Never a dull day for journalists

By Ruth Stivey, bursary recipient, 2011-2012

If you ever doubt your journalistic quest, try and think of another job, which introduces you to criminals, top academics or celebrities; where you are ahead of the game, writing part of history.

I had two placements with award-winning local papers as part of the NCTJ course, where I experienced days packed full of surprise, stress and adrenalin.

One morning I was pounding the streets Bradley Wiggins, Olympic gold medal winner, walked as a child. Then, in the afternoon, I was sent to visit the Queen’s optician and was shown the intricacies of optometry.

I woke to a celebrity on my voicemail, went exploring the cavernous and spectacular British Museum, and spent an hour bouncing on an inflatable art installation.

But it is not all entertaining. There is undeniable tension when you are waiting for the person that will make or break a story, or talking to someone who is vulnerable or bereaved.

This is what I experienced when I worked on a front page splash about the Sam Hallam Campaign, involving an emotional plea from his mum to quash his conviction for murder.

And when the heat rocketed this summer, I was wading through floods at nine am talking to distraught people whose businesses and homes had been destroyed.

I found the investigative work very interesting. I enjoyed the opportunity to delve into social issues like housing problems and poverty, dissecting data and statistics to make a news story.

It may seem like you need a lot of confidence but, at almost 30 years old, I was nervous about entering a newsroom as a female without a degree, in an elite Oxbridge and male dominated world.

It was not easy to obtain placements straight away. After initially contacting regional papers, I found they were based within large publishing companies miles away and I couldn’t sustain the travel costs.

Never underestimate chatting to other students. After a quick moan, I was put in touch with the editor of a paper and in a few weeks had a lot of articles, but I did have to pester people to get responses.

The exams were hard work but my marked portfolio was the highest in the class, bar one mark, which helped me gain more self-belief and renew my determination.

When you are starting out as a hack, the big question is whether you should work for free. I have found that my internships have provided me with invaluable industry contacts and an insight into the areas I want to work in.

And I need not have worried about floundering. I was surrounded by ardent, award-winning journalists (some female), who were more kind and helpful than I could ever expect.