First Job in English - Meredith Haaf

Friday 6 March 2009

This isn’t just my first internship at an English paper, it is also the first time I’m ever going to actually work in the English language. I am from Munich, Germany, where I live. And although I have been working in journalism for a few years, being at the FT brings back excitement and a sense of exploring new territory. It might have to do with the impressive building which sits right on the South Bank, or maybe with the enormous, internationally staffed newsroom. And then, of course, there is this language thing.

I grew up speaking English at home and do most of my private reading in English, but there are still an amazing number of technical terms I am completely unfamiliar with. So when I was given a tour of the FT building on my first day here, I was nonplussed by words such as “sub-editor”. I am amazed to see that there is whole desk of editors who write up the FT in Mandarin and excited to find out that there are Spanish, Bulgarian and Indian editors who work here. For someone from Germany, where even second or third generation immigrants rarely get a chance to work in the media sector because of perceived language issues, this is a revelation.

It turns out that the FT has its own complex dialect. This is why I am flabbergasted in the daily editorial conference, when the head of the Markets desk starts his news analysis. Nevertheless I find it an exhilarating experience to watch all the in-charge-people get together, discuss current events and construct a newspaper which will be read around the world the next morning.

The adventure continues at the Weekend Magazine desk on the third floor. Quite soon after I arrive, the head of production – yes, I have figured out what that is in German – hands me a 6000-word article about a key player in US economics. “Would you fact check this please?” he asks and I am delighted to get going. Until I look at the text and find the content about as accessible as if it was written in Chinese. Numbers, technical terms and finance lingo abound – I am truly scared now. But after a while, I start to figure things out, am actually able to keep the billions apart and manage to fact check the whole thing by the next morning. Even though the editors seem apologetic for my having to do this relatively mundane work, I actually enjoy it and find it gratifying. At the end I’m quite pleased with myself – I feel like I’m starting to master more than just a new language.


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