“Just freelancing”

This week I started my first few days at the Radio Times office as their summer intern. With only one other internship under my belt and two semesters of working in a newsroom while juggling school and extra curriculars (note that I didn’t include social life, because let’s get real for a second), this was a big step for me. Not only was it in a new city from my previous experiences in Columbia, but it was in a foreign one with new office culture etiquette to learn. Not only that, but the readership of the publication I now work for grew at least four times over. As one of the leading entertainment magazines here, the Radio Times reaches just over one million readers per week. That’s a little more than Columbia’s 100,000+ population as a whole on a good day.

Did I mention that unlike other offices, I get my own desk, computer, landline AND badge for the security system to enter the newsroom? Sure, it doesn’t have my name and currently says “just freelancing,” but I’ll take it.

My first week was a little strange simply because it was right after a Bank Holiday, which meant that a lot of the staff had also taken the long weekend to extend their vacations for the whole week. That included my editor and the head of the web department.

On Tuesday, my half-day, I got set up with the basics that would lay out my office life for the following three months. After a few phone calls down to the IT department and chatting with a representative who sounded exactly like one of the characters from The IT Crowd, I got my computer and email login set up. So far so good.

But, then again, not really. I also had to get several other accounts set up in order to actually access and contribute to the site I would be working for.

Other than the logistical matters that had to be sorted out, I got to work on my first assignment.

Although I didn’t personally have anything to contribute at that first day’s pitch meeting (a mere five minutes after I had actually gotten my things settled), I was given the task of covering news on Donald Trump. Yep, the Don’s presidential antics were in my hands. Whether or not he actually considers running for presidency in 2016, I can at least say I contributed my two cents and quips on the matter. That’s probably the only time I’ll ever talk about Trump. Anything for the sake of journalism, am I right?

After the first story went up, Paul (the person next in line to head the department while Tim was away) said I did a good job with the writing style and facts in the piece. One thing I’ve noticed in the writing at the Radio Times, and in British journalism/entertainment writing in general, is the presence of really good voice and wit. Writing for a lifestyle magazine allowed me to do some of that, but it’s also something I know I’d like to improve on over the course of the summer.

Wednesday was my first full day at the office, and two more stories came out about that. Speculation about who will direct the new James Bond movie and the announcement that Rob Lowe will portray President John F. Kennedy in an upcoming TV film drama were enough to fill my day. I also helped the travel writer, Jade, come up with a list of quirky museums around the UK. It certainly got me thinking about some future outings I might want to pursue.

So far, the work that I’ve done for the site have been similar to my work at the Missourian or Business Times as far as contributing daily news. There are a few things about the office culture and work in general that are completely different from what I’m used to:

  1. A lot of the news I write about don’t come directly from the sources I write about. I’ve learned to comb my Twitter feed for story ideas and updates about entertainment current events. Once I find a story, I generally gather information from my other sources and tailor them to the RT audience. But as far as actually picking up the phone and verifying or asking follow-up questions? Not so much. It doesn’t help that my desk phone still isn’t set up yet. I’ll probably have to call up the IT guy again tomorrow.
  2. I’ve written for both daily news and print features, which can range from 400-2,000 words. Writing online for entertainment news means keeping things short and sweet, but also making sure it’s sassy. Tim also mentioned the importance of keeping a balanced perspective to cater to both the fanatic and the occasional viewer of a certain program.
  3. The Brits like to add extra letters in their words. Likewise, our abbreviations are different than from across the pond. In the Rob Lowe story, I followed AP style to abbreviate the state name of Virginia. However, somewhere in the transition from my desktop to the copy desk to the online publishing area, the simple Va. was changed to Vancouver. You can bet I’ll be asking for a copy or style guide when I go in tomorrow morning.
  4. The whole deal about Brits being very private and working independently so as to not disturb their colleagues is extremely true. I would have thought that in a newsroom there would be a certain amount of ruckus, especially for a daily news site and a weekly magazine. Not so at the Radio Times. The newsroom, which is literally just a room with rows of desks and computers to house anywhere from the legal to the design to the copy editing teams, has a generally steady buzz that starts up around 10 a.m. But as far as noise levels, it’s less of a roar and more of a hum. The occasional shouts across the room to get Ben Preston’s attention or cross-office joke are few and far between. On my first day I got an email from another webbie to feel free to email her if I had any questions. She sat only several seats down from me, but the email way was the right way.
  5. Although communication might not be as face-to-face as I’m used to, the Brits really do love their swear words and aren’t afraid to use those in verbal communication. I could probably keep myself busy counting the number of F bombs dropped within an hour anywhere in the room.
  6. There’s no such thing as break time. Most people I saw stuck to their desks for lunch. There is a pretty nice café on the building’s main floor, but so far I’ve only been down there for meetings. Maybe I’ll be lucky enough to be invited out to a post-workday pub outing, though.
  7. As I mentioned, it was kind of neat to see all working gears of putting this publication out to the public all in one room, working separately but simultaneously. Walking along the aisle to the web department area, which is situated at the far end of the room, is fascinating because I get to get a glimpse of what everyone is working on at the time. One person might be making phone calls to advertisers. Another might be poring over the typography of a headline. Another might be directing the IT guy to my desk where I’m sitting wide-eyed and nervous about what I should be working on.

There are a lot of difference to work through, but that just means more chances to learn.

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