My first ever day of work experience ended with my employer telling my parents I’d passed away. I was 15 and school had made it compulsory for all Year Tens to have a week of work experience; in my case, at Charnwood Forest Veterinary Surgery. After 30 minutes of standing in a stuffy, chemical-smelling consulting room, I was suddenly overwhelmed by that dizzy feeling usually associated with standing up too fast. Next thing I knew, I was thinking: why am I on the floor? Not only had I fainted, but on my way down I pulled a nearby microscope onto my head, causing it to break (the microscope, not my head). My parents were in for a shock when the nurses (incorrectly) rang to say I’d had a fit. Just before the (French) vet got “passed out” confused with “passed away”…
Back to present time, I spent last week on work experience with the Nottingham Post, which, despite the odd stressful moment, got off to a slightly better start. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but on instruction from family and friends I managed not to pass away or break any expensive equipment. The thing about journalism is it exposes you to every side of life. Suddenly cases of murder, theft and car accidents become real, and are no longer just stories on the news. A story of a little boy critically injured in a car accident meant I had to ask a witness for a statement. That was far more sobering than just seeing the story on paper or on the internet. On my last day I had to attend a court case about two men who had strangled another man with a belt and crushed his skull. I can still hear the judge coldly recounting how they had “felt the man’s skull crack”. But, I was told, a journalist must maintain a professional air.
There are certain traits of a good journalist that I really need to work on. Assertiveness, charisma etc. My “good journalist” traits, such as they are, were put to the test most days. Sitting at a computer alongside all the fully fledged reporters, editors, etc. meant I had to answer the phone like a proper journalist. I was told to explain to the caller that I was on work experience, and could they please give me their name and number so I could get someone of higher authority to call them back. However, my employers never told me NOT to pretend to understand everything said, get completely tongue-tied or anything like that.
The hardest thing was approaching people on the street. One day I had to get the bus to where the famous Riverside Festival was to be held so I could interview two people in charge and three locals about said festival. I spent the whole morning getting hopelessly lost, not finding anyone willing to talk to me, struggling to quickly write down quotes and generally feeling so stupid I was on the brink of tears. Another day I had to do a vox pop i.e. go out and badger six passers-by about their opinions on social media. I know that in their place, I would hate having some gawky looking student type interrupting my day to ask me questions, and as for getting personal details and a photo? I was out there for a very long time.
But despite all that, the week was pretty successful. I know this partly because I had six items published in the paper and partly because the feedback form people at the Post filled in summarised my achievements and described me as “very enthusiastic”. Yes, I was tired enough to be asleep by 10pm most nights, but I learned a lot, and I liked the people I was with. I had to get out there and do my job regardless of my own feelings and struggles, and I got the feeling that, in that sense, everyone there was just the same.