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Intern Diary: News writing at The National

In April, I did my first ever work experience writing for Scotcampus for two weeks in their Glasgow office. This internship was great because the editors at Scotcampus really gave me the creative freedom to come up with my own ideas and write in my own style. I honed my writing skills, I learned a lot (including a few techy tricks and some surprising grammar revelations) and developed my ability in writing good quality articles to meet a deadline. I have been writing for Scotcampus since around January this year so I was fairly clued up on the style of articles, set up of the website, desired content etc. and I had a head start going into the internship. But this month, I stepped into unfamiliar territory by doing work experience in news writing for The National, the Scottish national newspaper that supports an independent Scotland.

At the start of my degree, I wanted to stay as far away from journalism as possible. I, like most people, had a preconceived idea of what I thought journalists did and how they did it but when I started learning more about it at university, I realised my perception of the field couldn’t have been further from the truth. As time went on, I became a little disenchanted with the areas of my course I was expecting to enjoy the most and ended up throwing myself into journalism, writing articles regularly for anyone who would publish me. Writing feature articles and opinion pieces comes quite easily to me and I love writing them but the area of journalism I was least comfortable with was definitely news stories. There’s a certain formula to news writing that can appear straightforward but in fact it is quite technical and almost mathematic in its structure and I’ve always lacked a bit of confidence in that area.

I knew I could one of two things: try to avoid doing news journalism at all costs and stick to features, hoping I’d never have to do news stories again (unlikely); OR; I could suck it up and practise, practise, practise until I had mastered the strange craft of news. I decided on the latter.

So I decided to approach a relatively new publication but one I thoroughly enjoyed reading which was The National. As a Yes voter, the newspaper immediately caught my interest when it launched after the Independence Referendum and I loved the idea of a newspaper openly supporting an independent Scotland. All news outlets, even the ones who deny it, have a certain agenda or set of beliefs that they subtly communicate in their publication and I respected the fact that The National were being honest about their beliefs, rather than trying to push an argument without owning up to it.

After a few emails back and forth with the deputy editor, I bagged a week-long work experience placement at the Herald & Times HQ Building (also home to sister papers including The National) in Glasgow.

200-Renfield-StJPGWalking into the huge newsroom on my first day actually wasn’t as daunting as I was expecting it to be. The low buzz of typing on keyboards, rustling of freshly printed newspapers and chatting interspersed with phones ringing was almost calming and as I was shown to my own little desk, I soon felt at home. Having said that, the first day was still a little scary because as I say, news writing wasn’t my strong suit and I wasn’t too sure how the editors at The National liked things done. In the morning, we had a writers meeting where a group of around six of us would pitch stories for the next day’s edition of the paper. I had already researched a few news stories that broke that morning and had an idea of what I wanted to do. I started working on my news articles (checking my journalism lecture notes online a couple of times to double-check I was doing everything right) and by the end of the day, I already felt better about my news writing abilities.

Throughout the week, as well as writing stories I had found and pitched in the morning meeting, I was given a number of different stories to cover which was great because I love having something new thrown at me, thinking on the spot, improvising and trying something different. One of my favourite pieces from the week which was unlike any kind of article I’d done before was my world news profile on the New York Prison Break story which sounded suspiciously like the plot for the Shawshank Redemption.

Being at The National was also great experience because I got the chance to work on my interviewing skills. I got to talk on the phone with SNP MP Chris Stephens for my piece on Majid Ali, the Glasgow student who was deported back to Pakistan despite fears he could be killed upon return. And for my last piece of the week, I had the opportunity to meet and interview the lovely Tracy Anderson to talk about her innovative new photography collection that aims to bring an end to mental health stigma.

Doing work experience for any publication but particularly for a national newspaper is really all about what you put into it. An intern could easily sit at their desk during a work experience placement at The National and do nothing at all because being in a live newsroom is not like being at school; no teacher is going to be on your case to finish your tasks or sit down and go through everything with you until your work is perfect. For the most part, you’re left to your own devices and expected to work independently which I think is a good thing because if you want to be a journalist, that is what your every day working life is going to be like.

Now that my work experience is over, I feel so much more confident with writing news stories. Before this week, it would take me quite a while to type up a news story that I would be happy to submit to my tutor for an assessment but I hadn’t even written a news story for my university paper before, simply because I wasn’t confident in it. And now, my first proper news story was published in a national newspaper which is pretty cool. I received great feedback on my last day and I was quite sad leaving on Friday afternoon knowing I wouldn’t be becoming in to pitch my latest ideas the next morning. But I took a lot away from the experience and I think it’s really helped me with an area I doubted myself in before.

If you’re an aspiring journalist looking for somewhere to do work experience, I couldn’t recommend The National highly enough.

You can find all my articles with The National on my author’s page on their website.

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