Finding my feet at The Independent

by Allegra Goodwin
MA Journalism

It’s not every day you start a placement at a paper to find yourself covering possibly the biggest story of the year, but that’s what I got to experience at The Independent in April. The death of Prince Phillip a few days earlier and his upcoming funeral meant the news desk was busier than ever during my week-long placement.

Although I was interning during Covid and had to work remotely, I was able to watch as reporters and editors made sure they were covering every detail. It was a fascinating insight into how a busy newsroom operates, and how they had transitioned into working entirely from home for the first time ever.

There was no time to dawdle, and I had to hit the ground running by pitching stories to the news editor, and jumping on a timeline she wanted me to create about the activism of Greta Thunberg.

Big dreams

I was so excited to start my placement. Getting work placements has been more difficult than usual this year due to the pandemic, and, as someone with big dreams of working in national news, I’d been worried I wouldn’t get the placements I needed to bulk out my CV.

Luckily, my course director and the department’s employability officer Trish Mellars secured three placements at The Independent for the Easter break. It wasn’t straightforward through – my coursemates and I had to send a cover letter and two pitches for news features that the paper could run.

I was so thrilled when I found out I’d been selected by the editors, and I started conducting research and interviews in preparation.

“If you’re on one of the Sheffield journalism courses, then you have no need to be nervous about going on placement, because I assure you you’re being taught the skills you need to succeed”

Allegra Goodwin

I think one of the best ways to prepare for a placement is to look at the content that the organisation is putting out. Look at the style especially, so you have it in your head when you’re writing stories. Editors will be impressed if you can write to their style because it will mean they spend less time making tweaks. Don’t worry too much though – edits are normal and all part of the learning process!

If you’re on one of the Sheffield journalism courses, then you have no need to be nervous about going on placement, because I assure you you’re being taught the skills you need to succeed. I was anxious I’d struggle with the challenge of writing for a national audience, but once I started I was surprised by how much I already knew.

The news writing teaching at Sheffield is brilliant, and thanks to Mark Bradley drumming it in, I knew I could write a half-decent news intro! It was a great way to put the skills I’ve learnt in the classroom (OK, on Blackboard) into practice.

Gaining confidence

Something that surprised me about the placement is what I ended up covering. I started the week writing stories on climate change which is a topic I’m very interested in, but then the editors began pushing me out of my comfort zone to do some science writing. I had to read scientific journal articles and translate them into articles that the average person could understand, and which were more interesting than reading a science journal, which can be very dry.

Once I gained confidence, I pitched my own story based on a study about sustainable seafood. The idea was newsworthy due to the recent documentary Seaspiracy, which had been blowing up all over my social media.

I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to do work experience at a national newspaper, particularly a digital one. At the start of the week, I worried I didn’t have what it takes to make it in national news – but by the end I saw it wasn’t as scary as it seemed. I learned a lot about myself, including that I’m capable of much more than I thought. I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since I was tiny, so to see my name in The Independent was a definite ‘pinch me’ moment.

I’m now more determined than ever to get out into the world of news reporting and give it all I’ve got.

Sheffield is independently rated by the Complete University Guide 2022 as the number 1 university in England for studying journalism. Want to see journalism’s bigger picture? Study with us.

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