Monday, 16 August 2010

Internships from hell: My experience

I thought long and hard about this blog post, just as I tweeted not a word about my predicament and remained open-minded and optimistic to the point of dishonesty with most people who asked how my internship at the Independent on Sunday was going. And I do realise that throwing into the blogosphere my contempt for a national paper will not do much for my future job prospects.

I can envisage my more diplomatic lecturers reading this post and shaking their heads: “So much promise,” they might be thinking. But if I can warn future interns of what awaits them, or even give a little bit of insight to the people who caused my distress, then it's worth sacrificing the very slim chance that one day the IoS may have come knocking on my door, begging me to work for them.

I should mention to all those aspiring journalists who are gasping in envy at the fact that I got myself an internship at a national paper that the extent of the screening process was calling up the right person and saying: “Hi, I'm a journalism student, I was wondering if it would be possible to do work experience with you during the summer.” And without further ado I was offered a month's unpaid work placement, which I had to politely decline in favour of a more reasonable two weeks, although even this almost bankrupted me, my only salvation being that national papers don't expect anyone in before 10:30 am so I saved myself the peak-time train fares.

I must say that in my limited experience I have found an inverse correlation between how easy it is to get an internship and how much you enjoy it. My two weeks last summer at the Brighton Argus, which had a similar system of giving away free work to anyone who asked, was enough to put me off the local and regional news industry for life. At the more selective Press Gazette I felt I learnt more than in an entire year of university; the Guardian, which demands CVs, clippings, and application forms gained me two published articles and much-appreciated free coffee; and I have high hopes for the New Statesman, which brought me in for an interview for their coveted internship.

But back to the Sindy. Day after day, in my usual pushy way I would ask for research, transcriptions, stories, tea-making or any other task that the news desk might need fulfilling. I was met with disdain and complete disinterest.

Although at first I assumed that it was a personal, after the first few days it became apparent that of the vast number of interns the IoS takes on, the majority spend their time browsing the web for ideas to pitch and subsequently get rejected without so much as a reasonable explanation. I say the majority because there were exceptions. Namely the Cambridge student who was interning for three months and the Oxford student whose parents got her work experience at the IoS at every available university holiday. They seemed to get quite a few bylines.

Not that there wasn't a highlight to my ordeal: I was sent off to a Quaker house (at my own expense, of course) to do vox pops with very friendly phtographer. Also, the cafeteria soup is cheaper than the Guardian's and the bread is nicer. But I wouldn't want to be inaccurate and infer that we were never given any work; on a couple of occasions someone would come over at 6pm with some 'urgent' research, and when explained two hours later that the information was unobtainable, it turns out that they were pretty sure that was the case already.

This is just my story of two very unpleasant weeks, but every day hundreds of aspiring journalists are put through terrible hardship in order to acquire this kind of valuable “experience”. And for what? In the hope that in the future they will be able to break into the industry. Fingers crossed they don't end up entirely disenchanted before their big break. Fingers crossed they don't pick the Independent on Sunday.