Not a bad view – Mark Briggs has spent a year on placement in Florence. Pic: Echiner1
Mark Briggs is currently on the European University Institute’s paid traineeship in Florence, Italy. As the scheme opens for this year’s intake, he shares his experiences and offers some advice…
It was never my intention to move to Italy. I’d graduated from my journalism MA the previous year and spent the winter scratching together the occasional freelance commission or taking part in unsatisfactory work placements and internships.
Every cover letter I wrote stretched my experiences to the full as I tried to eke out that dreaded requirement of “1-2 years’ experience” that seemed to be stained on any job description I could find.
I am sure many can relate when I say that the graduate job market in the media industry can be pretty unforgiving. It’s like a closed shop with hundred of voices shouting at the window begging to be let in.
That is where traineeships like the one I have been doing with the European University Institute can be so beneficial in kick-starting your journalism career. They really provide you with an opportunity to get that much-needed foot in the door.
I have spent the last year generating ideas for features, reporting on speeches or conferences and chasing down experts to get their opinions and analysis on current affairs. As a result, I have a portfolio brimming with articles on a vast variety of subjects.
So how did I get the traineeship? A year ago a friend sent me the job description for the position. There was no vox-popping, no re-writing of press releases, no making the tea. It sounded appealing, so I sent in my application.
A week later I had a phone interview and a few days after that they offered me the position. I think what helped me with my application was that I had experience writing in different styles – I had not just done hard news, but also feature-writing and interviews.
I had also lived in a foreign country before, having spent four months in Chile working for the Santiago Times. I would say that was quite important, as this is a year-long traineeship and the last thing they want is to have to re-advertise in two months’ time because the occupant is homesick.
The fact that English is my mother tongue was also essential – whilst the staff are all bilingual, they still liked having me around to check that a phrase in an email or announcement sounds “native.”
The role itself is varied. There is a print magazine for external stakeholders (EUI Times) and there is a blog and newsletter for the community (EUI Life). In addition to writing for these, there is the chance to get to grips with social media, as well as the opportunity to do a bit of photography and occasional video work.
A standard day would involve turning up at Villa Salviati (Google it, it’s gorgeous) and transcribing an interview from the day before. I’d then check the news to see if there were any stories that a member of the EUI had particular expertise in and arrange to interview them (usually over a coffee) for an article or feature I might be working on. Then I would villa-hop to my next interview.
There are obviously certain parameters, but to a large extent you can really make the role your own. For example, my predecessor was much more of a newshound than I am and did a lot of reporting from the myriad of events held at the EUI, whereas I focused more on features and interviews. There’s also likely to be more potential for multimedia work in the future.
Going into the traineeship, my biggest fear was that this was just going to be a press officer role dressed up under a more exciting job title. Whilst there admittedly isn’t much scope for investigative journalism (you’ll hardly unearth deep corruption and embezzlement of European Union funds), I can still safely say you won’t be churning out press releases either. I’ve been there nearly the full year and I can count on one hand the number of them I have had to write.
And of course, I cannot finish without addressing that big Dolce Vita-shaped elephant in the room: Florence.
Life in Italy is, to a large extent, pretty much everything you would imagine it to be. The food is good and the coffee is short. The locals are late, passionate and gesticulate more widely than a signer at a South African leader’s funeral. The surrounding region of Tuscany is a great location. You can get to most of the other major cities in around two hours by train, there is a great coastline, picturesque mountains and more history than your can shake Da Vinci’s paintbrush at.
I also now have a much better idea of where I want my career to go. I know what jobs I will be good at and which I won’t. At times I found the move away from the buzz and energy of London difficult, but I will miss Florence terribly. It has been a great year, and one that (in my opinion at least) has made me a better journalist. What more could you ask for from a traineeship?
The EUI is currently taking applications for this year’s scheme, beginning in June 2014 – to find out more, click here. You can also follow Mark on Twitter @briggsma.