What a difference work experience makes

25 10 2012
One of the advantages of studying for NCTJ qualifications at Brighton Journalist Works is that we organise three weeks of work experience for our students. It takes the stress out of the search.
When students make sure they stand out from the crowd they regularly find themselves at the head of the pack while job–hunting.
We hear from three students whose performance while on work experience has paid dividends and helped them land the job of their dreams.
Ben Leo graduated in July, achieving the gold standard in all his NCTJ exams including 100wpm shorthand.
Now he is working at The Argus.
“Aside from being in the right place at the right time, I think I was offered a job at The Argus due to my pro-active attitude.
“When I was studying for my NCTJ exams at Brighton Journalist Works, I would try to regularly send the news editor as many news-worthy stories as possible.
“Some he liked, which were published. Some he didn’t. But the point was I had worked to make myself known to him and the other reporters in the office before I started my work experience.
“I spent  four days in the Argus offices and have been working there ever since. In my short time there, I’ve noticed that some of the other guys or girls who come in for work experience tend to wait to be spoken to or given something to do.
“In all honesty, I think the newsroom of a daily paper is busy enough without the staff having to care for and look after work experience people (as harsh as it sounds).
“My advice, whist not necessarily right or wrong, would be to come prepared with story ideas, get on with something worthwhile and try to bring something to the table.
“You only have a few days to make an impression and first impressions as they say, are key.
“Finally – it might sound weird but it also helps to be able to talk to people. And when I say that I mean looking people in the eye and showcasing some degree of social skills.
“It doesn’t mean you have to turn up at 8am acting like a big brother wannabe, just be you and just be genuine.  No employer wants to hire someone who stares at the ground all day and who doesn’t try to make an effort to fit in.
“I recognise I am very lucky in being able to work at The Argus despite my experience, or rather inexperience. For that I am extremely grateful to the relevant people for giving me the opportunity to prove myself – which I hope I am doing.”
Sarah Morgan impressed her colleagues during a work experience placement at Esquire. They encouraged her to apply for a job and now she works as  a sub-editor at Elle Decoration.
Here she explains how work experience placements helped her recognise the type of journalism she wanted to pursue.
“I did work experience at Esquire, The Argus and askamum.co.uk. They were my top three preferences and I’m so glad I got to experience three such different work environments.
“My placements helped me decide I wanted to go into magazine journalism and I learnt the differences between working for print and for online.
“I watched how the professionals worked and learnt about the dynamics in each editorial team, from who was responsible for what to how much everyone communicated.
“However well you do in reporting or production journalism, and however regularly you blog and tweet, the only way to judge if you want to (and are going to be able to) do it for a living is to give it a try for a couple of weeks.
“My work experience was invaluable because it gave me first-hand experiences to draw on in interviews and subbing tests, and it was a chance to practise and get feedback from the people you really want it from.
“A final point – no matter how much you hear it, a content management system (or CMS) for a monthly magazine or daily newspaper is NOT as easy to use as Wordpress or blogspot sites; the askamum one in particular was incredibly tricky to get my head round.
“You’re only going to get practice at using one by doing this kind of work experience, and it really does help.”
Becky Barnes is a reporter at the Bracknell Forest Standard. During her weeks work experience at The Argus Becky wrote numerous  stories and features.
Becky Barnes
One of the keys to her future success was making herself useful to the web editor by managing a live blog and Storify of a council meeting.
These skills learnt in class at Brighton Journalist Works put Becky ahead of the game.
She offers her tips on how to stand out.

” Although work experience is unpaid – I found it invaluable to get as much of it as possible and I am glad I had the chance to go to different places and see the way things work differently in each place.

“For my BJW work experience I spent three weeks at The Argus and found it useful that I had already built up a relationship with the team by submitting work during my time at BJW.
“I also arranged my own work experience so that I could use the Christmas break to get straight on it – take every opportunity!
“Work experience is a great way to see things from different points of view and you get out as much as you put in.
“Without work experience I wouldn’t have been able to get a job as it gave the opportunity to have work published and build a quality portfolio that set me in good stead for tough interview questions. I defy anyone to get a job without it!
“Also it’s the ideal opportunity to check journalism is definitely for you.
“Here are my top tips for work experience on a local paper:

1) Go in there with at least three story ideas a day, minimum.  Otherwise you’ll be stuck re-writing press releases and hardly get anything for your portfolio.

2) Be creative with where you look for stories, think outside the box. Ask your friends.  Follow up every potential lead.  Utilise Facebook and Twitter to search for stories and ask questions.

3) Be confident.  You might feel as though you’re in the way but you have to get through that and make yourself known.  If you have your own story ideas, ask the news editor or another reporter whether they think your ideas would make a good story.  Ask to sit in on conference.  Introduce yourself to everyone.  Remember their names.

4) If you don’t know ask.  Ask questions and listen to the answer so you don’t have to ask again.  Write it down so you don’t forget.

5) Take opportunities.  If another reporter is going to court, ask if you can go with them.  Listen out for news editors looking for someone to take a story and you may end up going to court on your own and getting a cracking piece for your portfolio.  Always answer the phone at every opportunity.  Smile when you talk and be confident and get the details right.

6) Get a copy of the style guide and use it before you ask silly questions.  If in doubt, look for an example in a recent copy of the paper.  For example: do they say Maureen Fisher, aged 50 or Maureen Fisher, 50, it’s quick and easy to find a story that will give you the answer.

7) It may sound obvious, but read the publication.  Get a feel for what stories they are doing at the moment and how you could develop those stories.  Even if the reporters are following something up, you can always ask the news editor if you can check your news nose is working by running past them what you think are the important follow ups.

8) Look at national press every day and think how a national figure or story can be localised.  The news team will be able to help you with advice on who to contact for local figures and statistics.

9) Ask for feedback.  Look at how your stories are tweaked and learn from it.  Write down everything you learn and take note of how they make any changes for house style.  If in doubt, ask for an explanation.

10) Smile, be polite and make tea.  It’s important to get your face known so make sure it’s for the right reasons.


Musings on being halfway through the course…

19 10 2012

Brighton Journalist Works student Chris Cox is in thoughtful mood in his most recent blog post about the transition that takes place here at BJW from wannabe journo to nascent newshound!

He writes:

“So there it is. Halfway. This week marks not only the midpoint of the course but also the start of the transition into the exam period. Chocolate rain heralded the end of the Teeline theory (and the beginning of two hours of speed building lessons a day), we’ve reached the end of the public affairs syllabus and very nearly the end of the media law material. Mocks are looming and soon we’ll be starting production and subbing.

I realised a couple of weeks ago that, in spite of my best efforts to choose a phrase that I was confident I could write in Teeline properly at the time, the banner at the top of this blog isn’t quite correct. We hadn’t done the w-n blend by that point.

I’m leaving it as it is though because the whole point of this blog is that it’s a chronicle of learning. There’s no better illustration of that than close-but-no-cigar shorthand.

With the end (sort of) in sight, thoughts are naturally beginning to turn towards the future. They’ve been focused for so long on the build-up to and actually being on and getting through the course that it feels a little bit odd to be considering life after once again.

We’ve been talking about work experience, putting a journalism CV together and actually starting to secure placements. This has prompted me, for the first time, to contemplate properly what kind of journalism I’m really interested in and what I’ll need to do in order to pursue it.

In truth, I’m still working on that and I don’t really have an answer just yet.

I do feel energised though. It might all come crashing down around me at some point but, right now, the prospect of getting out there, getting a job and starting a career is actually starting to look achievable and that is a very refreshing feeling. After all, the prospect of finding something fulfilling was really the ultimate motivation for me doing the course in the first place.

For the first time in my life that I can remember, I actually find myself looking forward to the future. If nothing else (and there’s plenty else) it’s been worth it so far just for that.”

You’re doing great, Chris, keep it up!

Journalism – a profession in flux

15 10 2012

We’re not sure if there could be a more fascinating time to enter the world of journalism. The dust has only just settled on the Leveson Inquiry and now we are witnessing the Jimmy Savile/Newsnight row explode over at the BBC, with executives scurrying for cover as questions are asked about who put the kibosh on a simply huge and wide-reaching expose that  ITV must now be feeling rightly proud about airing.

Then there’s the ethical debate raised inadvertently by Sky NewsKay Burley, who shocked views across Britain during the April Jones abduction case when she told locals, fresh from the search for the five-year-old,  live on air that the case had turned into a murder enquiry, prompting entirely understandable tears and shocked silences while the camera continued rolling.

And just look at the vast array of opportunities in journalism that online editorial offers – who knew that the internet, instead of spelling the end for job opportunities offline, would actually open up a whole new vista of vacancies for writers.

The job just got more interesting too – when I was a journalist starting out in 1992 I could never have dreamt of the likes of Twitter and Facebook, now such a fertile spot for the sourcing of interviewees and stories.

There are few industries that come under the spotlight so frequently and are scrutinised by so many. Why? Because what journalists say and do during their careers can have such a huge impact on so many lives. That’s a big responsibility.

Here at Journalist Works, we watch our students arrive fresh and eager to learn the many skills that will equip them with the ability to work effectively in newsrooms and magazine offices up and down the country and internationally. They’re keen and a bit green. By the time they leave, we think our tutors and guest lecturers have opened their eyes just a little bit to what they can do with their careers, whether it’s about breaking the big stories or reporting on the runways at Paris Fashion Week.

From day one of the course, BJW staff love watching students immerse themselves in areas they might have known nothing of before. One day they’ll be sitting listening intently as a murder trial unfolds at crown court, the next vox-popping the locals on their thoughts about The Seagulls’ latest performance on the pitch. Tomorrow a national journalist might regale them with tales of the newsroom followed by a session to sharpen up their shorthand and then off to an art gallery to learn reviewing skills.

Tell anyone you’re a journalist and whether they claim to hate the profession or love it, they’ll always want to know more. And who can blame them?


Nobody said it was easy…

12 10 2012

Listen, we never said it was going to be a ride in the park training to be a journalist, Tom!

Here’s an extract from student Tom Harper’s blog, telling it like it is at Brighton Journalist Works….

“It seems as though I’m starting to get into the habit of doing a blog every other week now. My intention was to do one at the end of each week, but the large workload I have had has stopped that from being the case unfortunately.

The last two weeks have once again given a whole new meaning to the word busy, although it has been very enjoyable at the same time.

I had my first patch story published on The Argus website, which was good to see. Even though I’ve had quite a few articles published in various different places in the past, it’s still good to see your name on a published article!

Shorthand has continued to be a challenge, but I feel as though I’m getting the hang of it after reaching a point last week where parts of it just stopped making sense. This time in two weeks, we will have finished the theory part of shorthand, leaving us with a few weeks of speed-building before the 60wpm exam in November.

Media Law remains my favourite aspect of the course at the moment. I wasn’t sure what to expect before the course started, but it has been really good so far and being able to apply certain laws to cases which are in the news at the moment has definitely helped with understanding certain parts of it.

The last couple of weeks have seen us leave The Argus building and go out to report on events in Brighton for the first time (not including patch stories).

A trip to the museum at Brighton Pavilion for the Biba exhibition wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, but it was good to go out and do some proper reporting as we will have to do when we hopefully all get jobs after the course!

A trip to Brighton Magistrates Court was more interesting, even though we didn’t actually view any proper cases. It has made me look forward to visiting Crown Court later in the course, where we should get the opportunity to see one or two proper cases and report on them.

We also had a talk from Fleet Street Fox, who uses her anonymity to express her opinion on Twitter and her blog which she would not be able to do if she revealed her name.

Whilst I found some aspects of her talk interesting, there were other parts of it which I didn’t enjoy as much and she seemed to be almost too cynical for quite a lot of it.

This weekend shall be spent catching up on sleep and doing work for all aspects of the course, with one or two patch stories to come out of it hopefully.”

Keep going Tom, it’s worth it!



Another success story…

2 10 2012

Here at Brighton Journalist Works there’s nothing we like more than hearing about our former students landing jobs (we take a short pause from typing away at our keyboards and eating Hob Nobs to cheer) so we were delighted to get the following message from recent BJWer Caroline Wilson!

“After my work experience at The Argus I was certain that I wanted to be a junior reporter so I applied for all possible jobs on Hold The Front Page.

One was in Retford (Nottinghamshire), one in Basildon, one in Truro and one in Plymouth – my career is more important to me than anything right now so I was willing to relocate anywhere.

For my application letter I laid it all out in the design of a newspaper front page using Quark Xpress which took quite a bit of time and effort and though I thought it was perhaps a bit risky doing this I wanted to do something to stand out as I knew there would be a lot of applications. The headline read ‘The fight is on – newspaper bosses battle it out to win top new junior reporter’ (cheesy I know!)
I got a call from the Retford Times inviting me for an interview so I spent a whole week researching everything there was to know about the place and went in full of enthusiasm with feature ideas and my portfolio full of work.

They called me a week later to say that unfortunately they had offered the job to someone who had just that bit more experience than me. As the team there was very small they were concerned about me taking on too much responsibility for my first role. They did however say that they loved my application letter and that it definitely stood out from the other candidates. They said they had passed my details on to The Boston Target (Lincolnshire) where they knew there was a vacancy coming up.

After feeling truly gutted about not getting the Retford job and thinking I wouldn’t hear anything from Boston I was amazed to get a call from them THE NEXT DAY telling me how much I’d impressed the Retford Times and that, after a quick chat with them, they offered me a job as a junior reporter to start asap!
So as soon as I’ve sorted out somewhere to live I’ll be moving up and I can’t wait to get stuck in.

My advice would be that if you truly want something then do everything and anything you can to get it and don’t give up!”

Well done, Caroline. Another BJW success story.