Sunday, 6 March 2016

My time at...........The Times!

From 29th February, the magical leap day, until Friday 4th March I was in London’s beautiful, inspiring and only mildly intimidating News Building, being an odd jobs doer and research slave for the team at The Times Magazine (out every Saturday, recent winner of Supplement of the Year, really rather good read). 


I was on 'work experience’. That means I’m experiencing what it’s like to work in a newspaper/magazine office, surrounded by all the creative types and commissioning editors, on one of the top floors in London’s most vibrant and central news hub. I’m so so grateful that I had this opportunity - it was really a matter of getting the right email address, sending a gushing message with helpful hints about being a Creative Writing graduate with an interest in all things newsy, and then just...finding the right week! That was all it took. It adds to my growing realisation that sometimes you just have to reach out, put yourself out there in the world you want to be thriving in, and soon enough things will happen. You’ll get moving in the right direction. As I am, these days...I think.


There are many many reasons why I love The Times Magazine, too many to list. I won’t lie, I first started reading it in cafes that stocked the papers when I didn’t have a book on me (in the days before smart phones and wifi, those dark dark days) - and I continued reading it because I enjoyed their celebrity profiles, I loved the spotlight opinion pieces, and...Caitlin. 
The goddess Cat. The woman who has worked at The Times for 23 years, having faxed them an article when she was just 17 years old and living in her bonkers family home in Wolverhampton (you might say she was raised by wolves...heh heh, references though). She put herself out there, however disillusioned she was in sending her work directly to one of the biggest and most powerful newspapers in the country, hell that is admirable and inspiring.
So when I was sitting in that office on the 11th floor I would listen out for that voice, the one I sometimes hear in my silly head cheering me on (or telling me to calm the fuck down and have a drink) and the one I can now imitate perfectly after seeing two of her live events (will be three, this Tuesday 8th…!). I’d scan the break-out areas for that gorgeous mop of black hair or the trademark denim shorts and tights combo. Nope, nothing. She had tweeted me before I started to say she would mostly work from home, so I wasn’t too disappointed. I know she and I will meet and get drunk together someday.


Moving on, climbing out of the cavernous Caitlin Love Hole that many of my blog posts will fall down time and time again...back to the experience. Let’s talk about the experience. Or rather, I’ll talk AT you about my experience.

I was a bundle of nerves on the Monday morning, of course. I was due in at 11, so obviously I got a train that ensured I was in London Bridge by 10. Maximum time to stand around, stare at the clock, grab a coffee from the station, stand around some more, then finally after 40 minutes I’d approach the desk and give my name, plus the name of my supervisor for the week, and then sit awkwardly in the lobby with the other guests eagerly awaiting their summons. That was when the nerves hit me. 
I am ever so slightly more socially anxious these days, especially when meeting legit writer types, because I worry that they’ll see right through me and wonder why they’re even giving me the time of day. I know they won’t, every writer and bookish businessperson I know is properly lovely and always happy to chat with me, sometimes at events they even seek me out and are properly excited to see me, but...I still worry. So when the lovely E approached me, with her bright brownish-green eyes and perfectly chic messy hair sporting the most fantastic pair of distressed retro dungers - I froze up a little. Just a little. Like, when you fill an ice cube bag with water and put it in the freezer then take it out after just twenty minutes...yes, just like that.
I needn’t have worried, it was all very casual and friendly. I was taken up to the offices, talking about my degree with E in the lift and seeing her surprise because work experience humans are usually a bit younger than I am.


I was given a computer, a scrap of paper with the logon ID and email address I’d be using and all the necessary passwords, then told my supervisor wouldn’t be in that day, so to answer to H instead. He was lovely. He gave me things to do, and continued to for the rest of the week - and when he gave me these things to do he was excitable and sweet about it. He’d suggest things gently, like ‘we need to do research on this guy we’re interviewing, do you fancy doing some cuts on that?’ (I quickly learned that ‘doing cuts’ meant copy & pasting info here and there. Such newsy lingo…) 
An exciting moment was when he said ‘we’re doing a piece on James Corden in a few issues’ time, do you want to write the intro for that?’ Now, that’s a tiny job, but it blew my mind. My first piece of writing to ever be published in a legitimate news publication will be a little description of national treasure James Corden - just 60/70 words saying how old he is, where he lives, what the reader would know him from...that’s exciting, for me. I don’t think the editors realised how exciting. I already am planning to buy that magazine and save the page forever. Maybe frame it someday and have it displayed in my penthouse flat in North London, showing my humble beginnings. It’ll be up on the wall next to a screenshot of my blog, back when it was braceletsandbangles.blogspot.co.uk and every post was about my heroine Taylor Swift or especially emotional Drama lessons or that boy I totally fancied… 


Don’t get me wrong, I did find it amazing and somewhat humbling to be in the thick of it, kind of, in the snazzy office at a desk hearing the writers and editors all around me shouting to each other and shooting ideas into the air about fashion, cooking trends and celebs they hated...I just felt a little excluded. I could have been used so much more. I know I have a voice - it may be a little shaky under pressure but it’s there in the back of my throat and buzzing in my fingertips poised over the keyboard. They could have got me to do more for them. Not that I didn’t love forwarding mail to the columnists, clearing up all the mess between the desks and recycling all last week’s papers, oh boy that was such fun. I just would have liked to have been more useful. Felt more accepted. Heck, some of the writers could have at least said ‘good morning’ to me when they came in, or learned my name.
Having said that, they have kids on unpaid work experience every week...why should they bother?
It was just slightly disheartening.

I can only hope that in the future I have more internships and experience days/weeks, and I’m given more of a chance to shine. Because I bloody can, if you let me.

Okay, whining over. Let’s wrap this up with a list of things I have learned - work experiences, within the work experience.

  • Coffee is crucial. 
    Y’all know I love coffee. But I love good coffee. A good cuppa makes the world go round, gets your juices flowing; it makes your day that much better and the office more bearable. This place had several coffee outlets, and all of them were shit. For various reasons - one was a cheap filter job, one was weak even when I selected ‘strong’ on the machine and put in an extra shot, and one was lukewarm from the first sip. Not okay. I had to get a coffee on my way in from the Nero Express at the station, then sneak the takeaway cup into the building and be careful not to spill any in the pristine offices. Totally worth it - you gotta do what you gotta do. 


  • Little things matter.
    I saw one guy spend an hour deciding the size of font on the contents page, and another working out if a comma ‘should go there’. There were also women giving their thoughts on each and every model and their poses, arguing that one was ‘piggy-eyed’ and another was ‘striking extra hard’. 

    I do understand this, I feel the same about my blog. If the title of a post doesn’t seem quite right, or the image I’ve inserted needs more space around it, or the banner is looking a little off-centre...I freak out and pause everything to correct the issue. It’s a good way to be, y’know, super OTT organised to the point of anal.


  • Rock it. 
    I had been cold as ice for the first three days coming in and out of London Bridge, to the point that my feet had gone permanently numb and chattering teeth had ripped my bottom lip to shreds. I’d been wearing my smartest jacket, feeling it was appropriate. It was also my lightest jacket. And guess what, it really was not worth it looking business-like but freezing my tits off. I came home on Wednesday night and made a decision. I had to wear something warmer for the next few days. I knew exactly what, too. I just wasn't very confident about it. I consulted with mum, saying I felt a little silly all rugged up in this huge flamboyant thing, and she said that if I didn’t feel 100% awesome in my planned outfit, it would show. I had to rock it. 

    So on Thursday I walked into the building in my huge cream fake fur coat (Primark’s finest, circa 2012). I swiped my week pass at the barriers and sashayed towards the lifts. I flicked my hair out of my face and sipped from my takeaway cup. I reapplied my lippy in the loos and then hung the luxurious coat over the back of my desk chair for the entire day, unintentionally making it become a little swivelling throne. I owned it, worked it and rocked it.


  • Take the freebies.
    If there are books lying around the offices that were gifted by the authors or publishers, or any sample foods or prototype gadgets...take them. That’s what they’re there for. I of course waited until an editor actually said to me ‘You’re welcome to any of these - please, take one!’ before I dived in and loaded up my tote bag. But when I did, I went crazy. If there’s anything being a book blogger has taught me over the past few months, it’s when you’re offered something, you grab it. You can never have too many books. 

  • Be keen & grateful.
    I genuinely think I alarmed the writing team whenever they asked me to do something and I responded with such excitement it was like they’d set my arse alight. My enthusiasm was borderline ridiculous. I was asked at one point to condense a press release for men’s moccasins to go in the Style section, and I clapped my hands together with joy. I was then asked how I felt about Tumblr teens, and I brought up my own (dusty, barely touched any more) Tumblr page, scrolling through and babbling away about the users I had always loved. And when my supervisor suggested I do some research on Muslim dating sites for a future feature, oh boy, I jumped in my seat and spent over an hour looking at 
    singlemuslim.com (reading the success stories section and almost weeping with happiness).
    Yes, I was keen as a bean. 
    I am also grateful. Despite my bitching earlier about not being used and abused for my passions and talents, I am still happy to have been able to sit in that office for five days. I was happy to help with each and every task, however minor, however silly. I will treasure this experience always, and I can safely say it won’t just be an extra item on my CV. 

2 comments

  1. It sounds like you got a lot out of the week, which is always good :) I did work experience with HarperCollins in the News building in the autumn and now I'm on an internship in a different HC imprint - never thought I'd want to work in an office, but the News building is so nice, I think - so many windows, such cool views. :)

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  2. I really enjoyed reading this post Grace because it reminded me of my own magazine internships. I totally understand what you mean about feeling a bit excluded and I think that's partly to do with office culture to be honest. I feel bad now that I'm a journalist that I don't always engage with our work experience 'kids' but sometimes I'm just too busy trying to leave work on time :/ My first work experience at a magazine reminded me of The Devil Wears Prada. I did meet some wonderful writers, who gave me feedback on some articles, but that was on my last day. Up until then I'd been filing and writing captions for online photos. And I didn't even meet the editor. But my second internship at a smaller magazine was AMAZING. I was there for a month too, rather than a week, so I think people got to know me. They also gave me much more interesting tasks. Sure there was filing, but there was also unpacking clothes, writing a mock feature and styling for a photo shoot. Anyway, I guess what I'm saying is keep going with experience, keep networking and (as you wrote) be eager to take on anything. Also, don't wait to be told of tasks, put your hand up for them and show you've got the ability to do it (which from your writing on your blog, I can see you do). I dream of working at such a brilliant publication (I want to move to London in the next few years and see if I can), so congratulations on getting such great experience. I spent one week work experience at the newspaper I've now been working at for two years, so believe me it totally pays off (and that experience was a year before I applied for a job). Also, a lot of journo jobs, in Australia anyway, aren't advertised so work experience is the best way to get your foot in the door. Apologies if you know all this already, but I love seeing up and coming journos passionate about storytelling! Anyway, good luck!!! and don't stop aiming for your goals :)
    Michelle @ The Unfinished Bookshelf

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