Life & Arts by Hazel Sheffield

Monday, 30 November 2009

On the first day, tucked in the corner of a conference room at FT-headquarters watching Lionel Barber take the week’s news from each desk editor, there’s the realisation that this really is no ordinary internship. The blue suits are discussing the angles the FT will take on each of the week’s stories, mooting ideas and covering all bases – essentially making the news. And in the corner the interns are watching, wondering that their presence isn’t some kind of security breach.

The suits don’t venture much to the arts desk, where a somewhat steadier pace prevails. At Life & Arts, longer lead times and bigger pieces mean that there’s much to be done by way of researching commissions for journalists and subsequently fact-checking copy once it’s in. Life & Arts means food, travel, some style and all the regular diary/interview columns, so keeping ahead of forthcoming events and releases is essential to ensure the most relevant people can be commissioned for each. Sudden commands to please track down Michael Moore or Woody Allen are not, in fact, the impossible tasks they first seem!

Speedy, reliable work is soon rewarded. The commissioning editors are busy people, of course, but there’s a remarkable sense team-spirit and inclusiveness about Life & Arts at the FT, far removed from the fickle, snooty spheres of so much high culture. The support and encouragement of the staff writers goes way beyond the call of duty, and editors are keen to hear ideas and offer side-bars and smaller interviews to interns to write where appropriate. This is no tea-making exercise!

It takes a few weeks before the weekly routine of this cyclical operation starts to seem familiar, with Thursdays always particularly busy as Weekend gets rushed off to print. Almost before all the pages are sent, it seems, there are meetings to check on the progress of the next issues and keep all the desks on track. Seeing each issue come together from raw idea to colourful product is fascinating and pretty humbling, too.

The moment I realised just what the internship meant to me was on one very cold early morning, at a press conference at the British Museum. The other people in attendance – the editor of the Sunday Times, the controller of BBC Radio 4, some of the country’s best writers and journalists – were dauntingly important. I tried to be invisible by the wall while everyone quaffed coffee and pastries and talked about the future of the newspaper industry. The only person to talk to me that morning was Evan Davis, himself apparently playing the wallflower. “What do you do?” he asked. “I’m from the FT,” I replied, “but I’m just the intern.”

To get the chance to represent the Financial Times on such occasion and in such company was an honour, but experiences like that also give the aspiring journalist a much-needed taste of what could be. Here’s hoping one day I can drop the subordinate clause.


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