It has been one week and six days since I finished my postgraduate diploma in print journalism. Actors are often found resting, architects are self-employed and journalists work freelance. So for the benefit of the landlord, prospective employers and my parents, I have been working freelance for the past 331 hours. In reality, I’ve spent 104 hours sleeping, 26 watching television (Big Brother may be tedious but I’ve still got to watch just in case it gets interesting) and 52 looking for, applying for, or being rejected for, a job.
Getting a good job in the media as a recent graduate is akin to actually getting that trial at Manchester United and not just knowing someone whose brother’s friend did. I have applied for jobs on publications as varied as The Guardian, Health Service Journal and Heating and Ventilating News.
Anyway, today it seems some of my hard work may be paying off.
I received a call offering me a trial subbing shift on The Business. Providing all goes well I could be looking at a regular shift a week, thus ensuring that, if nothing else, my rent is paid and I really am employed as far as my landlord is concerned.
This morning I woke up in a good mood. I know journalists are supposed to be cool and detached and avoid sentences that end in exclamation marks, but – Woo-Hooo! Last night I signed up the snooker player Ronnie O’Sullivan for an interview. Me, a lowly start-up, interviewing a real life celebrity – and my favourite at that.
Admittedly, turning up at a book signing event for his newly released autobiography wasn’t the most professional means of getting an interview, but it seems to have worked. And I don’t just need to worry about what questions I’m going to ask, I need to practise my trick shots because not only is he going to talk to me, he’s going to give me a snooker lesson.
Having spent the whole weekend trawling through papers and magazines to find the perfect slot for my Ronnie interview, I decide to pitch a “I-met-my-hero-and-he-was-very-nice-but-he-beat-me-at-snooker” version to Heat, Glamour and Now; and “I-met-my-hero-and-he-had-some-very-strong-views-on-Labour’s-crime-policies” to the Daily Mail and “I-met-my-hero-and-by-the-way-I’ve-got-blonde-hair-and-blue-eyes” to Loaded.
Today is to be dedicated to shorthand. Tomorrow I have to retake my 100 words per minute test. I need to pass at 97.5 per cent (the NCTJ standard for a distinction) to have any hope of a job on a local paper. This will be the third time I’ve taken the test having achieved 94 per cent on both the previous occasions. You think they’d let me off just a few words here and there.
Over the nine months I was a student I grew to loathe shorthand. It has entirely ruined my social life – people try to engage me in conversation and I go into a trance as I mentally transcribe what they are saying. Songs I love have been ruined by endless repetitive shorthand doodling of the lyrics. You know when you get a song stuck in your head and you keep singing the same bit again and again? It’s like that, but I’m singing in shorthand. I even developed a shorthand muscle on the lower part of my right arm.
I am working on The Guardian website travel desk this week. I have worked as a freelance sub-editor for The Guardian for the past year – it’s the main reason I was able to afford to be a student. Studying media law in my first semester I came out in cold sweats when I realised what a legal time bomb I had been.
Probably due to the good judgement of the news editor, I had not been asked to edit any court reports. Before I was enlightened by McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists, I would have thought it highly industrious to add a few tit-bits of background information on the accused’s previous convictions.
After this week I have no more shifts lined-up at The Guardian. I often wonder if I have peaked too early. Am I likely to spend the next 20 years trying to get back into the place where I had my first job? It’s a depressing thought that this may well be the pinnacle of my journalistic career.
My fears are heightened by the fact that my course mates are stealing all the best jobs. One has landed an internship on The Face and another is now a top hack on a local paper. One girl is even due to fly to New York to hob-nob with Wall Street bankers for a financial publication. And me? Today I had to suffer the ignominy of covering for the travel editor while he interviewed people for the job I have been doing for the past five months. I did apply myself, but didn’t get past the first stage. Fair enough, really. Apparently there was an error in the first line of my covering letter – I’d applied for the job of sub-editor rather than the advertised one of “subeditor”.
Got an e-mail from Loaded saying they are not interested in the Ronnie article – or my eyes.
On Wednesday evenings I meet with a group of fellow “freelance” journalists at a Freelance Forum. This is where we get and give instruction on selling stories.
Having managed to get this piece commissioned by Press Gazette I’m top of the class. That is until I smugly begin to tell how I did it. “Well I can spot one mistake straight away,” the teacher tells the group as I begin my tale of success. It is, apparently, not good form to approach publications for the first time via e-mail. My pleas of a poor telephone manner do not impress him. “Every journalist needs a plausible manner, that’s something you need to work on,” he tells me.
I spoke to Ronnie to arrange our snooker lesson and interview. It promises to be an interesting one – not least because he seems to be as interested in what I am going to wear as what I am going to ask. I wonder if he’ll be disappointed if I turn up wearing a snooker regulation bow-tie and waistcoat rather than a Wimbledon-style short skirt and vest.
Shorthand result: 95 per cent. Oh well, pick yourself up, dust yourself down and try again. Dammit, I’m singing in shorthand again. n