Two months in as a trainee reporter
June 11, 2012, 8:00 pm
Filed under: Journalism | Tags: , , ,

There was a time when I posted every day on my blog but I realise two months has passed since I posted last. Since I have entered the whirlwind world of reporting and spent spare evenings chasing fire engines and sitting through long council meetings, the blog has somewhat taken a backseat.

But I stumbled across some more childhood letters which I know people enjoy so watch out for more of those coming up soon.

My first two months have been brilliant – I love my job and I love being a reporter. No day is the same and the job entails learning new things every day.

Here are some snippets of what I have been up to since I started.

This is a story that started with a tweet..no bird pun intended.


It’s great how just one call following up a simple tweet can unveil a really interesting story that results in a happy ending: http://www.getbracknell.co.uk/news/s/2112768_raven_found_after_escaping_during_metallica_video_shoot

I am going to include this one because my cousin, Catherine Barnes, who is a journalist who inspired me to take on this line of work, loves the top line.


Here’s the coverage of my first time a body has been found in suspicious circumstances, there’s a few more articles on Get Bracknell if you search on the site:


And a court case that proved pretty interesting:


This was quite an intriguing find in some council minutes


as was this: http://www.getbracknell.co.uk/news/s/2114504_50000_bid_for_just_400_council_homes

And I have done a couple of features/videos too:




Oh and a Lenny Henry interview:


Ok that’s probably enough for now!


I’ve got a job! My ten top tips for getting a job in journalism

When they say a lot can happen in a week, they ain’t lying!  The past week has been a whirlwind.

A week ago I went for a job interview in Reading and the next day I was delighted to find out I had got the job.  Four days  and 11 room viewings later I had found a great room with nice housemates, walking distance to work and today my deposit is paid and I’m all set to move in a week on Monday.

I’ve been given details of my job – trainee reporter on the Bracknell Forest Standard and patch – Crowthorne.  I can’t wait to get stuck in to my patch and build my contacts book.  There’s another trainee reporter starting the same week too and he’ll be working on the Wokingham Times.  Any stories send them our way.

Here are my top tips for getting a job:

1) Apply for every role and be prepared to move to get a foot on the ladder – if the job is far from home then point out you are willing to relocate on your CV or cover letter.

2) Make your cover letter sparkle and your CV clean without mistakes.  The editor or news editor will be sifting through potentially hundreds of applications so you want to make yours stand out.  This is the first chance for them to read your writing so make sure it is concise, engaging and without mistakes.  Get someone else to proof read it as a spell check doesn’t pick up the difference between ‘affect’ and ‘effect’ or whether you’ve used ‘your’ or ‘you’re’ correctly.  For a cover letter, read the job description and then use the cover letter to explain how you fulfil each of the requirements.

3) Get your 100wpm and have a full, clean driving licence.  For one job that got more than 100 applications recently, the first way they narrowed down CVs was to cut out anyone without 100wpm.  Also, I would say it is essential to have a driving licence as so many newspapers have relocated to out of town offices that you need to be able to use the pool cars.  If you have a car, even better but not essential.

4) Use your blog and Twitter regularly.  If you want to work on a local paper, they will be interested in what input you, as a young journalist, can give to the newspaper’s future, which is increasingly through digital and online content.  Being proficient with Twitter and other forms of social media shows that you can bring something to their paper.  Your blog is an extension of your CV and you can use it to collate all your published work in one place and showcase your writing.  If you show you have the discipline to regularly write a blog and keep it up-to-date then you show you have the capacity to work independently on copy for their paper.  When I went for my job interview in Reading, I had handed my portfolio in to be marked, but I directed them to my blog, which has all my published work and more.  I think this worked even more in my favour.

5) Fill your job seeking time with as much work experience as possible.  My opening line for my cover letter was: I finished my course on a Thursday in December, and on the Monday I was sitting at the news desk of my local paper with a pad full of story ideas.  The Reading Post people liked the fact I showed I was actively seeking experience from the word go.  I know it is sometimes disheartening to be uncertain of what happens next but trust me, I feel so ready for my first job after four work placements one after the other, since the course.  In fact, I am grateful to have worked on four very different papers already as it has built up my confidence and has thrown me in at the deep end.  (I feel I could walk up to anyone with the number of vox pops I have done in two and a half months!)

6) If you get a call for a job interview, remember this is the first time to demonstrate your amiable telephone manner (an essential journalism skill.)  Make sure you get all the details correctly as you would as a good journo and if it’s somewhere out of your area, ask them to post you copies of the paper to read and study before your interview.

7) Read the paper.  Although some employers may be aware that you might have picked their paper because that’s where there’s a job, make sure you read the paper.  They might ask you what you think of the paper and they will want you to have a grasp of the news that they cover.  This completely varies.  For example, when I did work experience on the Western Morning News, there is a big interest in farming stories and breweries are common.  Whereas somewhere like The Argus in Brighton has a very mixed demographic and would cover everything from the gay community to Brighton and Hove Albion, as a promising football team.  Remember though that the most important thing is stories that affect the most people, especially if it affects their back pocket (money).

8) Story ideas will come from reading the paper, but I would definitely prepare a list of story ideas to take to interview.  Think outside the box.  Facebook and Twitter are great sources of stories if you search through Tweets.  I also check the small ads in the paper and council websites as starting points.  I would also arrive early to the interview and look around the area for story ideas.  The best way to find stories is to be out and about in the area.  You might spot an ad on a community noticeboard or something might be right in front of you.  On work experience on the Surrey Mirror I saw piles of strewn donations outside charity shops and wrote a story on that, and on the way to my interview last week I saw a police car and ambulance attend to a motorbike crash, so I took the details of that with me to interview.

9) Lose your inhibition and showcase yourself.  Give a confident handshake, smile and be yourself.  If you don’t get it, maybe it’s just not the right job for you.

10) Come prepared with questions and be prepared to be tested on your media law on the spot and even sit a reporting test.

Good luck!

Two page leads in The Argus today

As my first week at The Argus comes to a close I have had quite a few panels in the paper.  I am pleased today to have two bylined page leads which are stories I found myself.

The first one was a response to this week’s Cancer Research figures that 160,000 children aged 11-15 start smoking every year.  I investigated this for Brighton and Hove and found the shocking figures in a big NHS health report that children as young as 9 were lighting up.

Here’s my story: http://www.theargus.co.uk/news/9552995.Nine_year_olds_regularly_smoking_in_Brighton_and_Hove/

The second one I found online by conducting various searches of Brighton online and on Twitter.  This led me to the Brighton Society website where I found that the organisation had appealed for a street name change.  I looked into this and spoke to the council and the ward Councillor to find out how much this would cost and what they thought.

Enjoy:  http://www.theargus.co.uk/news/9552949.Laine_or_lane__Brighton_street_name_controversy/

Also the best news of the day is that a double page spread I have worked on is eligible for my PA feature for my portfolio.

So let’s hear it for the weekend, woop woo!

Ten top tips for journalism work experience
February 22, 2012, 8:25 pm
Filed under: Journalism | Tags: , , , , ,

I am doing work experience at The Argus in Brighton at the moment.  It’s my third work experience since my NCTJ finished in December and I am loving it.  I’m working on lots of my own stories and trying to find new leads all the time.  Shorthand has been invaluable to me when I’ve gone to court and when I’ve interviewed people.

Here’s my top tips for work experience on a local paper.

1) Go in there with at least three story ideas a day, minimum.  Otherwise you’ll be stuck re-writing press releases and hardly get anything for your portfolio.

2) Be creative with where you look for stories, think outside the box. Ask your friends.  Follow up every potential lead.  Utilise Facebook and Twitter to search for stories and ask questions.

3) Be confident.  You might feel like you’re in the way but you have to get through that and make yourself known.  If you have your own story ideas, ask the news editor or another reporter whether they think your ideas would make a good story.  Ask to sit in on conference.  Introduce yourself to everyone.  Remember their names.

4) If you don’t know ask.  Ask questions and listen to the answer so you don’t have to ask again.  Write it down so you don’t forget.

5) Take opportunities.  If another reporter is going to court, ask if you can go with them.  Listen out for news editors looking for someone to take a story and you may end up going to court on your own and getting a cracking piece for your portfolio.  Always answer the phone at every opportunity.  Smile when you talk and be confident and get the details right.

6) Get a copy of the style guide and use it before you ask silly questions.  If in doubt, look for an example in a recent copy of the paper.  For example: do they say Maureen Fisher, aged 50 or Maureen Fisher, 50, it’s quick and easy to find a story that will give you the answer.

7) It may sound obvious, but read the publication.  Get a feel for what stories they are doing at the moment and how you could develop those stories.  Even if the reporters are following something up, you can always ask the news editor if you can check your news nose is working by running past them what you think are the important follow ups.

8) Look at national press every day and think how a national figure or story can be localised.  The news team will be able to help you with advice on who to contact for local figures and statistics.

9) Ask for feedback.  Look at how your stories are tweaked and learn from it.  Write down everything you learn and take note of how they make any changes for house style.  If in doubt, ask for an explanation.

10) Smile, be polite and make tea.  It’s important to get your face known so make sure it’s for the right reasons.

Work experience on a local weekly newspaper after a fast-track NCTJ journalism course

I’m about to finish my first work experience placement after my NCTJ course in Brighton.  I finished the course on the Thursday then on the Monday I was sitting at the news desk with my pad full of story ideas.

It was good to get stuck in so quickly and I have been very lucky to have worked with a small and friendly team, where the editor and all the staff make tea for the whole news desk.  (I expected that to be my job!)

I’ve done work experience before but it was completely different now that I understand media law and the structure of local government (well just about.)

I spent my first day in court and here’s the stories I scraped from the barrel that day….enjoy! (It was nice to sit at the press desk as opposed to the public gallery.)

P.S. In other news, I have got access to This Festival Feeling to fulfill my recent role as news editor so daily news stories have been going up for a few days and will continue to do so.

19/12/11 – Story 1:

A Parkinson’s sufferer who smashed into the back of a police officer’s car was fined £48 and given six penalty points for careless driving.

Anthony Patrick Lea, 49, of New Ruttington Lane, Canterbury pleaded guilty to the July 22 incident at Canterbury Magistrates’ Court on Monday.

Julie Farbace, prosecuting, said Mr Lea hit the vehicle when it was behind a bus stopping at a bus stop.

The emergency services were called but there were no serious injuries.

In a letter to the courts Mr Lea said: “I didn’t mean to have an accident.

“I apologise for my actions and to the officer who got injured.”

Mr Lea has since stopped driving on the advice of his doctor but has retained his licence.

19/12/11 – Story 2:

A man on licence for possessing thousands of pounds worth of drugs was ordered to pay £85 costs for two charges at Canterbury Magistrates’ Court on Monday, December 19.

Ahab Halim, 35, of Downderry Road, Bromley pleaded guilty to having 13.6g cannabis resin and 10.27g cannabis with intent to supply.

Julie Farbace, prosecuting, said Mr Halim was seen on a bicycle with no lights by two police officers in Herne Bay High Street at 11.30pm on March 17.

He beckoned to them and when they smelt cannabis, he admitted possession of the Class B drug worth £150 and said he had sold £40 of the drug that night.

Anton Walden, defending, said Mr Halim had “left his old life behind” and was reconciled with his partner and nine-year-old daughter.

The charges were made before he received his current sentence and since then he had taken on the role of house-husband.

Mr Halim received a 12 month conditional discharge with £85 costs as the magistrates recognised “a change in home circumstances and attempts to turn your life around.”

More to follow!

Interview: Scarlett Wrench, NCTJ Student Journalist of the Year

Scarlett Wrench has just won Student Journalist of the Year at the NCTJ Society of Editors Conference today.  She is 22, from Burgess Hill and studied at Brighton Journalist Works.

I interviewed her about this prestigious award and will publish the article I have written for tomorrow’s Argus on my blog tomorrow.

Congratulations Scarlett. How does it feel to win this award?

I’m very flattered. My award entries were stories I wrote while on my internship with the Crawley Observer, one of my local papers. I owe a lot to the people I was working with there for trusting me to take on some of the bigger stories – rather than just leaving me to make tea and chase up missing cats.

Who was the first person you told when you found out you’d been shortlisted?

I was with my Mum when I found out. She’d been eyeing up the letter for a while, clearly having guessed what it might be. I had no idea what the letter was for when I opened it, so there was no dramatic build-up.

How will you celebrate?

I’ve had a bit too much to celebrate recently – my new job, leaving home for the first time, turning 22… I’ve brought my Grandma to the awards to thank her for paying for my journalism course.

How were you at school?

I was a bit of a swot. I took my work very seriously – maybe too seriously! I wouldn’t say that I enjoyed school and I’m definitely having a better time now that I’m out of it, but I think I made the best of things while I was there.

How was your time studying at Varndean College?

I was a member of the journalism society (there were only two of us, it really wasn’t a very popular club) and I used to draft press releases about college goings-on and send them to the Argus.

What made you want to become a journalist?

I’d probably been reading too many books and had an idea that a career in journalism would be all Hemingway and Hunter S Thompson. Then I went to work on a local paper and quickly realised it wasn’t going to be much like that. Journalism is long hours in front a computer screen, looming deadlines and re-writing the same paragraph five times in one day. But I love it and I don’t even remotely regret going down this path.

How is your job working on Men’s Health?

I love it. It still feels slightly surreal sometimes, to have landed a job like this at a time when finding work is so difficult for people my age. I’m working quite long hours and the commute is a bit wearing, but it’s well worth it. And no one takes me any less seriously because of my age or lack of experience, which I’m grateful for. I’m enjoying the opportunity to work alongside so many talented people and for a publication that has a real chance to affect people’s lives. I’ve always been more drawn to men’s magazines than to magazines aimed at women. On the whole, men’s mags just tend to be funnier, more varied and a little less patronising – I don’t know why that is and I hope it’s not always the case.

What would be your best piece/s of advice to any aspiring journalists?

Get out there and do it. Don’t just learn about it. Get some real-world experience.

What made you choose the NCTJ route rather than university?

I didn’t want to be out of work for two years and end up saddled with a load of debt. I studied for my NCTJ part-time, so I was able to work about 25 hours a week in my local pub at the same time. It helped me retain some kind of independence.

What would you say to anyone thinking that maybe the university route isn’t for them?

Well, I’m no expert, but I think anyone would agree that so long as you work hard, stay focused and persevere in whatever it is you want to do, you can’t go far wrong.

What grades did you get on the NCTJ course?

News Writing was a B. All the others (Law, Public Affairs, Subbing, and the Business of Magazines) were A grades.

What was your favourite portfolio piece?

At Esquire magazine they let me write the contents page for their November issue and it managed to make it past the editor with relatively few changes. It felt very cool to see that in print.

Where was your favourite place to do work experience and why?

Esquire. It’s a magazine I have always enjoyed and admired, and that’s where I caught the ‘subbing bug’. It’s also where I met Emily Miles, who is now production editor at Men’s Health and who recommended me for the job. I owe a lot to Emily and to Esquire’s chief sub Jeremy White for their advice and support.

What do you aspire to do in the future?

I’m not writing much at the moment because I haven’t had the time, so ultimately I’d like to strike a balance between subbing and writing… and maybe be a production editor myself in five years time.

Anything else you would like to add?

If it’s of any interest to you, before I went down the journo route I used to be the lead singer of a band called The Malchicks. In 2007 we released an album in the UK and America, and we toured Europe and Japan. I also worked as a backing singer for cult 60s R&B band The Pretty Things. I’m telling you this because The Argus ran a story on me and the band about four years ago… they might even still have a slightly moody photo of me standing outside Varndean college!

Thanks Scarlett.