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.


Booze, SM cafés and go to the opening of an envelope – How to succeed in journalism

3 09 2012

Know your patch is an essential rule for all journalists.

From the geography of an area or niche you work in, knowing the right people and building up contacts is an essential part of any journalist’s tool kit.

Journalists need contacts to help them source and develop stories whether they work for newspapers, business titles or glossy magazines.

All Brighton Journalist Works students start learning these skills from their first week as they are allocated an Argus community reporter’s patch and are expected to source and develop stories from these contacts.

Stories are about people

Getting to know people is essential as all stories have and need a human side.

Learning the patch is old-fashioned journalism. BJW students need to walk around the patch, find the notice boards, discover the community groups, attend a few meetings and even chat to a few locals in a pub.

We asked a number of journalists how they developed their news contacts.

Guardian technology and media reporter Josh Halliday ran his own hyperlocal news site during his final year as a journalism student.

His SR2 blog frequently beat the local daily newspaper to news stories because Josh knew the right people and lived in the community.

“Booze. Twitter. Hobbies. Booze,” he said. “That’s pretty much it – comes down to being visible.

“A harder thing is keeping contacts.”

Josh made a name for himself while still a student as an early adopter of digital media tools, such as Twitter. This helped him land his first job straight out of university at the Guardian.

Journalism.co.uk technology editor Sarah Marshall has worked for local newspapers and regional radio stations for many years and backs Josh’s advice to be visible and head down the pub.

When asked how she built up her contacts she said:

“It is essential to get out and about as well as contacting people (usually by email/phone). Twitter is essential (and yes, booze too).”

Digital developments

Editor of the Daily Post, Alison Gow, who is former editor of WalesOnline and executive editor digital of the Liverpool Echo, knows how essential grassroots contacts are when it comes to finding stories.

“There was no web when I started so going out to see people was key. My daily visits were to police, vicar, undertakers, grocer, butcher, town clerk etc.

“Now? Social Media cafés, Twitter, Facebook and Flickr groups, hyperlocal forums, Meetup groups. Plus real world visits to the usual suspects.”

Argus web editor and Journalist Works online journalism tutor Sarah Booker Lewis also put in the legwork on her first job as a reporter.

“I moved from Brighton to Buckinghamshire for my first job and knew nothing about the area. I spent a lot of time walking around my patch and going to the opening of an envelope.

“By the time I left the newspaper to return to Sussex many of my contacts thought I was local, which I took as a great compliment.

“I was active online for a long time before my first newspaper had a website, so I posted on the Chalfont St Peter community forum when it started.

“When I returned to Sussex as a web editor I worked on building a network of contacts on social media.

“My Space and then Facebook and Twitter proved invaluable as points of contact with the public. People can talk to us and I pick up stories every day.”

Marketing Weekly’s tech/media/mobile reporter Lara O’Reilly had to take a different approach suited to a business to business publication.

“I did the PR ring round then arranged as many face to face meetings with actual contacts as possible.

“Using LinkedIn, and attending conferences and events really helps build contacts, too.”

Wherever their future career takes them, a Brighton Journalist Works student has the advantage of building their confidence and the front required in real world journalism.

Outstanding work experience helped Sarah Morgan get a job at Elle Decoration

16 08 2012

Making a good impression during work experience can pay dividends for journalism students, as Brighton Journalist Works graduate Sarah Morgan discovered after her placement at Esquire magazine.

When a sub-editor vacancy came up at Esquire’s sister publication Elle Decoration, members of the production team at Esquire encouraged Sarah to apply for the post.

Sarah said:

“I was recommended to apply by the subs at Esquire and was told at Elle Decoration that I did the best in the subbing test (out of candidates who were more experienced than me), so the Production Journalism course and my work placement clearly gave me the skills I needed.

“I think I was quite a quick worker and always asked for things to do, which I did to show my enthusiasm but it seemed to act as a reminder that I was getting through things quickly.

“I read the pages I was given through very thoroughly and would then look at the paragraph to see if I needed to move any words around to even up the alignment/get rid of ‘I’s on the end of lines.

“I was recommended for the job in the first week but assume I did well in the second week, too. I felt much more comfortable going in and picking up things to work on.

“To be honest it was very lucky that I was there when a vacancy was open.

“I would advise anyone on work experience to absorb as much of the feedback and edits to their work as possible, because the reason I got the top mark in the subbing test at Elle decoration (which got me the job) was that I had worked on pages the week before and watched how the other subs moved copy around and cut it.

“In terms of interviews, researching the publication is really important – if it’s a magazine look up the rate card as that has information on the circulation, competitors and readers.

“I wanted to thank Brighton Journalist Works for setting up the work experience placements – I think my recommendation from Esquire was the reason I got through to the first round of interviews.”

Top tips onhow to stand out on work experience:

  1. Listen to feedback from mentors.
  2. Show you are enthusiastic about the work.
  3. Make yourself useful.

Sarah isn’t the first BJW student to land a job after impressing senior editors while on work experience placement.

Scarlett Wrench learned the lingo and worked hard to land a job at Men’s Health magazine.

In her blog post My work experience got me a job – here’s how Scarlett gives seven points of advice on how to succeed on a work experience placement.

Work experience pays

5 03 2012

Work experience is being hotly debated in the press.  Is it exploitative, socially divisive and unfair?  Should it be compulsory, optional or paid?  At Brighton Journalist Works we think it’s vital to get a job in journalism.  So much so, we organise it for our students at the end of their NCTJ course.  They get to go to Esquire, Time Out, The Argus and a range of other publications.  And it leads to jobs.

Nicola Fairhurst graduated from Brighton Journalist Works last year and is now a sub for the Kent Messenger Group.

“I came into journalism having worked in a number of different industries from travel to horseracing. The one thing I had learnt from my previous experience is to make the most of every opportunity you are offered, so I didn’t hesitate to press the KM Group for some work experience when I heard there may be a subbing opening in their Whitstable hub.


“Three days of unpaid work experience is not long to prove yourself, but I threw myself into the long days of subbing with enthusiasm. The  advantage of work experience is that you not only get a taste for the job itself, but get to meet the people you may be working with in the future and can see how you will fit in with the company.


“I was also fortunate to spend time at Esquire and The Grocer and it was interesting to compare the different working environments as well as the type of work you would be doing in a full-time position with the company, and the dream job you were aspiring to may not be the right fit.


“Yes you are not being paid, and may find yourself out of pocket, but I ultimately landed a job and have been working as a production journalist at the KM Group since I graduated from Journalist Works last summer.”

My work experience got me a job – here’s how

7 11 2011

By Scarlett Wrench

When I turned up for my first day at Brighton Journalist Works I still wasn’t completely sure what ‘subbing’ involved. I think I even tried to change the font size on the first piece I worked on, to try to make the copy fit. I was working as a waitress at the time, writing for a couple of local papers on the side — and just excited about the prospect of a job where I didn’t come home smelling of beer and gravy every day.

Eight very short months later I’ve been offered the junior sub-editor position at Men’s Health magazine, and I honestly can’t wait to get to work every morning. You don’t need a degree or years of work/life experience under your belt — just a lot of enthusiasm and an eagerness to learn. So for those of you who think subbing may be your thing, here’s the best advice I have for you… bearing in mind that I am still very new to this!

1. Read the magazine before you start your work-experience placement. Really read it. And think like a sub while you do so — look at the heads, sells and picture captions. Take note of whether they are funny, informative, a smart play on words or straight to the point. Ask yourself who buys this magazine, and what they expect to gain from reading it.

2. Find out who works there and what they do. Not just the editor and the chief sub, but the creative director, features editor, the head of the fashion team… You’ll save yourself a lot of time if you know who to address your questions to.

3. Read the style guide and try to memorise as much of it as you can. Do they favour “learnt” or “learned”, m-dashes or n-dashes? Is it “photographs by” or “photography by”?

4. Fact-check absolutely everything. Names, places, statistics. And if you read anything that doesn’t make sense, ask someone. No one will think you’re stupid. They’ll just think you’re thorough.

5. Brush up on your spelling and grammar. That’s not to imply that you have to be some sort of grammar wizard to get a job, but it helps to know the difference between “which” and “that” and how to use a hyphen correctly.

6. Learn the language, so when people start talking about folios, flatplans and ABC figures you’ll know what they’re on about. Take the one-week Business of Magazines course if you can, or if not, ask Paula or Dinah very nicely if you can look at a copy of the ‘key terms’ sheet.

7. Have confidence in yourself and your opinions. I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but your opinions matter. If something doesn’t look right, doesn’t read well, doesn’t make sense or doesn’t sit comfortably with the tone of the magazine then tell someone — whether the piece was written by the former editor, a celebrity panelist or the work-experience student is irrelevant. Everyone makes mistakes and it’s the sub’s job to flag them up.

Good Luck Alex!

2 11 2010

Alex Robinson, a Brighton Journalist Works graduate has been shortlisted for the 2010 NCTJ National Scoop of the Year Award.

Alex was a student of ours on work experience when he got an exclusive scoop about Brighton and Hove Albion’s name of their new stadium.

As BJW is on the offices of a daily newspaper, The Argus, there was hardly any time delay from when he discovered the news to telling the editor who commissioned the story almost instantly.

We therefore use this space to wish Alex good luck at the awards ceremony on November 16th next week!