How newsrooms can get the most from work experience

I was puzzled. Here I was, slaving away on a subbing shift. And there was this bloke sitting nearby reading the paper and drinking coffee all day.

What was his secret? Was he the editor? I found out later – he was on work experience. What a waste of time and talent – asking someone in and not giving anything to do.

Students arrive for work attachments with lots to offer – but often end up doing little. Here’s how to make the most of them:

• Show respect. They have come to work – for nothing. You’re doing them a favour – but they are doing you one.

• Don’t underestimate them. Some are competent reporters. Many will know how to use the internet and computers better than you.

•Have an initial meeting. Find out their experience and skills, and familiarise them with your procedures and staff. Then they won’t ask so many questions.

•Give them a computer and a phone. Why invite them if you cannot offer basic facilities?

•Don’t treat them as slaves. They will be prepared to make the tea – but make sure that’s not all they do.

•Plan their work, so they don’t sit doing nothing or get passed from one person to another.

•Make it interesting. Let them shadow someone different every day.

•Give them meatier jobs if they can cope.

•Appoint someone who can answer questions, take them to lunch and monitor them.

•Ask their opinion – they may have perspectives on stories and procedures.

• Develop your training skills – if you haven’t got the best out of someone on work experience, it might be your own fault.

• Use attachment to talent scout.

• Be gentle – you may scream at your staff, but not at attachment trainees.

• Conduct an ‘exit interview’. Give honest, constructive feedback.

• Fill out their paperwork before they leave – trainees may ask employers to complete a form.

Some publications take work attachment seriously and reap the rewards.

Dave King, assistant editor of the Daily Echo, Southampton, is about to become editor of the Swindon Advertiser. He said: ‘I had a bad experience of work experience at my hometown paper in West London when I was ignored and left to read the papers all week. I vowed I would do my best to ensure students I deal with came away with something worthwhile.

‘We try our best to ensure even the least-motivated students get a good experience.”

Ian Wood, assistant editor of the Manchester Evening News, got his first job as a cub reporter with the Evening Chronicle in Newcastle after a week’s work experience.

He said: ‘We are inundated with requests. I only accept one each week and insist they are already on an NCTJ-recognised course.

‘We expect them to arrive with a good knowledge of our paper and with several story ideas. It is stressed they must adopt a proactive approach and they are warned that it is easy to be overlooked in a busy newsroom.”

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