Tuesday, 16 August 2011
The one thing I never considered, though, was employing a trainee journalist to help run my business. But that’s what freelance education journalist Jan Murray has decided to do. Two days before this year’s A level results (fingers crossed for everybody), she’s written a piece for The Guardian, outlining her decision to become the first freelance journalist to take on an apprentice.
“I’ve decided to recruit an apprentice to assist me with research, transcription, developing story ideas and – once they have enough experience under the belt – possibly even the writing of articles,” she says.
“They’ll work for me four days a week and spend a day a week working towards a business administration apprenticeship at Harlow College... I want to give them as much hands-on experience as possible, so I’ll be taking them along when I go out to cover stories and, where appropriate, getting them to do some interviewing.”
Jan’s idea is an innovative one, and I’m sure loads of ambitious youngsters will apply, but I’m not convinced it’s the best way to train journalists. As she says, trainee hacks need to be accurate writers, possess good research skills and have “plenty of initiative and determination.” But I reckon these skills are best learned in the news rooms of local papers.
I did my training with a group of weekly newspapers in Devon, where I spent two years writing about flower shows, parish council meetings, golden weddings and village fetes. It wasn’t exactly cutting edge stuff but it taught me a lot of skills that I still use today. After eight weeks of learning shorthand (still essential for journalists), public administration (how local government works) and law (so we knew what we could and couldn’t report in the local magistrates court without committing contempt), we were let loose in the news room to do the job for real.
My worry with Jan’s idea is that her apprentice will spend most of his/her time doing general admin, like transcribing interviews, printing out cuttings and sending out invoices. But in my view it’s the buzz of working in a busy news room, seeing a variety of experienced reporters in action and crafting a great story from an initially unpromising interviewee that teaches you how to be a journalist.
I hope Jan’s initiative is a brilliant success but I’m not convinced it’s the way journalism training should be going.
PS: Thanks to Liberty London Girl's entertaining and informative blog I've just discovered this lovely Anthony Burrill poster (above), which I'm going to order for my office wall. Work hard and be nice to people - I can't think of better advice for us all, trainees or otherwise.