A Day in the Life of an FT Life&Arts Intern by Alexandra Coghlan

Thursday, 4 November 2010

“We live in Financial Times”, the FT’s slogan tells us. It’s a tagline that speaks with ever more urgent truth in a world of budget deficits and national debt. Writing on the eve of the announcements that will decide the fate of the UK’s publicly-funded arts institutions, it’s impossible to ignore the dependent relationship between national finance and its poorest of relations – the arts.

As a time to undertake an internship on the FT’s Life & Arts desk it’s a curious one, offering the chance to stand in the wings and observe simultaneously the backstage financial workings and the onstage artistic activity that they enable.

Mirroring broader trends, the Life & Arts team is a very small unit within the international FT machine. A veteran of faceless and nameless internships – you learn very quickly to respond to shouts of “Intern” or “You, in the corner” – it has been a relief to find myself part of such a close team.

Sitting in amongst the action and hearing the conversations and issues that pass across the desk (topics this month included a lively and implausibly protracted discussion of “vajazzling”, prompted by new TV series The Only way is Essex, which spawned not one but two separate conversational follow-ups) is an oddly educational aspect of the placement. You can follow stories as they turn from suggestions into commissions, and watch trends emerge from the disparate preoccupations of the travel, fashion, arts and books sections.

As to the work itself, it’s the usual artsy, none-too-arduous mix of tasks. Fact-checking becomes rather less mundane when the facts in question are the hottest restaurants and clubs in a hip Brooklyn district, or the precise locations of obscure Cambodian temples. Proofreading articles also allows you to see the progress of a piece from its earliest stages to final product, a development that exposes and explains the editorial priorities and preferences of the section more effectively than any conversation.

Pitching, writing or researching sidebars brings a welcome opportunity for you to craft your own topic and undertake your own research. With subjects this month including Stephen Sondheim and W.H. Auden, there’s a wonderful uncertainty as to what will come next.

We may live in financial times, but we also live in times that have produced the first internet choir, let all of us take our turn on Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth – an age willing to fill Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall with millions of hand-painted sunflower seeds (even if we’re not allowed to walk on them). What better time to spend in the FT office, where Life & Arts come as an inseparable pair.

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