Why getting good work experience isn’t the same as working for free

I felt it would be appropriate for my first post to look at work experience, since this is not only the way most people get their first taste of journalism, but it was Dave Lee’s blogpost on exposing the exploitation of journalism students that really got me thinking about starting my own blog.

After I saw his post, I emailed Dave to tell him about my excellent experience of working for the Borehamwood and Elstree Times, as did another student who had worked for the Sunderland Echo. I think this shows that while there are certainly some media companies around which rely on young journalists eager to break into the industry as a way of getting free labour, there are also plenty which take work experience seriously and give their interns more to do than just photocopying and making the tea.

 Work experience at the Borehamwood and Elstree Times

I spent a month on this local newspaper and from my very first morning, was writing features, occasional news stories and nibs and enjoying every minute of it. Even doing the obligatory vox pop was good fun and helped me get used to approaching people in the street and asking them to talk to me, which after all is a pretty useful skill for a journalist! More importantly, I got the chance to observe three really dedicated journalists who struck the right balance between being available to answer questions and offer guidance, but also giving me enough space to work out how to approach things on my own.

There are clearly a lot of journalists out there who take work placements seriously and go out of their way to make sure students actually get something out of the experience. This means the placement can actually do what it’s intended to do, that is give students a taste of what it’s like to work for a newspaper so they can make an informed choice of whether or not the industry is for them. I know I went home on my first day thinking ‘I can’t believe people get paid to do this’ because it seemed like so much fun, and I’m really looking forward to setting up another placement later this year and doing it all over again!

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