A while ago I posted on Twitter about my struggle with finding and applying for work experience. I didn’t have many followers back then (not that I do now) and I got a reply from Tiffany Francis, wishing me ‘good luck’ and stating she was going through the same thing. Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago and while browsing ol’ Twitter, something caught my eye: Tiffany had posted a picture of a building window..but not any window – a newspaper building with the name The Guardian majestically adorning it in its oh-so-familiar font.
‘My workplace for two weeks’, said Tiffany’s photo description. Credit: Tiffany’s Instagram page
I was impressed. Work experience nowadays is hard to come by as it is, but gaining a two-week placement at The Guardian – which is the publication every aspiring journalist well, aspires to at least intern at – must require a sort of special ability! I was happy for Tiffany, because she is a fellow UWE student, although she has just graduated. So finding out that someone remotely close to me, a person I (will) share my alma mater with, had gone through this experience, I thought why not let other journalism students in on how she succeeded?
In terms of background, Tiffany chose to study English Literature at UWE (University of the West of England) because her sister had studied there and she also heard Bristol was a lovely city. “I’ve always had an interest in arts, languages and the written word, having studied Art, Spanish and Latin before my degree. I chose to carry on with English because it was my best subject and I really love reading and writing. I had no idea what I would do for a career!”
Many students go down the same route as Tiffany did, choosing to focus their degree on the subject they were best at in sixth form or A-Levels. But it’s important to choose something you are also passionate about, keeping in mind that you’ll be studying it for at least three years and hopefully turning it into a lifetime career.
I decided to study journalism at an early age because of my passion for writing. But when I started researching universities and degrees online, I hit a brick wall – a considerable amount of people, experienced journalists and students equally, were being critical, incredulous or dismissive of Journalism degrees. They argued the fact that these degrees are not worth it, that most reputable journalists had a background in a classic subject (such as English Literature, History of Economics) from a top university and that the skills it takes a journalism degree three years to teach can be learnt through a Master’s degree, work experience just ‘on the job’.
As someone who has been in this position, Tiffany’s take on English Lit versus Journalism degrees is they both offer advantages and disadvantages. “A journalism degree provides you with so many skills that are difficult to find elsewhere, and because of this I have had to work very hard to gain experience in the field alongside my degree. However, studying English allowed me to refine my writing and language skills, and since studying it I have decided to specialise in literary and arts journalism, so I needed that graduate level of knowledge to be able to write about it. When applying for jobs my degree has proven very useful, but I think any successful degree in which you are assessed with written essays and dissertations will prove to employers that you can write“.
Having this in mind, I asked Tiffany whether or not she would change anything in terms of her degree/career choice if she had the opportunity of going back in time three years. “No. I was so lucky because I actually chose Birmingham as my first choice, but I didn’t get the grades. I only chose it because it was higher up in the league table, because actually the course looked really boring compared to the one at UWE. I think it was fate! I realised that UWE had a much more enjoyable course to offer with a high standard of teaching (mostly)“. What she would do different if she had the chance is trying harder in her first year, as she found the transition to the second and third ones slightly traumatic in terms of workload.
The Guardian and Observer have roughly two application slots per year for their editorial work placements. These are unpaid and they range from a few days to a maximum of two weeks. Tiffany managed to secure two weeks of work experience on the Guardian Books desk, which is highly competitive. She says: “The application really emphasised that it wanted people who showed dedication to journalism, so I suppose because of my jobs and work experience I was good enough! I would advise students to be very enthusiastic, but back it up with solid evidence that you are committed to the industry. Depending on which placement you go for, it’s also important to show passion for your department. For example, as I worked on the Books desk, I wrote about how much I love books! There are lots of different placements so make sure you pick one you know about“. Her previous work experience included two weeks at Countryfile Magazine in Bristol, and three months on a social media internship at the clothing company Motel Rocks. She chose the latter because she wanted to build on her journalism skills, and because she knew about the huge role that social media plays in modern journalism. Aside from that, Tiffany worked as the Assistant Editor of WesternEye (UWE’s student newspaper) and the editor of UWE English Society’s illustrated literary magazine Cellar Door. That was both fun and a huge challenge for her, as the society was brand new so she had to create the magazine from scratch. Since graduating she has also done some freelance editorial work for the Student’s Union.
Tiffany’s work was showcased on The Guardian website. Click to read.
During her two weeks, she was involved in a range of different activities and had the freedom other placements hadn’t offered her. ” I could come and go whenever I liked, and I felt like I could absorb the atmosphere and watch the whole building work. Every morning I went to the editorial news conference where we listened to people like the Executive Editor of the New York Times talking about the Snowden case. I also met Ruby Tandoh from Great British Bake Off which was superb! I sat in on podcast recordings and wrote little articles and quizzes for the website, and I attended the Guardian Children’s Fiction Awards one evening where I ate lots of delicious cakes. I learnt so much and made lots of contacts so it was an incredible experience“.
Tiffany (left) and Ruby Tandoh. Credit: Tiffany’s Instagram page
In terms of career plans, Tiffany is planning on starting an MA in English in London next September, in order to specialise in literature. She thought about doing a course in journalism, but she didn’t think it would be as enjoyable.” I can’t really afford to make the wrong decision. In fact, I’m not quite sure how I’m going to afford it anyway, but I’ll cross that awkward bridge when I come to it. I’d like to work for a magazine or newspaper writing about the arts, and eventually I’d like to be a freelance writer. I’ve also thought about perhaps doing a PhD, but that will be a long way off if I do. My dream job would be a freelance writer and novelist, visiting National Trust properties at weekends and eating cream teas. Lovely!“
Thank you for sharing your experince, Tiffany, and I wish you the best of luck in achieving your goals! Maybe not that far in the future we will have the opportunity to read a review of your novel on The Guardian website.
Read Tiffany’s blog here.