UK News by Duncan Robinson

Monday 25 October 2010

Standing outside parliament in the rain is not most people’s idea of an afternoon well spent. But then most people don’t want to be a journalist. I, however, do and so interviewing protesters, listening to speeches and then hurriedly writing up the copy was my idea of heaven.

It was my second day of a two-week internship on the UK News desk and I wasn’t making tea or photocopying, I was producing journalism. I covered the TUC’s demonstration against cuts outside the Houses of Parliament. My story was just a NIB on page two, but it had my name on it and an extended piece went on to the website. A by-line on my second day was pretty good going, I thought.

My first day was rather more sedate. After a thorough tour of the offices and some brief introductions I was sent into news conference. In an office overlooking the Thames, the section editors of the newspaper dissected that day’s news stories and decided what would be the news that day.

When I arrived on my section in the middle of the afternoon, I became worried. The section editor warned me that interns tend to learn “by watching, rather than doing”. Gulp. Two weeks of boredom stretched before me.

UK News is one of the most frantic desks in the office, but that does not mean there will automatically be lots for you to do. You have to make your own opportunities. Speak to people on other desks. If you over hear someone asking a question, offer to find out the answer for them. You can make an introduction with a handshake, but you can make an impression if you help people without them even having to ask.

My initial low expectations, however, proved to be well wide of the mark. I was expected to pipe up with suggestions during my section’s news conference. I was sent out to get stories, not coffee. By day four, I had spent more time outside the office than at my desk. After reading horror stories of journalists chained to desks, churning out copy, working at the Financial Times has filled me with optimism. There is a future for quality, authentic journalism – and working at the Financial Times has made me want to be part of it.

Tickled Pink by Olivia Williams

Wednesday 6 October 2010

What do Caravaggio, Salman Rushdie, the British aeroplane industry and Belfast property development have in common? Well, they are all subjects of articles that I read and researched yesterday. This, for me, is the joy of the Books/House and Home internship here at the FT. One minute you’re reading Robin Lane Fox on keeping badgers out of the garden, the next you’re reading a review of a Spanish Civil War novel. Your work will mainly involve reading articles, checking them for style and factual content. As jobs go, reading about Sylt, which, for those who don’t know yet is Europe’s answer to Martha’s Vineyard, is a pretty pleasurable one. The reading material is wonderfully varied and you’ll become very well-informed about a myriad of topics. When you’re next trying to sound clever at a social gathering you can just launch into ‘Of course Caravaggio’s sense of inferiority, like Shakespeare’s, belongs to the dawn of religious scepticism and is nothing less than an existential exploration of whether we ever perceive or understand another human being’. You’ll sound very learned, as long as you rehearse sounding unrehearsed. For the intellectually curious, it’s a delightful internship.

Mobilising your charm over the telephone is another integral part of your work here. I have spent this morning trying to convince the CEO of John Deere over in Illinois, or rather the CEO’s ‘people’, to allow cameras into his house to photograph his favourite, very expensive, possessions. The saga continues…

Unusually for high-powered, busy people, the staff here are very friendly and are sure to take good care of you. I had only been sitting at my desk for a few hours on my first day when I was plied with Percy Pigs, Jammie Dodgers, ambrosial home-made brownies and tea. Everyone around me checked to see that I was happy on a regular basis. On Friday we’re going to be having a cupcake-tasting session. Although the atmosphere is buzzy and fast-paced, you won’t be dazed and confused and you certainly won’t go hungry.

I have done a fair few internships and placements in my time and I can assure you that, unlike many companies, here you will not be left to languish in a corner, nor will you spend the entire afternoon slaving over a hot photocopier counting the minutes until you can go home. Too often interns are just used as a free courier, barista or envelope-stuffer, but here you will actually get to use your brain. There is a great deal of current pessimism about journalism and its future, allow this place to remind you why you are persevering.

A View From the Bridge by Jonathan Moses

Monday 4 October 2010

I first realise I’m working at the FT when I enter Mahmood’s newsagents on a cold Saturday morning. This is not because the last two weeks weren’t spent at the office, researching, fact-checking and proof-reading, but because a strange name has appeared in this weekend’s edition: my own. Mahmood, remarkably oblivious, hands over the goods.

Week by week I uncover more and more alien artefacts in an otherwise smooth operation. Small biographies, travel details; lists and edits – everything touched by my hand feels like a mistake. Will Self describes writing primarily as an overwhelming sense of inadequacy - and the less you’ve written, the greater the inadequacy. I remember awakening the night before my first university article to haunted replays of contrived sentences, and imagine this paranoia must take some time to overcome at a national (and international) level.

Unlike the student press however, there’s a whole machinery in place to reign in misplaced enthusiasms, dodgy facts and stodgy sentences; a machine which, as an intern, you play a small but important part. Badly transcribed website addresses and dodgy apostrophes soon become life-affirming challenges, each a testament to your worth and ability. I’m even intrigued when my own duff phrases are politely reshaped by the editors… “I’ve just tightened it up a little…”

Those disposed to perceive the internship industry as a variant of post-modern slavery will at least be comforted to know nothing demeaning is in store – sometimes; people even bring you the tea. Even rarer, that consigning a month of unemployment support to oblivion is recompensed with skills contributing to your own life, not just your boss’s. And then there’s the free film screenings (at a Mayfair hotel, no less - “Are you reviewing this film?” “Well… I suppose I am…”)

Like many others who graduated this June only to find themselves heralded “the lost generation”, I entered post-degree life with a heavy heart and a bleak outlook. From the top floor of FT HQ, the view is becoming a little brighter.