There’s a shrine in the corner of my room, a collection of passes from all the newspapers I’ve ever done work experience in. I used to flick through them, trying to remember what I learned from each placement: how they’ve moulded me into a better reporter, the silly mistakes, the small triumphs. I used to be proud of them: they were trophies which marked the weeks of unpaid toil. Used to.
I’ve been trying to be a journalist since I was 17. I’m now 22. That’s five years of friends tolerating my idiosyncratic habit of reading five different national newspapers every day, and spending my summers and holidays in newsrooms (invariably without windows, why is that?).
But guess what? Trying hurts. I’m not going to stop, but it hurts. Work experience hurts. “Internships” hurt.
Rejections hurt. You will get rejected – knocked back, even for free work, as well as graduate schemes and jobs. Heartfelt emails will go unanswered, submissions ignored or outright declined (It took me a week to get over the first “No. Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device”). If you’re trying to be a journalist, chances are at some point you’ll have your heart broken by a newspaper.
It happens, it’s your job to take it on the chin, and pick yourself up and try again. I knew that, I know that, but I just want them to acknowledge that it hurts. I want them to remember what it was like for them (and sometimes, some reporters to) – that all the young people out there trying to do this like me, well, I think we’re terrified.
It’s not that I’m terrible. If anything I’m quite good – sadly, not brilliant, not outstanding, but a hard worker and intelligent and capable. But being quite good just isn’t enough more. So, I tried to get better; shorthand, media law, a post-graduate course in journalism after getting my undergraduate degree (first class, not that that has helped my chances), plus months and months of more work experience and freelance work (also unpaid). Answering to the name of “work experience girl”, begging to be allowed to do vox pops in sub-zero temperatures, hunting for stories all the time, making endless cups of tea. All the while, blogging and tweeting and networking and doing coursework and seeing friends and trying to salvage some sense of who I am – me, the person, not the unpaid intern who’s ignored by almost everyone except the male (often married) reporters who can leer at you with no fear, because you will never complain about it, you’re too junior. And, all the while, smiling.
Trying. Trying is fucking exhausting.
The problem is, there are a lot of quite good people like me. Newsdesks, editors, the people who you might be doing free work for – they know this too. And to them, I think we’re all the same. So this isn’t a horror story from any particular internship, it’s a plea. Remember that I am, that we are, human beings. That we have hopes and dreams and desires and actually, really want to do this, or we wouldn’t be here.
Remember, the reason I’m not rushing over to the newsdesk every five minutes with 20 ideas is probably because I emailed you with some two hours ago, and you still haven’t replied, or because my self-worth has been so compromised by months of unpaid work that I’m too terrified to try anymore because I no longer have the emotional capacity to handle it if you say “no.”
So, a plea to remember we’re human, from me, on behalf of all interns everywhere who might feel like me, on behalf of all the people out there who are still trying and will carry on trying. Please, say thank you. And if you don’t want to say thank you, just acknowledge the emotional effort that we put into it, look us in the eye and remember we’re human, like you. We’re brave, you’ve got to be brave to try and become a journalist now (or maybe just incredibly stubborn.)