Press Cadets task three: Daily Mirror

ANOTHER WEEK, another iconic news organisation. The cadets still remaining after the Time Out and ITN challenges found themselves on the 22nd floor of Canary Wharf in the features department of the Daily Mirror.

After topping the previous week's challenge, Debika had been offered a job at CMPi's Building magazine. After due deliberation, she had opted for the "bird in the hand" option and reluctantly retired from the Press Cadets competition.

That left five, who found themselves faced with a stern brief from editorial manager John Honeywell and deputy features editor Shiraz Lalani. They were each to file, by 5pm, a feature targeted at page six of the following day's paper — a 600- to 800-word backgrounder on any subject of their choice, done in the Mirror's style for that page — and come up with a suggested headline and image for it.

They'd be judged on both the strength of their idea and the quality of the copy they produced.

Patrick's was fatally flawed. He'd chosen as his hook the 40th birthday of Britain's most famous and best-loved soldier, Action Man. I suspect he was swayed by the fact that he already had some background knowledge of it from a contact he'd cultivated during work experience on the Yorkshire Evening Post, but his basic problem was that the actual anniversary had already been and gone — for a daily newspaper, no use at all.

Louise's piece was hooked on a new report by the Public Accounts Committee that showed how many crimes are being committed by criminals released from prisons early wearing electronic tags. The idea wasn't bad, but she was let down by the execution. Honeywell felt it to be "not much more than a breakout for a news story, and lacking in detail" and didn't move the story on from the facts.

Rory had noted that the publication date would be Friday 13th and had pitched his piece as a light-hearted look at superstitions. Timely and interesting, said Honeywell, but "I felt like I have read this sort of thing dozens of times before".

With Rachel's piece on Fat Britain — another timely idea — he thought the facts were presented in random order with no logic or sequence, and she failed to note the most newsworthy hook, that Britain is the fattest place in Europe.

Best of the ideas was Tony's piece on cross-dressing, hooked on pictures of Michael Jackson that appeared to show him tottering around in high heels. Honeywell felt the piece would work better as a picture spread than a page six, and that there weren't enough surprising or subtle examples, although the piece was "the most likely to get into the paper".

Patrick's error had left him bottom of this task. But after careful thought, I felt he'd done just enough in the two previous challenges to spare him. It was a tight decision, but finally the axe had to fall on the cadet who finished just above him this time, Louise.

So, any last words?

Debika: "Withdrawing from the scheme and the possibility of acquiring such a prestigious and sought-after position was a difficult decision, but ultimately, because of the lengthy interview process and the risks involved, I couldn't turn down a concrete job offer. I've greatly appreciated the opportunity to take part and hope my experiences as a Press Cadet will help me in my future career."

Louise: "I found the Mirror task challenging, but we had plenty of time to complete it, so that was a bonus. I picked my idea quickly, but in hindsight I wish I had spent a bit longer looking at the style of page six. I realised when I heard everyone else's ideas that mine was the least likely to appear in the Mirror because I had chosen too heavy a topic.

I enjoyed the process, especially the ITN task. I got a job on a local paper the day after I got knocked out, so that softened the blow. I start in two weeks."

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