These last few weeks yours truly has been out and about experiencing the world of working for free in a bid to add some kind of journalistic credentials to my otherwise journalism-devoid CV.
I’ve been pretty fortunate, I managed to secure placements at three publications, two of which are prominent national newspapers; one broadsheet (or what we like to call ‘quality’ papers) and one tabloid. I had been expecting the two to be vastly different, and they were, but I’ve also found out a few (unexpected) things along the way…
Yes, believe the stereotypes
Now I whole-heartedly admit that it’s extremely naive of me to comment on the newspaper industry after spending only a few weeks in it with just two papers, BUT, from the limited time I had with the publications, I was struck by just how many stereotypes of journalists were accurate and abundant.
The Broadsheet was my first placement. Known best as the paper which broke the phone hacking scandal in 2011 serving as the catalyst to the current Leveson Inquiry into press standards, this was a publication which oozed lefty-liberalism and, for want of a better word, egotism. I guess a publication that prides itself on decent journalism, and which has placed itself on the self-appointed pedestal of admirable investigative work, can afford to do that. Everyone walking around seemed to have purpose. There were always meetings going on and it was a hub of activity. To my delightful surprise, I found everyone to be incredibly welcoming. And everything seemed, er, new. Not that one should ever judge a company by the state of its offices, but these were large, open and bright. A mixture of clean-cut journalists and shabby-chic hipster writers, this was a place that seemed colourful, spacious and shiny. Editorial meetings were big and busy and I was fortunate to have some great little projects to work on. I even had my research uploaded on their site. All-in-all, it was time well spent and I enjoyed it.
Cut to a few weeks later and I find myself in the main tower of London’s ridiculous concrete-jungle business district known as Canary Wharf. It’s 10am on a Monday and I’m waiting nervously in the reception of The Daily Red-top. The receptionist, a pretty young woman with a little too much fake tan, is chatting away to someone about her new hair cut.
After a while HR meet me and take me upstairs to the newsroom. I’m given my log-ins and told to “go over to that computer.” There’s no introduction, no tour of the office. I ask around and determine that I’m sitting at the ‘Content’ desk, what otherwise used to be News and Features before they fired a few people and combined the two. I look around and notice how shabby everything is. There are newspapers everywhere and stuff looks old. I remind myself that I was probably quite spoilt at The Broadsheet so not to cast judgement. I then get my first piece of work.
“So, you know how Engelbert Humperdinck is going to be our Eurovision entrant?” the girl next to me asks. I nod. “Well, I’m doing a feature on him and I think it would be good if we could find out if he has a love-child. Can you do some research for me?”
‘Welcome to tabloids!’ I think to myself, and promptly begin a nice little Google search of ‘Humperdinck’s love child’.
Turns out he has one. From back in the 80s. She made the news back in 1994 after what I assumed was a failed attempt to sue her father. She was having to do a spread in Playboy to pay her way through university. Unfortunately I find no photos so I don’t know if she ever did the shoot. I tell this to the girl next to me. “Great!” she smiles. “See if she has a Facebook account. We could try and get some pics!”
After about 10 minutes, it occurs to me that in the first hour of my experience at a tabloid, I’m already trying to hack into someone’s Facebook account. I stop. “Excuse me, sorry, is there anything else I can help you with?” I ask the girl. Not really, is the reply. I spend another hour searching for his other love children. He doesn’t have any.
It is then that the Content Editor walks over to me. I almost have to do a double take he’s THAT much of a tabloid hack stereotype. He’s short, middle-aged and overweight, his beer gut almost poking through a shirt that many years ago used to be white. He’s slightly greasy and looks at me through dirty specs. He’s balding and I noticed there’s no wedding band. “I’ll send you some press releases,” he barks. “Write them up for me. Six pars, you know, sentences.”
I nod a little too enthusiastically for the task but the truth is I’m quite excited. Boom. Okay, so it’s writing up press releases but my uni lecturers have taught me well and armed me with the skills to go beyond the PR and actually find a story.
The first press release is from Starbucks. It’s entitled “50% of British women would rather go without sex for a week than go without a cup of coffee.” I sigh. This is not what I was expecting.
I work on that for a while, manage to get a few lines out. I like it. It’s not news-sy, but it’s quite entertaining and I’m proud of my effort. I send it over. Ten seconds later the guy is back at my desk.
“So, what? It’s all about coffee?” I look at him and try to gauge if he’s joking. “Yes, sir, it’s from Starbucks. You know, Starbucks coffee?” He stands there looking over my shoulder at my screen. “Would you like me to find another angle?” I ask. “So it really is just about, like, lattes and stuff. What’s this sex bit?”. I explain they did a survey and apparently 48-point-something per cent of British women prefer lattes to love. He stands upright. “Oh. Right. Well that’s disappointing. Okay, well scrap that. I’ll give you another one.”
Press Release Numero Dos looks a little more interesting and after working some magic on that one, including calling up people from related institutions and getting some really good pull-quotes, I submit the story. It never makes it into press.
Needless to say, after 1.5 days there, and after a particularly rude-word filled editorial meeting – which included the Content Editor using the ‘c’ word a little too often – I walked out.
So, lesson learned? Yes, do believe the stereotypes. And no, I’m not cut-out to be a tabloid hack.
…To be continued…