On not holding your tongue: the Life & Arts internship by Celia White

Friday 27 August 2010

They say first impressions are everything. How about presenting to your Editor on your first day an image of a cow’s head with its tongue ripped out and hanging next to it on a hook? Needless to say this image, the fruit of my first bit of picture research, was deemed too repulsive to grace the front page of Life & Arts; but I believe the effort, not to mention the sentiment, was appreciated.

This may not give you a well-rounded idea of the role of an intern working for the Life and Arts section, but this may not be possible in any case given the range of tasks. Alongside proofreading, fact-checking and picture research, interns also liaise with the agents of potential authors, maintain lists of upcoming events and book launches, pitch ideas for sidebars and short features and carry out research for longer articles. Sitting in on scheduling meetings gives interns exposure to the inner workings of the paper. I have also learned to ‘tweet’, a verb which I never thought would apply to my daily experience, but which is in fact an interesting and crucial part of FT marketing.

The broad remit of Life & Arts means that you could be looking into anything: the traditional versus the modern fairytale; the specifics of recipes in the Moomins Cookbook; the concept of ‘slow’ literature (a project which is, ironically, taking a while). It’s an interesting and exciting role, with plenty of involvement and friendly colleagues that guide and advise you as well as praising when it’s due, and who make the most of your skills so that you always feel you’re contributing to the paper in a substantial way.

UK News by Tom Wills

Telling my friends I had secured an internship at the FT elicited a range of responses. One thought immediately of what she saw as the amoral, greed-driven world of banking and finance, and condemned me as guilty by association. Another asked if I would be wearing a pinstripe suit. But the reality of life at the Financial Times is a world away from any of these stereotypes.

I arrived at the UK news desk to a lively debate - not the validity of the recent bank stress tests, or austerity vs stimulus – but the merits of eating out of dustbins. Of course, the constant discussion that takes place in the newsroom more often takes in weightier topics, as I soon discovered. But FT journalists’ interests are wide ranging, as is their encyclopaedic general knowledge, and listening in on editorial conferences and the like has been fascinating and highly instructive.

This is not to say that I’ve been a mere observer. As previous FT interns have written, interns are regarded as part of the team and given
fantastic opportunities to contribute to the paper and work with reporters. The consistency with which the FT’s journalists turn ideas into authoritative, meticulously researched and well written stories in the space of hours is impressive, and it has been a privilege to play a small part in that endeavour.

This is my first experience of a daily paper’s newsroom and it is quite different from a typical office environment. In many ways the newsroom is organised as a production line. Articles move in turn from the desks of reporters, to section editors, to subeditors, before being sent either to a real production line to be printed or to the web. The nightly deadline imposes a mechanical imperative on a production process which is by definition unpredictable. News journalism is about creativity, human relationships and good judgment. The work is anything but routine, and it is amazing to see the skill and co-ordination entailed in marshalling these elements to schedule into a tangible product. I get a sense that this unpredictability is what makes the work of the newsroom stimulating (and challenging).

If any member of the production line falters – as is sometimes inevitable given all the variables – it affects the rest. This is where the constant discussion comes in, with reporters and editors collaborating on stories and negotiating deadlines. Occasionally this turns to friction but for the most part it seems to generate a sense of collegiality and egalitarianism. The latter is also a corollary of the culture of critical debate here that produces a level of journalistic rigour which few of the FT’s peers are able to match.

I’m very grateful for the encouragement, patience and advice the reporters and editors have given me, which more than anything else made the internship rewarding and valuable.

Markets Desk- Jun Evelyn Merrett

Scanning over the reams of unread analyst reports and notes in the Markets News inbox, I was desperate to find a great quote for the London Equities web report. I had little time to do this, as I soon learnt from my time at the FT, online journalism never rests. It was when I left ten reports in a row untouched because I knew which reports were useful, which weren’t, which analysts to look out for, and what all the codes meant and why, that I realised how far I had come after only a few days into my internship.

After spending three weeks on the Markets desk, I can confirm with a rigorous nod of the head that the internship at the FT is a hit-the-ground running experience. Only yesterday I was finding good, useable quotes from jargon and data packed sentences from analysts, updating the FTSE 100 report, over-writing the web reports, keeping an eye on what currencies were doing on the Reuters screen and writing a little piece for the currencies report for the next day’s newspaper. This was done all in the space of an hour, so you need to be able to cope with a heavy load, and prioritise accordingly.

Amongst many reasons why the FT internship stands out from all of my other placements and experiences at media organisations, it is a real learning experience. I’ve spent many weeks of my life sitting in a newsroom, feeling like a constant pest when I ask for the fifth time that day: “Is there anything you’d like me to do?” which would always result in the predicted “No…”.

However, at the FT you are guided by some of the best journalists in the industry. The guys on the Markets desk are all tremendously busy, but they make the time to show me and to help me and to show me again, with immense patience when I get it wrong the first time. It is a testament to them and the internship that I have learnt more about the markets in one day than I did in the weeks I panic-read all the dusty library books about the economy weeks before I started.

In this tough industry, the idea of being a ‘multi-media journalist’ is thrust upon us. We have to be as fluent in online as we are in print, and also know our way around a video camera. Yet not many places actually let you gain knowledge beyond emailing the editor your research. The production aspect remains an eternal mystery to most of us until we start our first jobs. Not at the FT. I am now confident in sub-editing, publishing online content, and adding Editor Choice links on Methode and Preditor- all this from someone who claims to be computer illiterate!

Interning at the FT has its obvious benefits. There is nothing like the feeling you get from being allowed to be a part (no matter how small) to such a prestigious newspaper, which is internationally renowned for its authority, accuracy and professionalism. You will get a crazy buzz when you are given your ft.com email address and you will feel honoured when you see your name in print and think of the dizzying amount of people who will read your words. You will feel privileged to be surrounded by such talented professionals, but be encouraged by their stories and their kindness.

But most of all, you will notice one random day in the middle of an ordinary task that has become routine, for example, when scanning analyst reports, how far you have come on your journey. You will notice a distinct change in yourself. A greater confidence, as those around you entrust you with important tasks. Improved writing or interviewing skills as constant practice under pressure makes perfect. And last but not least a true understanding of this industry and whether or not you should be a part of it.

This internship has been an invaluable experience and I am thoroughly looking forward in anticipation as to what the next two months have in store for me.

A month at Weekend Magazine by Meghan Davidson Ladly

Thursday 5 August 2010

I had barely sat down in my chair when I was given my first story to fact-check. It was late in the afternoon on my first day and getting into the work of the magazine so quickly was great. I was able to walk in on my second day feeling as if I was actually going to contribute to the production of the publication during my time here.

At some internships you feel as though you are doing predominantly menial tasks that don’t relate to your field. This was not the case with my experience at the FT. While I did do the occasional trivial task, like typing something up or photocopying, it was a very small part of my work. I came into the internship thinking there would be much more of that sort of thing and was happily wrong. Instead, I found myself doing a lot of fact-checking, and research with a bit of copy-editing, tweeting and runs for prosecco thrown in as well.

I am from Canada and I really wasn’t sure what to expect coming to intern at a paper in the UK, but I found the working environment here overwhelmingly positive. The FT Weekend staff are dedicated, talented individuals and any trepidation I felt initially about working here was dismissed by how genuinely friendly everyone was.

Being here in the summer has meant that I have been working with a changing group, as people take holidays.. While I would have liked to have had more time with some of those individuals, this has meant that I have been able to work closely with several core staff at the magazine. I have come away from this internship with a sound understanding of the work it takes to publish the magazine each week and regardless of whether I spent my day chasing people for interviews or trying to organize the delivery of a hydration vest from another continent, I always left the office feeling motivated.

As far as getting that elusive byline is concerned, I have been able to do some writing while I was here. While writing is not the focus of this internship, you should definitely come prepared to pitch ideas because they are expected and considered for possible articles. I also found the editing and advice I received for my piece was extremely helpful.

My time working at the magazine has been very rewarding. I am not looking forward to leaving on Friday, but this month has been a great experience.