Interning at the World by Oladipo Salimonu

Friday, 3 July 2009

The Financial Times World News desk is the epicentre of the paper and its newsroom. It has more team members than does any other desk and is constantly abuzz with activity as stories and ideas are bounced around.

Joining it can be a baptism of fire for even seasoned journalists from much smaller papers. Coming from such a paper and with hardly any seasoning to speak of, I was to be at the desk for a month. I was not sure what to expect. I have always had a great respect for the paper and consider it the best in the world. And no matter what the folks at the New York Times say, I think they know it too.

My first day there started with a morning conference chaired by the FT editor, Lionel Barber. Held every weekday morning, the conference begins with Barber’s (or in his absence, deputy editor Martin Dickson’s) take on the previous day’s issue. This is followed by section editors giving their planned features for the three editions of the four regional editions that will constitute the day’s effort.

After the conference, I quickly discovered that being an intern at the World desk is akin to being in a bubble in the middle of New York’s Grand Central Station. Everyone is busy and you are not quite sure whether, who or how to join. I was called upon from time to time but spent more time twiddling my thumbs than gripping a pen with them. That was more my fault than anyone else’s, though.

The great irony about my stay at the FT is that the invaluable experience it provided me has nothing to do with writing or editing. I still do not know how the paper is produced, and maybe that is best. “Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made”, Bismarck’s maxim, comes to mind. I saw and heard page editors on the phone a lot but still marvelled the next day I looked through the paper as to where it all came from and how it ended up there. Like a Charlie Parker solo, I would tell myself, it must have simply appeared, fully formed.

As one who prefers business to journalism, the abiding lesson that I will take away from the FT is of how organization and well thought out systems make the impossible possible every day. So smooth and efficient is the process that an incredible product comes through daily but with a minimum of fuss. I found everybody at the desk very competent and genuinely nice. I appreciate newly the importance of smart and capable people to any successful, world class organization. It was a fascinating study in people, who work well with each other and can be depended on. Not uncooperative and unpredictable, like the faucets in the first floor men’s rooms.


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