Grey Cardigan: Who put the workie in the cupboard?


This week, Press Gazette was nominated as the best work experience gig in the country by the Wannabe Hacks blog. How ironic then, that this should be an extract from my June column.

THERE’S been much debate over the use, or exploitation, of work experience kids and whether or not they should be paid. (Can anyone tell me why we started using American term ‘interns’?)

Alarmingly, the NUJ has managed to secure around a grand in back pay and holiday pay for an ‘intern’ who worked for a local news website in London.

The suggestion that we should have to pay these kids is absurd. We hardly have the money to pay our dwindling staff, never mind forking out for the chinlesss, dribbling fuckwit in the corner who just happens to be the son of one of our non-execs. It’s not as if he’s any use. He’s superglued to his mobile phone, speaks like Brian Sewell on acid and it took him three hours to fetch a simple lunch order from Gregg’s. The Bullingdon Club are welcome to him.

If we’re made to pay ‘interns’, then we’ll simply not bother taking any on. All that will mean is that students who might have talent and who would benefit from a spell in a newspaper office won’t get the chance of that valuable experience. And that would be a shame. Our last three trainees have come from the ranks of the work experience merry-go-round. Our best reporter was similarly discovered.

Of course, the key thing to discover about these kids on their first day is how they arrived at the Evening Beast. Are they there as a favour to a director or key contact, or are they merely state school riff-raff who’ve got lucky in the lottery of life? You then know how to treat them.

Now being in an industrial environment we don’t have to opportunity to send them to the stores for a sky-hook, tartan paint or a long weight, but there is still fun to be had from gullible youngsters. (Tell them that there’s no such word as ‘gullible’ in the dictionary for a start. They always go and look.)

Telling them that you’re taking them to doorstep a violent criminal is a good one as well, especially when you stop at some random house, bang on the door and then suddenly shout ‘Run!”.

Yes, I know we shouldn’t torment the poor mites, but if they can’t take a bit of joshing they won’t survive in a newsroom anyway.

It reminds me of when I wandered over to the newsdesk some years back to discuss an four-page supplement we were doing on the local NSPCC (that shows you it was years back; charity doesn’t even begin at home these days).

I pulled up a chair and sat down. The news editor, a hard-nosed old hack, looked up from his desk and said: ‘Morning, Grey. Fancy a brew?”

Why not?’I answered.

He swung round in his chair, opened the cupboard behind his desk to reveal a small youth crouched in the darkness amongst the notebooks and pens, and said: ‘You, boy. Go and get this gentleman a cup of tea.”

The youth scuttled off towards the big kettle, blinking at the bright lights, leaving me stunned and the news editor impervious to the curious situation.

What did you put him in there for?’I asked.

Who? Oh him. He’s on work experience and we haven’t got enough chairs.”

You can contact me, should you be minded, at thegreycardigan@gmail.com or follow me on Twitter: @thegreycardigan.

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