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Training Matters: Three lessons I learned on work experience

No journalist’s training is complete without a stint – ideally several-  in a newsroom on work experience. In the journalism industry, the best way to learn is often on the job.

There’s no doubt that working in a newsroom can be great fun, but there will also be pitfalls to watch out for.

You will make mistakes which are embarrassing at the time but, if you learn from them, it should mean you’ll never make them again.

So here are some lessons I learned while on placement which may save you some blushes:

  • Triple check your sources

While on placement I got an email from the city council to tell me that a local teenager had won a competition to be a backing dancer on Beyonce’s UK tour.

The announcement had already been picked up by a well-known women’s magazine so I managed to contact the girl in question who confirmed the story and chatted to me about the audition process.

Armed with what I thought was a feel-good local success story, I showed it to one of the more experienced journalists who thought it sounded a bit too good to be true.

He then contacted a source at the tour promoter who revealed the girl had made up the whole story. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

  • Always check the basics

I got a chance to interview a local man who had been on a chartered flight that was forced to make an emergency landing after an equipment failure.

He gave me some great quotes about what it was like and the atmosphere on the plane, and I was proud to have captured his emotional account in my developing shorthand.

I presented the finished article to my editor who immediately asked me what age the man was and if he had any children. I felt incredibly foolish to have missed out the human interest in a human interest story!

  • Know how to adapt your writing style

Student journalists usually have to be trained in the art of writing a succinct news report, concentrating on the key facts and never using 10 words when five will do. Colour is for features and not for the news. However, there are exceptions to the rule.

While studying for my NCTJ diploma, I was asked to cover a story about the former First Minister of Northern Ireland, who had been rushed to hospital with suspected heart failure, by a regional daily.

On the drive to the hospital, I started to fret about what to do if he actually passed away- he had previous health problems and was in his 80s – being only a partially trained journalist and the only person at the scene for the paper.

After three hours waiting with the rest of the press in the foyer of the hospital, it turned out there would be no updates or further reports on his condition from his family or on behalf of his party.

However, I still had a blank space in the latest edition to fill and I was at a loose end when I got back to the news room and discovered the paper already had every other angle covered with five pages dedicated to the life and times of said politician.

I managed to fill the space, with some help from the picture desk, but it showed me the necessity of being observant and adapting when a story doesn’t go as expected. For a fledgling journalist, being able to pad out a story can be as tricky as subbing it down.