Cups of tea all-round: intern’s true-life story

A week’s work placement on a national newspaper’s sports desk. A dream come true for some thrusting trainee hoping to soon be NCTJ qualified? Not if this example is anything to go by

I was under the impression that in 2014, the old notion of the journalism intern being little use other than for making cups of tea would have long passed.

Ahh... the joy, passion and excitement of working on a modern sports desk. Or not
Ahh… the joy, passion and excitement of working on a modern sports desk. Or not

But on my one and a half days at a national newspaper’s sports desk last week I was shocked at how little attention was given to me, a keen, aspiring sports journalist.

On Monday I was sent upstairs, greeted by a guy who let me in through the glass doors and who guided me to a seat on the sports desk. This was by far the most interaction my neighbour gave me in the day.

A couple of the six or seven assorted people sat around and introduced themselves by name, the rest just stared at their screen with headphones on.

I was given a login and I was asked by someone who who I eventually found out was the online deputy sports editor to look for injury news and write a couple of pars. He seemed alright. Of all of the people there, he seemed like he could, or wanted to, string a couple of sentences together.

Nobody else asked me where I came from, what I was doing or explained who they were.

The atmosphere was dead. I was expecting a bustling sports desk with wisecracks and opinions flying around. What I got was a load of people with headphones on semi-watching some curling qualifiers.

In hindsight, I put this lack of contact, communication, introductions or basic politeness down to a churn of weekly interns that they must get sitting next to them, never to be seen again. Why bother to learn their name or who they are? All a bit sad really.

On Tuesday, I came in at 10am, got stuck at the door as I hadn’t been issued a card to get in, then walked over to the desk. Someone else was sitting where I had been. I assumed they would be hot-desking, so popped myself down next to him. He didn’t look up from his screen or move his headphones. So I asked someone else for the login details. There were a few different people around the desk, to whom I introduced myself before a couple told me their names.

I asked if anyone knew where Dave (not his real name) was from the day before. I was told it was his day off… This is where I thought that, in normal human interaction, seeing as I am probably not a mindreader, I might be told who could either give me something to do or point me to someone who could.

I had no idea who was in charge. Everyone looked busy, or looked like they were trying to be busy. Headphones on, eyes firmly looking forward.

Let’s use your initiative and crack on with what they asked you to do yesterday, I thought. Maybe they’ll like that. At least when I send something through on the group email I’ll get some sort of response, have have some method of interaction, or learn something through a signature.

I sent through my first SIB. Then another. After the third story, there was still no response. I literally didn’t know what to do.

Speak to these people who haven’t acknowledged I am here for what is now three hours or take my lunch?

I went off to lunch and didn’t come back. I couldn’t face the awkwardness or the dull atmosphere any longer, and I knew that I had some more productive things I could do at home from the previous week’s placement, which had been absolutely brilliant.

I wish I had spoken to someone. Maybe, reluctantly, they might have taken off their headphones. I doubt it. I might still had been there, plodding along until Friday afternoon, watching the clock tick over in somewhere I definitely knew I didn’t want to work.

This isn’t the reason I got into journalism. This is exactly the reason I left working in The City, to follow my passion and to enjoy my work.

I haven’t been put off, not one little bit, but I think I can put that down to age, confidence in what I do and a brilliant placement the week before where I was made to feel at home from the moment I walked in.

I’m far from precious. But simple human interaction shouldn’t be too much to ask, should it?

My greater worry is that an intern younger than I am, perhaps straight from university, could easily be put off by such a lack of welcome, at a national newspaper that churns through interns.

  • For reasons that ought to be obvious, our trainee correspondent has asked to remain anonymous. They wouldn’t want staff from the sport desk he worked at for nearly two days to make more contact with him now than they did when he sat beside some of them last week. But is this a scene that you recognise from where you work? Or have you been on work placements which have been similarly unhelpful? Post your comments below


Mon Mar 24: SJA British Sports Journalism Awards, Grand Connaught Rooms, London
Mon Apr 14: SJA Spring Golf Day: Croham Hurst GC, Surrey. Booking details to be announced

2 thoughts on “Cups of tea all-round: intern’s true-life story

  1. This is so very true. Had a very similar experience at a Scottish national recently. Disappointing that journalists seem to forget where they came from so quickly.

  2. Depressing reading. Silent sports desks produce a gloomy product, which narrows this down considerably

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