Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

Posts Tagged ‘work experience

Is It Worth Doing Journalism Work Experience?

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For my degree in multimedia journalism, I was required to do during the duration of my course a minimum of 4 weeks of work experience. My first ever bout of journalism work experience came earlier though, when I was 17 and still at college doing my A-levels.

At the time I was unsure of what I should do at university – I was good at English and good at writing. Although creative writing interested, I knew deep down that I was incapable of fiction and journalism took on more appeal.

At The Guardian offices, on work experience,  September, 2012.

At The Guardian offices, on work experience, September, 2012.

So I asked a staff member at college to help me arrange work experience with my local newspaper, The Hastings Observer. I spent a week at the newspaper and managed to gain three bylines. Two lessons stick out from that week: 1. That you could source a story from the Yellow Pages (remember those?) – a lesson not that useful now but opened up my awareness of how stories and sources can be located & 2. How powerful use of language can be and how even a slight variation in word choice can influence readers.

After that week ended I grew more attached to journalism and its raggedy, amateur art.

When it came time to select courses and universities, my stepfather and I went on a tour of the different journalism degrees. Some presentations were much better than others. Some were downright off-putting. It came down to two choices: City University in London and Bournemouth University. At the time City Uni did not do only a journalism BA. It was History with Journalism. Bournemouth Uni appealed as it taught multimedia journalism which was NCTJ approved and because it was by the sea.

Anyway, I deferred for a year, taking a gap year which eventually turned into two. I started my course at age 20.

A list of media work experience/internships that I did from 2009-2012:

  • The Brighton Argus
  • Splash News
  • The Press Association
  • Catch22
  • The Guardian
  • The Beijinger

The Press Association (video department) was a great experience as I got the opportunity to interview Boris Johnson (mayor of London) and MPs, participate in a press scrum and attend a beer festival. The UK’s national news agency has a great scheme that if I had pushed more, perhaps I could have got on to, but it would have required a three year commitment or thereabouts.

The Guardian work experience was offered to me by the editor as I had written a couple of articles for her previously (unpaid) and so they gave me a week. It was a dream to enter The Guardian’s gleaming offices near King’s Cross, London and I saw a couple of journalists I’ve long admired.

It is very much worth doing work experience, but in my opinion it is not worth doing it overmuch. You can also get lucky. A few coursemates of mine got jobs from them, and one of them is now editor at a major publication. It can also be helpful to gain contacts as it can make it easier to pitch later on. An acquaintance here in Beijing occasionally writes for Esquire (UK) as he once interned for them.

It will really help your time on your internship if you can pitch story ideas. Do not be afraid to suggest ideas to your editor. It shows initiative, charm and power. Anyone who has a store of good ideas is a source of power for a creative outlet. You will be seen in a much better light if you have the confidence to pitch and the boldness to articulate them. You lose nothing. Even if your ideas are not accepted, do not lose hope, it only takes one to strike for you to be given an opportunity.

It helps if the staff like you too. I have found in my experience that if the staff take a shine to you, they will overlook any deficiencies or weaknesses you may have simply because they like having you around in the office. Do not underestimate how important this is. Having good social skills is a skill and intelligence in itself. And those who possess it have an equally legitimate skill as those good with numbers or a facility for study.

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What happened last time I tried to be a freelance foreign correspondent

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I finished university last year. After a busy summer (presenting, Olympics, work exp at The Guardian), I decided to go to Beijing,

I had no definite plan, no accommodation and I knew exactly four people who lived there, one of whom was a stewardess I had met a couple months prior. I had vague ideas about brushing up on my Chinese, exploring new opportunities and freelancing.

The first couple months were kind of miserable to be honest. I had few friends and I was just hemorrhaging money. I made very little progress journalistically and I was aimless and wondering what exactly I should be doing.

I then answered a chance call-out for interns for The Beijinger, a listings magazine aimed at expats that pre-dated Time Out. How wonderful, you might think, being an intern! Great!

But it was an opportunity. I still wasn’t making any money, I made enough just to cover rent. I was in the office three days a week. The managing editor of The Beijinger was a loud, rambunctious 30-year-old Manc, and his deputy was a very tall and louche Scouser. No, I am not making it up.

December came and I chanced upon a publication online called The Gateway. It’s a business newspaper aimed at students. I immediately dashed off an email to the editor asking if she would be interested in business articles focused on the booming economies of China and south-east Asia.

She would.

Meanwhile, a Chinese girl I was courting ended things abruptly. And that stewardess? Well, she was always flying everywhere, that’s the problem with stewardesses.

Anyway, January was my best ever month for freelance journalism, in terms of pure £. It was a grand whopping total of £700. But by then I had been given a full-time role at The Beijinger so I received a modest pay rise. I wrote some of those freelance articles in the office – something I would not recommend.

I spent a total of 7 months in Beijing, going to some great events, learning a lot (about magazines, staff banter, freelancing, women) before my visa ran out. I even got two great big commissions from The New Statesman which I royally fucked up. Lesson there: if you’re working on something ambitious, be sure to have already done some groundwork on it before pitching.

In a future blog, you’ll find out why I’m returning for a second round.

For more about my experience at The Beijinger, see here.

The Beijinger office.

The Beijinger office.