Putting your best foot forward on placement

If past student experiences are any guide, completing industry placement with Seven West Media will help you decide whether the bump and grind of daily news journalism is a career for you.

And the first person you’ll meet – and are unlikely to forget – at SWM is Laura Newell, Readers’ Editor and intern supervisor. Western Independent asked Laura about how our students on placement can dazzle their hosts.

Laura Newell looks after Curtin J students on placement. Photo: Robert Duncan.

They say first impressions count. What impresses you when you first meet a placement student on day one?

A smile! Seriously, the first thing I note about a student is whether they can meet my eye and smile at me. If they can do that when they are managing first-day nerves, I know they’ll do just fine when out and about meeting people on the job.

What turns you off?

I’m never too happy if a student enters my office without having read that morning’s paper. Be prepared. I will ask you questions, and I will talk about the difference between online and in-paper presentations. You need to be aware of both. Anyone in our office will know if you are passionate about journalism based on how knowledgeably you can discuss the topics of the day. A true journalist reads for fun as well as for work.

That preliminary chat you always have with placement students in your office. What are you looking for?

Anyone who comes to do a placement with us will spend a lot of time with me on that first day. If you survive me, you’ll survive anyone! I’m really looking for someone who can interact effortlessly, with humour and humility, demonstrating their passion and general knowledge. A lot of that is demonstrated with the honesty of the answers students give me. It’s easy to tell if you aren’t being authentic, and anyone you interview as part of the job will be able to tell too.

You assign a student a story … what do you want to see them do straight away?

READ! Go take a look at what’s been written on the topic before, the background to the issue, or similar stories. Understand how we tackle such things and make sure you don’t go over old ground. As an added benefit, what you read might also give you some hints as to who to talk to for your story.

Are there any no-no’s as they begin work on that first story?

Don’t struggle on your own. We’re a team. Ask plenty of questions if you aren’t sure what you are doing, need some pointers, or simply need to get something straight in your own head before you set pen to paper.

What are the attributes you and your colleagues value most in young, aspiring reporters?

Passion and a preparedness to tackle absolutely anything, along with agility and reacting effectively to feedback. Sounds like quite the laundry list, I know, but the candidates who usually succeed are the ones who demonstrate all of the above with ease and a smile on their face as they do so.

Who’s more valuable in your newsroom … the gifted young writer with a quirky turn of phrase or the young reporter who never gives up?

There’s absolutely a place for both. However, I would say that the young reporter who never gives up can be taught to write. On the other hand, if you don’t have an inquisitive and curious nature, we can’t teach that.

There can be big egos in a newsroom so does humility count for anything when you’re on placement?

Humility isn’t just important when you are on placement. It’s something to bring to bear throughout your career. None of us knows everything about all topics. In fact, most journalists are conversant on a very wide range of topics, but expert on very few (or any, in my case). Knowing that we don’t know it all is imperative. It’s what drives us to asking more insightful, more useful questions of those who are experts in the field we are writing about.

But, more specifically for when you are on placement, humility is essential if you want to really explore the opportunity in front of you to its fullest. We open our doors to interns entirely. Nothing is hidden or off-limits, but that comes with the expectation that you will listen and take feedback in the manner in which it is offered up (to help you improve).

Laura Newell (centre) in her first year out as a journalist. Photo:supplied.

Placement students are often surprised by how helpful other editorial staff are at Seven West. Why are they so generous?

We’ve all been where you are now. We know what it feels like to be starting out in the industry and we all have memories of the people who helped us in the early days. But more than that, our placement students are the next generation of journalism. And, let’s face it, most people don’t become a journalist for the money or the fame, you join the profession because you value the importance of the Fourth Estate. Protecting the future of journalism, therefore, is of paramount importance to us. We do that by making sure the next generation flourishes. Also, on a purely selfish basis, we eventually want the very best students to join us here at The West as staff, so, it benefits us if you do well and come away from your experience exhilarated and excited about the future, wanting to join the team permanently.

As career opportunities go, how would you rate the placement program at Seven West?

I’m, of course, totally biased, but I think our placement program is industry-leading. When I first started my current role here at The West, the Editor in Chief asked me to expand our already hugely popular intern program. It got me to thinking about what my own experience at been like.

Mostly, I remembered scrabbling around either trying to persuade people to give me stories to work on and being given a dramatic sigh in return – as if it were all so much trouble to do so – or feeling ignored if I had my own ideas for tales having not been properly introduced to the staff on the paper I interned at.

In researching ways to sustainably expand our program, I spoke to other staff about their experiences interning to see if theirs matched mine. Many of them told similar stories. In addition, one of the biggest regrets, many said, was the lack of published material they came out with for their portfolio.

We’ve tried to learn from that, making sure that students get a chance to spend time in a variety of different departments along the way, but knowing they have a home base to come back to if they need a bit of extra support.

Our interns get a chance to work with our podcasting, photographic, business, sport, features and community news teams, at the very least. Once we receive a candidate’s CV and covering letter, we use the information offered up to personalise the program timetable for that individual. And if a department you were hoping to visit isn’t on your timetable when it’s sent to you, let us know and we’ll find a way to work it in.

But throughout your time with us, you’ll also have me on speed-dial. I am your main contact at the firm, and my door is open to you any time you want to chew the fat, ask a question, or get a recommendation on where to buy the best coffee in Osborne Park.

When it comes ensuring sure you get published, not only do the leaders in the teams hosting students encourage interns to bring their own yarns to the table, but they will also offer up ideas for coverage, too. No one goes home without having something substantial go to print. In fact, we have a long list of students who have seen their names grace the covers of our publications as a result of the work they have done with us.

In our office these days, I’m proud to say, when we ask a team to host a student intern, we don’t get an harassed sigh, we get a flurry of people keen to offer to work with them. Part of this is that our staff have learnt that students bring new ideas, ways of using technology and fresh passion to the newsroom, all of which we take full advantage of and highly value.

By the end of your time with us, not only do you have a portfolio stuffed full of work published by WA’s leading newsroom, you also walk away with a contacts book that’s bursting. Ultimately, I don’t think you could get a better foot on the ladder than that.

Categories: Advice, General

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