'Imagination will take you everywhere'
22 million people in the U.K read newspapers every day. That figure surely defies all notions that social media and the internet are driving out the good old printed newspaper. Nothing can beat the crumpled newsprint and smell of ink – physically turning the page instead of clicking the mouse. So it was with great enthusiasm that I began a weeks work experience placement at one of the best national newspapers in the country: The Daily Telegraph.
The Daily Telegraph was founded in 1855, by 1887 it claimed the world’s largest circulation with 300,000 people buying the paper. Fast forward 115 years and it’s still a popular read for people in Britain; 2012 saw the paper voted as the U.K’s number one quality news brand and the best-selling, quality daily newspaper. This is a prestigious paper. So I did feel a certain degree of pressure as well as excitement upon entering the grandly named ‘Victoria Plaza’ in which houses the Telegraph Media Group offices.
I arrived early on the Monday – slightly before the requested 9.15 arrival. I’d spent the hour’s train journey to Marylebone watching the fields, trees and sheep transform into buildings, roads and buses; urbanisation before my very eyes. It was the hottest day of the year so far – gloriously sunny, but not so glorious on the sweaty, stuffy, sticky tube.
I signed in at the reception and was soon welcomed by the lovely Joyce Smith, Manager of the Features’ Desk, who became my ‘Telegraph Aunty’. I also met two other people on work experience, one was Zoah Hedges-Stocks, who was recently interviewed in The Mail on Sunday, as she was the first traveller to attend Cambridge University – she was my mentor for the week and offered me lots of helpful advice. She will definitely go far as a journalist, we joked that one day she might be employing me!
After a riveting lecture about the history of The Telegraph by George Newkey-Burden, a charming historical archivist, we had a tour of the offices. The newsroom is massive and is designed in a ‘hub and spoke’ layout which I frankly didn’t understand but was told that it makes everyone more integrated, so the different sections of the paper could mix. We were also showed around the various conference rooms and they even have a gym – everything was so modern and minimal, however it did slightly remind me of a hospital. We were also shown the ‘showroom’ which is where clients are shown all of the Telegraph’s digital applications on a variety of different software. In the centre of the room was a ‘smart table’, basically like a smart phone but in a table format, it cost around £6000. It was the coolest piece of technology I’ve ever seen.
After that I was introduced to the people on the Features Desk which was where I was based for the week, who were all very friendly and welcoming. Joyce then took me through the process of creating the daily features pages; first the features editor and features deputy editor look through news items online and in the newspaper and then they create features ideas based on the latest news which they think would appeal to the average Telegraph reader. They then assign features writers to cover these ideas, who then write the articles in time for the 5.00pm deadline ready to be printed in the paper the following day.
I was given my own desk and computer – it was actually Bryony Gordon’s desk (“The Daily Telegraph’s star feature writer”) as she’s on maternity leave. This was ironic as it was Bryony who I emailed about giving me advice for becoming a journalist. For the rest of the day I helped a feature writer gather research for her article (about international baby gifts for the royal baby), I had to phone various foreign embassies in London and speak to their press office to ask what their country panned to give the royal baby. I only managed to get through to the Japanese embassy’s press office and they had no idea what Japan was planning to give the royal baby, so my search wasn’t very successful, but it made me aware of the amount of background information journalists gather before even beginning their article.
Tuesday was probably the least exciting day as there wasn’t much to do, but I still enjoyed absorbing the atmosphere of being in a live newsroom and also being part of the process of putting together a daily newspaper. In the morning I helped feature writer, Harry Wallop, research personal facts about George Osborne for a satirical article about his favourite things, see the article here http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/georgeosborne/10182981/Time-for-a-few-of-George-Osbornes-favourite-things.html. In the afternoon I did a lot of proof reading, including reading Boris Johnson’s article for the weekend section of the paper, which I have to say was superbly written!
Wednesday was by far the best day. I was asked to go to the Lindo wing of St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington to conduct ‘vox pop’ interviews with royal fans awaiting the birth of the royal baby (the week of my work experience was the week leading up to the birth of little Prince George). I met some interesting people, including famous royal fan, Terry Hutt, who was very sweet and had been camping outside the hospital for a week. We wrote down important quotes and they were then inserted into an online article about the royal fans – my name is in the by-line! Read the article here http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/kate-middleton/10184903/Royal-baby-due-fans-camp-outside-hospital-to-await-arrival.html. In the afternoon, Zoah and I collected interesting statistics about the BBC’s Apprentice, the article was featured on the paper’s website; http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/the-apprentice/10186341/The-Apprentice-in-numbers.html.
I attended the 9.30 editorial conference in which representatives from all of the different sections of the paper (comment, features, finance, environment, fashion, women, culture) convene to discuss article ideas and decide on the story which will go on the main feature page (the most important as it must grab the reader’s attention). I then went to the Stella magazine’s (Sunday supplement) fashion and beauty sale and managed to bag a bottle of Jo Malone bath oil for £2.00! The rest of the day was taken up by proof reading travel articles for the weekend section which is printed mid-week. At the end of the day I got to attend the 4.30pm news conference around the central hub in the newsroom, which is basically a daily meeting in which representatives of the different online sections of the newspaper review the news and trends (article most Facebooked/Tweeted/commented on) on their part of the website.
Last day! George Newkey-Burden kindly gave me a photocopy of the front page of The Telegraph on the day of my birth, which is apparently a tradition with all work experience people. I then attended the 12.00 news conference on the central hub, which is basically exactly the same as the 4.30pm news conference as people just review the reception of their online articles, which I found fascinating as they pass around an iPad which is connected to a large T.V screen which they use to show people their section of the website. At lunchtime, Zoah and I went out and bought a box of Krispy Kreme doughnuts for the features desk to say thank you – they certainly went down well! In the afternoon I went to an advertising compliance meeting, which was about all of the regulations within advertising in a national newspaper.
Overall the work experience was extremely eye-opening, furthermore it has made me even more determined to pursue my dreams of becoming a journalist.
Work experience is the bane of most students’ lives. It is notoriously hard to get, yet it’s imperative for developing your confidence, deciding what work environment suits you best and getting contacts within your chosen industry – as well as not actually getting paid. My advice is to approach as many people as you can by writing a polite email or (even better) sending a letter. Don’t expect to get what you want straight away – it doesn’t matter if it’s not exactly what you want to do in the future, as long as it’s relevant and will broaden your skills. Use your contacts well – you might have a friend whose mum is best friends with the editor of The Times, or the person you babysit for may be the global merchandising director of a big fashion brand (which actually happened in my sister’s case), just ask!