As part of my journalism course, I was required to go on work placement for at least six weeks. So, at the start of this semester, I moved back home and completed a 12-week work placement in my local newspaper. To say this was a shock to the system after being in college for two and a half years was an understatement.
I had so much spare time in college because my contact hours amounted to just under 14. There is a freedom with the college that you don’t have in the world of work. I could lie on till 11 am back in Galway and get all my work done in the evening because I set my own deadlines for my own study.
The first thing I had to get used to on placement were the hours. I worked Monday to Friday, 9 – 5:30 pm. This was such a contrast to my lectures which didn’t start until 12 and finished up around 6, with lots of breaks in between. I was really reminded of being back in school, arising early to the sound of my alarm every morning, and returning home when it was dark.
The only previous encounter I had with an office environment was watching back-to-back episodes of The (US) Office, so I had to get used to sitting at a desk and staring at a screen all day. Our office was also incredibly open plan, and previous to this I hated conducting interviews in front of others. I just had to get over this, and by the end, I was well capable of ringing someone on the phone and drowning out the newsroom sounds in the background.
The workload was also incredibly different to my college essays. I was working in a newspaper, therefore, news had to be rapid, stories aged by the hour. There was no such thing as perfecting a long-form piece like a painstaking 3,000-word assignment for politics. My articles had to be direct and to the point, and most importantly, they had to be submitted on time. There was competition between us and other local media outlets with regard to breaking news first, so I had to be on the lookout for a good story at all times. I also had to learn how to type fast!
Coming up with new ideas was something I struggled with at the start. In college, I handed up four or five articles per semester, whereas in the paper I was writing at least one or two articles per day. I had to get used to the dizzying nature of this fast-paced environment, but I soon grew comfortable with churning out articles at a steady pace.
The strain on local media was also made abundantly clear. In a national title, I would imagine that journalists have to find and write the story, a team of subeditors checks for mistakes, a formatting team lay the words out on templates for the print edition, and finally, a digital team put the article up online. In a regional title, the journalists are in charge of absolutely everything, bar the physical printing. All proofing, formatting, uploading and arranging on a computer template is done in-house. This is an added pressure on regional journalists which I never realised existed of until I started my placement.
I also learned how to use social media to my advantage. Press releases will only get you so far, and I barely used them. The really juicy stories are found online. People love taking to Twitter to complain about inadequate services, to comment on something bizarre that has happened, or to highlight the plight of someone less fortunate. My morning trawls through Twitter led to some really interesting content.
I also learned how to write news. Previously, I was a feature and opinion writer, and at first, the thoughts of covering local news and business sent me into a mild panic. However, I now love covering news. There is something enormously satisfying about finishing off a news article.
All in all, I really learned a lot as an intern. I grew to really enjoy the routine and the office banter. The only bad thing was the fact I was not paid, so I couldn’t continue on at this paper forever. Hopefully, my time interning will act as a stepping stone to paid employment.
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