Life as a trainee journalist
Updated: Aug 22, 2021
I’m now working as a trainee reporter for the Eastbourne Herald. How I got here has been covered in various other pieces, so if that’s something you’re interested in please check those out:
Explored: Different graduate routes into journalism
I’ll now work as a trainee for a couple of years before I take my NQJ exams which will make me a senior reporter – check out the interview I did with a senior reporter here.
As a trainee, I do everything that the other reporters are doing but I get my work checked as we go along to make sure it is alright to be published. Other than that, it’s a case of learning my trade and soaking up everything I can from others.
I’ve been in this job for nearly three months and I’m loving it. As I write this we have a week left before Christmas, we’re in tier two restrictions, and we’re still working from home.
My first week
For this week I was actually with the chief reporter working from her home. This meant that I was much less nervous to start because I’d met her before through interviews and for a coffee when I was house viewing too – so the ice was already broken.
The first couple of days involved a lot of tech issues and teething problems, but we go there in the end and I starting to see how the system worked.
For Wednesday and Thursday we were out at inquests, and this was a big learning curve. This was time for me to put my shorthand into practice as well as my media law knowledge. I also got to see how we structure inquest pieces, and generally understand how the whole day works.
Friday I was really nervous because this was my first day working from home alone. It wasn’t the work I was worried about so much; it was the system – learning how to get stories online, import photos, and generally all the ‘behind the scenes’ stuff that takes a story from a conversation to something you read online or in the paper.
I got to meet the team for drinks that week too, which was a chance to meet people face-to-face, and start to build up some rapport with my colleagues.
Six weeks in
At this point we’d heard news of a second lockdown coming, so the prospect of getting back in the office anytime soon was looking bleak. However, I was feeling pretty used to working from home now so didn't mind too much.
What really helped was jotting down all the pointers I was told as we went along, and learning things through saved videos. I have a book now full of rules, style and theory – and it’s always being added to.
I started going to inquests alone at this point too – something that was really daunting at first. Inquests are when I feel really pushed out of my comfort zone because it is such a serious subject so you want to write it well for the family.
Contacts were starting to build up at the point too. Emails were coming directly to me a bit more and people were starting to learn who I was. This meant that I didn’t need to keep pestering my boss to send work over, instead it was all there for me and I was getting busier each day.
In this period, I did have (and still do) have moments of feeling rubbish. The typical feeling of imposter syndrome, worrying that you’re not good enough to the extent that I started to panic that I’d be fired!
I think a lot of this was made worse by the fact that when you have moments of feeling like that, being alone isn't the best. If you’re on your own so you can’t just voice your thoughts in the office environment so can end up dwelling on it for too long.
Another reason for this feeling was that as a trainee your work is checked and you’re obviously being trained so you get feedback all the time. However, sometimes over instant messages those training tips can feel like criticism because you don’t know the tone of how someone is saying something. My boss reminded me of this and stressed that it isn’t a bad thing, it’s a learning thing.
Saying that, I do feel like I’m really making progress now as you remember pointers and work off feedback more and more over time.
I’m so relieved that I’m still enjoying it at this point though. There’s always the worry that the novelty will wear off – but it really hasn’t. Not only this, I’ve worked for this job since I was 15, so at this point my eggs are very much in one basket – if this hadn’t worked out I don’t know what I would have done.
Three months in
I have now experienced the negative part of this job – trolling. I woke up one Saturday to a few people that had found my personal Facebook, and had either messaged my directly, or had posted awful things on my page. This was a rubbish weekend to say the least.
Trolling usually comes from inquests in this job, people want privacy for their loved ones but the law says we have to report on public inquests fairly and accurately because it is public interest so I’m just doing my job.
I see why people lash out if they're grieving, but it was the fact they’d found my personal profile and they were calling me all names under the sun that really got to me.
Now our names don't go on any inquests to avoid this situation happening again. I can handle abuse thrown my work for the paper, but when it gets personal it’s very different.
I gathered advice from other journalists about how to deal with it in the future, and this really helped. I also noted this advice down in my rules/style/advice book (left) so I can turn to it if things get bad again.
I did feel I needed that experience though. It was hard but I’ve seen how it can get and it hasn’t put me off the job which is always good too.
I still have moments of imposter syndrome but much less than at the six week point. I question why I got the job and if I’m really good enough – but I think this feeling is universal, and something I could be feeling 20 years from now.
What is a typical day and week like?
It's constantly changing and that's why I love this job - every day is different.
I keep a notebook with daily lists so I keep track of what I'm working on/what needs checking/what needs following up - this is all so I don't forget anything. It's really a case of just working through stories as and when they come in but as it's pretty normal to have up to 10 stories on the go at one time, having a checklist is my way of staying on top of everything.
Monday - Wednesday we're building up the paper, and stories are always going online. Thursday is print day and usually when I'm at inquest too. We have a 6pm deadline to make sure the paper is complete and everything has been finished off and checked. Once Thursday is done it is a bit more relaxed on Friday as we go back to working on stories and wrapping things up for the weekend.
Here are some things I’ve been told/picked up/learnt since I started:
· Don’t expect to get it all straight away, it is a learning process
· It is okay to ask questions, especially as you’re working from home learning this job
· The pointers you get are all the process of training, it isn’t criticism
· Trolling is part of the job, you’ll grow a thick skin to this
· Keep media law and shorthand fresh in your mind at all times
· Keeping a book of style/rules/advice/contacts/theory is really helpful
· Keep a daily list of what you’re working on so nothing gets forgotten
· You are a trainee, remember that
If you have any questions, please do get in touch by one of my social media accounts listed in the top right-hand corner of the blog.
I also did an interview with the University of Leicester talking about my journey from A levels to working as a trainee reporter: