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Work experience at a national paper: what to expect

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In the not-too-distant past, a local sports editor warned me that national newspapers will dump you without a second glance if you so much as make one tiny spelling mistake.

When I got a reply from the Daily Mail telling me they had received a work experience cancellation this May, however, I High Street Kensingtongot the chance to see what life in a national newsroom is really like. Here’s how it went...

Monday:

I arrived at High Street Kensington on Monday morning full of anxiety and heeding a strict dress code of suit and tie.

Boy, was the building nice. Storeys and storeys (the Evening Standard, Metro, Independent and Sunday paper equivalents are all produced in the same building) stood before me – and there was even a fountain ornament behind me.

I was greeted by a trainee journalist and invited in. It was time to get down to business.

Pretty soon, I was taken aback by how relaxed people were. Yes, these were journalists working under pressure and to strict deadlines, but every page had a different sub-editor working on it - so nobody was overworked.

In fact, it was all smiles; everyone was extremely helpful and welcoming. I was soon told to research the England football team's last few games in Brazil and then given the delightful task of compiling Jose Mourinho’s 20 best ever quotes. Not bad for a first day, eh?

Tuesday:

My head was buzzing after a cracking debut, but I came in on Tuesday with unreasonable expectations.

With it being the end of the football season, there was hardly an extensive list of things to do. And I soon realised just how wary you have to be of completing your tasks too early – sometimes an eagerness to impress editors will simply leave you with nothing to do thereafter.

This was a big problem for me on my second day.

I was given just one job: to compile information for a preview of the ICC Champions Trophy (cricket). I got it done fairly quickly.

Everyone around me was busy, however, so I spent most of my day watching French Open tennis and checking my Twitter updates (sad, I know). By day’s end, I felt rather de-motivated.

Wednesday:

But things were about to get interesting. I came in on Tuesday with high expectations yet welcomed Wednesday with none at all – and sometimes that can pay off.

Immediately, I was paired with someone else on work experience (who happened to be the Chief Sports Writer’s nephew!) and we were given the task of researching how British golfers had fared at the US Open.

Later, we both had a friendly chat with a senior sub-editor, who gave us general tips on where to go with our careers.

Then the magic happened.

We were in for the late shift (3-10pm) as there was an England game on in the evening. This meant I would get the chance to sit with a sub-editor and watch him proof match copy live!

Thursday:

Coming in on Thursday morning, I was in dreamland. If journalism is your dream, nothing can be more inspiring than seeing a paper hit its first deadline right in front of you.

It was enough to make my whole week - yet things would get even better.

Told to come in at 8.30am for the only time that week, I duly got some much-needed kip and arrived on time for the online desk's morning meeting. Banter was shared, article ideas were discussed and work was assigned. Then...

“And for Tim, I was thinking you could knock up 600 words on Falcao’s move to Monaco?” the online editor turned to me and said.

These were probably the best words I will ever hear in my life.

I had expected to be handed meaningless, menial tasks yet here I was writing a feature for a site that gets 100 million readers a month.

The piece was done by 11am and within a short while of it going up, I heard the editor mutter a few surprised words.

After some tinkering, he informed me that he had moved my story up to the top of the home page and that it was getting read at record pace for a Thursday afternoon.

Wow.

Later, I found a video of a Romanian goalkeeper biting an opponent and pitched the idea to the editor, with that being published too. I also translated some quotes from Russian but this story was not given the go ahead as the source (not the writer!) was deemed unreliable.

Friday:

With a well-earned weekend’s rest ahead of me, I knew deep down that the previous day could not be beaten and, frankly, I did not need it to.

Still, Friday was also good to me.

I spent it sat next to the journalist who welcomed me at the start of the week; he explained how he got where he is today and gave me advice on how I could do the same. He also gave me several research-based tasks.

By the end of the day, I did not want to leave. I said my goodbyes, arranging to return for another week during the football season if they could squeeze me in, and hoped that things would always be this good.

When I got home, I was greeted by an e-mail informing me the piece I wrote on Monday about Brazil-England would get into Saturday’s paper.

So, there you have it: if you have a passion for journalism, you will absolutely love a week at a national newspaper.

Be prepared to work hard and show yourself in the best possible light, but if you write well, be polite, and research accurately – you will be fine.

And stay patient during those times of boredom. Tuesday was as discouraging as it gets for me but, as I was so emphatically shown, things can change pretty quickly. Always keep your head held high.

So to all you aspiring hacks out there, the very best of luck!

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