Press Cadets: 'A rewarding mix of hard work and luck'

The Press Cadets scheme, launched last year by Press Gazette in association with Camelot, gives two young journalists the chance to land an £18,000 12-month contract with this magazine. But there's the small matter of a tough Apprentice-style competition to get through first. Here, last year's winners explain what could be in store.

Lou Thomas

The Press Cadets application process was a great audition for a year of banging out news at Press Gazette. Like reporting for real, it was an uncompromising but rewarding mix of hard work, waiting around for people to get back to you and good luck.

The tasks themselves got progressively harder, though I had a bit of a leg-up with the first. Having spent years at uni as music editor of our student mag and being an obsessive tunehead, writing an NME review and relevant page furniture wasn't too much of a stretch. By the final task at the Telegraph, I felt that any of the four finalists could have won (the other two, far from Pete Best anonymity, landed places on Trinity Mirror's training course and Take A Break respectively).

Waiting around each week for the phone call to confirm my progress was an experience I must equate with watching those vomit-inducing TV ads that feature amateur or child singers crooning pop songs.

But finally, at Halloween last year, I waited all day for editor Ian Reeves to call, got cabin fever staring at my bedroom walls and went for a walk down the park to compose myself.

As darkness descended on the south London suburbs, I got the call, and poor Ian got a deafening earful of gushing thanks and expletives. Somewhat predictably, a few pints were sunk in Greenwich that night.

Before I started at Press Gazette, I never gave news much thought, wanting instead to write features and reviews. To me, news reporters were the tightrope walkers of journalism. I admired them, but I was buggered if I'd want to do the job.

For the first few weeks, I was only getting a few down-page stories in the mag and the odd page lead.

The tenacity needed to get quotes out of people was never a problem, but weighing up the news value took a bit of getting used to. But after a few months, the penny dropped and I finally started to understand exactly what the mag was about and what made a good story.

Since then, I've worked on so many big stories it feels like 1,000 years ago, but the time has slipped by so quickly it could have been last week. It's a good job lager ain't as addictive as news, otherwise I'd be in The Priory by now.

I've learnt more about how journalism works and how to actually do it than I ever could have imagined, shared many exciting deadline days and irreverent laughs with supremely skilled colleagues, and made some top-notch contacts.

I've talked to The Independent's Robert Fisk about dodging Israeli missiles, The Guardian's Gary Younge about shotgun-wielding Mississippi yokels, Times editor Robert Thomson about launching in the States, Observer editor Roger Alton about why newspapers are priced too cheaply, and Piers Morgan about how I may have seen the office copy of his book in a skip outside.

Zoe Smith

"Blimey, you don't half look rough," was the first reaction I got after entering the Press Cadets competition.

A friend who I'd worked with at The Observer had stumbled across my (admittedly unappealing) photo and mercilessly ribbed me. It was then that it struck me that working for the trade magazine for journalists might have its downsides.

The idea of entering such a public competition in order to get a job isn't something I ever thought I would do. It smacked a bit too much of desperation, and the likely humiliation of being eliminated in the first round and spending a month in a national magazine with a big black cross scrawled across my face was about as welcome as a fart in a spacesuit.

But the harsh reality was that after nine years of work experience, writing first for local, regional and then national newspapers, I was at breaking point.

I either had to land a staff job or jack it all in and get a proper job. Luckily McDonald's loss was Press Gazette's gain — I hope.

It's a terrible cliché I know, but it really is mindblowing how quickly the past 12 months have flashed by. Taking over the broadcasting pages was my biggest challenge — but also my most rewarding.

It's not the most straightforward patch to work, but I've relished the opportunity to work independently and create an identity for the pages.

During my first six months as a general reporter, journalists would contact me with tip-offs, but with broadcasting I had no contacts. My only option was to get out there and meet broadcasters at conferences, awards ceremonies, debates and the fantastic Frontline Club. Eventually I became the girl who would turn up to the opening of the fridge door, but I think it paid off in terms of stories.

The real luxury at Press Gazette has been the ability to develop as a journalist alongside some of the most patient people I have ever met.

Jon and Dom have put up with some spectacular screw-ups on my part, and no matter how busy they've been, they've always been on hand with advice.

I've enjoyed getting inside the heads of some of the influential people in media. Time spent with legends such as Sir Harold Evans, James Brown and Rankin really stand out. I still want to be a foreign correspondent and hopefully the skills I've developed at Press Gazette will stand me in good stead one day.

How to enter

Thanks to Camelot's generosity, Press Gazette is once again launching its search for great young journalism talent, and there's just one week left to get your application in to this year's competition.

The 10 initially successful applicants will be set a journalism task every week by one of the industry's best-known editorial teams — in newspapers, magazines or broadcasting. At the end of each task, two will be eliminated, or spiked, until just two remain.

See our appointments section for full details.

Deadline for applications: Thursday 21 September

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