Executive editor, digital, at Liverpool’s Daily Post and Echo titles, Alison Gow, covers all the bases for journalism students looking to make the most of work experience placements at newspapers. What’s particularly good about these tips is their frankness – Alison has experience of working with those on placements, so this advice is first-hand and covers everything from how you can prepare beforehand to who to approach when you turn up.
Her advice on pitching stories is well worth a read:
The phrase to avoid is: “Is there anything for me to do?” Find out from the reporters what time the morning madness subsides on the newsdesk and, if you’ve been left to your own devices till then, make your move. Saying “I’ve got some ideas for stories but before I start those is there anything you want me to help out with?” sounds confident and bright. If you want to spend one of your five days working with a journalist or department you’re particularly interested in – like the health reporter, or the business desk – then ask. Also ask if you can attend at least one news conference, to see how the paper is planned.
Have some story suggestions, but craft them around what you know is making the local news agenda. So, if the previous week the issue of, say, residents complaining the local council was giving them different bins (like this) then consider how you could move that issue on. Lateral thinking is good; you don’t need to go down the vox pop route. You may aspire to the WSJ but if you’ve got a work placement on your local paper, about the important local issues. Also think about asking the picture or digital desk if they’d like you to do a video report or soundslide, or whether local environment/recycling statistics could make some nice cross-platform infographics – the multimedia skills journalism students learn as part of their studies give them an edge in many newsrooms, and abilities are remembered.