When I told my editor at Scotcampus Magazine that I had secured a week’s work experience with the Daily Record, she rejoiced and patted me on the back. Similarly, friends and colleagues congratulated me on Facebook. In terms of my early career, I felt as if I were sitting on a high.
I felt reasonably prepared for my placement. Having worked with various student newspapers for over eight months, writing and editing feature articles, reviews and interviews, I felt confident that I would be able to handle in-office tasks and looked forward to my entry into the world of national journalism.
However, when I turned up at the Daily Record offices in Glasgow, I immediately realised they were not as prepared for my entry as I was. I received a quick introduction with the Features editor and before I knew it I was scooped into a health and safety tour of the building, as far from writing articles as I could be.
After being told not to bring in my personal laptop, we tried and tested various other computers in the colossal office before I was assigned a desk. My editor for the week was friendly and encouraging but due to the nature of her busy job, I had very little contact with her. I respected her clear dedication to the newspaper and, though, feeling slightly out of place, I started to write an article which would later be published as a double-page spread.
I was thrown in at the deep end at the Daily Record. I wasn’t immediately handed an agenda, or a style guide, or even a task to start me off. Instead I struggled to operate their layout system on a Mac PC (I’ve only ever used windows) which resulted in me blindly composing a piece in an email without a spell-checker. (I trust you realise how daunting having no spell-checker is.)
Thankfully, my entire week did not continue to be as distressing. A Feature journalist invited me to accompany her to a story in Aberfoyle with a photo journalist. Together we toured a family-run farm out in the countryside, ending the day doing an interview with the owner for a major double-page spread due to be published that week. I watched the two professionals intently, picking up on their techniques and listening to the way the writer asked questions before I piped in with one or two of my own.
Inspired by the professionalism of the outing, I returned to the office the following day and made serious headway in the article I started at the beginning of the week. The journalists I did get to speak to were kind and very encouraging, especially Anna Burnside who took me under her wing in the crowded staff canteen and brutally outlined everything wrong with my first draft.
My ears enjoyed discussions of tabloid narration, language, why not to use excessive imagery and metaphors, what Daily Record style is and how to combat my biggest obstacle – shorter sentence structure. Altogether, tabloid features must be informative, intriguing, punchy and loaded with quotes. I keeled over a little at the prospect of this in the beginning – I write many lengthy accounts of things and no one had ever urged me to do otherwise. But now, I practise these tabloid techniques regularly and feel confident writing in both styles.
Although at the beginning of the week I felt like a fish out of water, I ended the week on a high with a large piece in the newspaper and a tool kit of advice from journalists I’d spoken to. Being in a professional, fully-operational newsroom I realised that no one will offer you answers, solutions or tasks in the big, bad world if you don’t go looking for them yourself. I also learned that while I might not feel entirely confident in my abilities yet, I must convince others otherwise to make sure I stand out – ‘fake it till you make it’ springs to mind.
I am eternally grateful that the Daily Record didn’t spoon-feed me tasks and set deadlines. It’s taught me that in writing we get out of it what we put in – a valuable lesson which I can now apply to all aspects of my life and career.