’ll be disappointed.