UK News by Tom Wills

Friday, 27 August 2010

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.


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