Last month I was fortunate enough to spend three weeks interning on the Foreign Desk at The Sunday Times.  My short time there introduced me to the hectic world of the weekly newspaper, and it’s safe to say I learned a lot about the industry and, more importantly, how to break into it.

My role as intern comprised mainly of conducting research. As a weekly newspaper there is extra pressure on the journalists to maintain a unique angle on all their stories. So as an intern you are encouraged to diligently follow the daily broadsheet and tabloid coverage of events, as well as keeping an eye out for unexposed and captivating stories. The internship also serves as an opportunity to train and challenge your journalistic instinct. Having to call up sources and experts for quotes on stories was a task I had never done before, and proved a lot harder than anticipated. However, once you get over your nerves and initial panic you find you build confidence and it gets easier and easier each time.

As well as adopting skills for what will hopefully be my future career in journalism, I learned two key lessons about the industry.

The first being that, at least where I worked, there is pretty much a rolling door policy when it comes to interns. Most placements are only about two-weeks long, which really isn’t much time at all. So once you’re there, it is your own prerogative to try and establish a relationship with the Desk. That is how I managed to get an extra week tacked onto what was originally a two-week placement (it was also luck, they happened to have one free week).

As a freelancer or an aspiring journalist it isn’t often that you are surrounded by established and noted reporters on a daily basis. So this really is your chance to make an impact. I would therefore recommend pitching a story during your time there. I did, albeit unsuccessfully, but that at least helps you assert yourself and stand out amidst the sea of faceless interns.

The second thing I learned was the best way to get one of these coveted internships.  Most of the time these internships are not advertised online. Nor do they consult the ‘media-jobs’ websites that we all find ourselves trawling through. It is understandable; no one wants to have to deal with a sea of applications to fill a two-week placement.

I would encourage you to email the Desk directly.  Tell them you are looking for an internship and the dates you are available. They usually have these places filled up months in advance so make sure you are flexible. Even if they are booked up, they will probably keep your details on file and consult you at a later date. There is nothing to lose.

Try and find out who the office manager of the department is. They are your best port of call. There is no point getting through to a stressed journalist hours before a press deadline, when they have nothing to do with the recruitment process.

Finally, I would like to stress the importance of contacts. I was fortunate. I got the position through a friend of a friend of a friend, literally, quite the cliché.  We all know the importance of them, across nearly all job industries, so if you have them do not be afraid to utilise them. With a bit of persistence, most people are more than happy to help people out.

These methods take a great deal of courage. However, if this experience has taught me anything, it is that to survive in the industry you sometimes need to be a little more forthright.

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