Sunday, December 21, 2008

What is wrong with doing work experience at Christmas time?

There's not actually that much to do. The news has slowed to a trickle and you don't have time to do any sort of meaningful work because everybody's going on holidays soon.

I recently undertook a work placement at Aspermont, the company responsible for a multitude of trade publications including Mining Monthly and Biotechnology News. My role while I was there was to turn around press releases and turn them into something somewhat readable. Basically, I was a shitkicker who didn't have that much to do, yet it still remained an invaluable learning experience (plus I got a few bylines which is always good).

It helped me to see where my weaknesses lie in terms of writing and which areas are my strengths. I'll start with the minuses as these are weaknesses that all up and coming journos can learn from.

In a nutshell, I was lazy with my writing. Because I was basically turning around press releases within 20 minutes or so I didn't put enough effort into checking and re-checking my work, and consequently I made a few tiny mistakes with my punctuation surrounding quotes (another of my weaknesses).

I also on the odd-occasion decided to demote people in various positions in stories I was writing. For example, one day I decided that some guy wasn't deserving of a CEO status, so I decided to demote him to a COO. That's the kind of shite that will get angry phone calls. Luckily I only did that once, and it wasn't a systemic thing.

One piece of advice that Nick Evans (Biotech editor) offered me at the end of my experience is that at this junior level, it always pays to spend an extra ten minutes with your copy unless the editor is yelling at you to finish up. Getting out copy quick is good, getting it out quick and with the odd-mistake will just make you look lazy.

Other (understandable) mistakes I made came from just not knowing the territory. For example, I don't know the people at the companies I was writing about, I didn't know if a company's capital raising was a roaring success or not and I didn't know why one company's better than another one.

One hilarious mistake I made was assuming that an oil reserve being "capped and suspended as a site for further development" was a bad thing. Turns out that the sentence didn't mean the company was giving up on the reserve, but just capping it and coming back to it later. I also made the hilarious mistake of describing a company's falling stock price as part of a horror year for the company (It's the middle of a financial crisis! Everybody's stock has gone down you idiot James!).

I also made the mistake of not being punchy enough with my first pars and slipping into passive and throwing a little too much colour into my stories.

Most of these mistakes though were made on the first day, and I straightened up and flew right after that. In fact the people at the company were impressed by my ability to adapt and change my style at the behest of their advice, and other than the small mistakes I made they said I was one of the better work experience kids they have had.

They said my copy was clean (relatively), tight and that it seemed I knew how to throw a verb or two around, you know, bend an ear with a turn of phrase.

My writing has been described as an 'easy' style, which is one of my greatest strengths. It means that writing seems to come naturally to me, rather than being a forced style, and this is down to a couple of key points.

First, I was diagnosed as borderline autistic when I was a child. I wasn't, they didn't know what the hell was wrong with me, but I did take longer to actually speak with any coherence than other people. In fact, I didn't start to speak properly and with any sort of confidence until I was about eight, so I found that writing things down helped my communicate without the stigma of actually having to speak (probably why I suck at broadcast).

Secondly, I'm online a lot. I chat online a lot but not once do I abbreviate or engage in 'text speak'. I write fully formed sentences which when it comes to doing so for the purposes of a piece of journalism, writing properly come naturally because it's the only style of writing I know.

So if you're an aspiring journo and you need better written English skills, it would probably be a good idea to write properly in all facets of your communicative life so that it comes easily when you start to write professionally.

Anyhow, I hope you were able to gleam something from that hotch-potch of ideas I just threw at you, and it will help you identify your weaknesses and strengths as a writer so that more people go out there into the workforce at ease with the tool of their trade.

Next time on the Jaded Prime, details of a freelance article written for The West and Jimmy's sojourn to Port Hedland next year.

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