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My Day At The Financial Times

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The FT headquarters in Southwark. Pic credit: bpsusf

Keele University politics student and aspiring journalist Hugo Driscoll spent a day with the Financial Times. He used the opportunity to quiz journos about the best route into the industry… 

As fellow students may be aware, applying for jobs after or during your degree can be a daunting prospect after years of being care-free at university. The economy of our country is constantly dabbling with a recession whilst the overall value of a degree has been diminished over the years.

I myself am currently in my last year at university, and have always harboured ambitions of becoming a full time journalist at one of the major papers. However, in a society of it being ‘who you know’ and not ‘what you know’, the chances of breaking into such an oversubscribed industry are becoming increasingly difficult.

I was lucky enough to meet the International News editor of the Financial Times, Tony Quinn, through him being a friend of my grandfather. I took the opportunity to ask him to show me around their offices in London – admittedly, that was a case of who I knew.

This gave me the platform I needed to ask direct questions to someone well-respected and high up in the field of financial journalism. One of the first questions lingering in my excited brain at the time was “What is the easiest route into journalism?” Tony Quinn responded by saying that there is no ‘easy way’. He told me that the best chance graduates have is to do some form of master’s qualification whilst maintaining a broad portfolio of work to show future employers.

For someone who wasn’t prepared to do a postgraduate degree, the news came as quite a shock to me. He elaborated by adding that the most ideal (but less likely) route into journalism is to be fast-tracked through one of the many graduate trainee schemes that are run by various major papers. These, however, are highly competitive and normally only one or two people are accepted out of potentially thousands of applications. That really was bad news.

Fortunately, there was also some optimism to take from my visit. I also spoke to Andrew Ward, a reporter at the FT, who explained to me that aspiring journalists are now living in an era were being published has never been easier, particularly through the use of blogging websites.

As emphasised through Tony, the main lesson and best advice that I took away from my day there was the importance of writing and improving your skills. Do all you can to get published and show that you are a writer in your own right, as nothing in this world will come easily to the majority of graduates.

A version of this article by Hugo Driscoll first appeared in Concourse Magazine. If you’re thinking about doing an MA in journalism, check out our handy list of courses here.

Financial Times – FT Weekend Magazine Internship

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Location: London

Closing date: Ongoing

The FT Weekend Magazine is offering a three-month editorial internship.

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FT Graduate Scheme: A Reporter’s Tips

FT_Kiran_Stacey_in_Beijing

Kiran Stacey reports on Prime Minister David Cameron’s visit to China

Former Financial Times trainee Kiran Stacey now works full-time as a political correspondent for the paper. He describes life on the scheme…

After editing his student newspaper and doing work experience at various national titles, Kiran earned a spot on the FT’s graduate programme. We caught up with him to find out more about what applicants can expect:

What journalism experience did you have prior to the scheme that was most beneficial to your application?

The most important thing for me was probably writing for and editing the student newspaper. The experience was absolutely invaluable – it gave me a real sense of what it takes to put a publication together from start to finish.

I wasn’t just writing articles, but also commissioning them, sourcing pictures, designing the page layouts and even organising the advertisements.

The fact that we were competing with other student newspapers in the area also gave me a real understanding of what was needed to get to the story first.

How did you find the FT scheme’s application process?

It was pretty tough. In my year there were over 360 applicants for just four positions.

The first thing I had to do was submit several articles, along with my CV and a piece of original writing (either an essay or an article). Once I got past this stage I was invited to a first round of interviews. This included a news judgement test, where I was given ten stories to rank in order of importance. I then had to justify my choices.

After this there was a second round of interviews, where the editors had an aggressive style and asked some tough questions. They were also quite happy to let me wallow in my own awkwardness if I didn’t know an answer.

One question I was asked was on who I would interview if I was writing an article about Credit Suisse going bust. Quite frankly I didn’t really know much about investment banking at all so I flannelled around and tried to suggest some people whose names I didn’t even really know. I remember the editor looking particularly unimpressed with that.

What advice do you have for current applicants?

Having work experience really helps. There is nothing like having seen how a news room operates first-hand to help you stand out from the crowd.

You also need to be passionate about journalism. Don’t think you can get onto the scheme because you’ve done an English degree and fancy a bit of writing. You have to know what it takes to get a news story and prove that you have that quality.

Crucially, with any scheme, you should read the paper that you are applying to religiously in the couple of weeks running up to your interview. But don’t stop there – make sure you have ideas of how their articles can be built on and improved. Go through with a pen and actually write down “That’s an interesting line, I’d like to follow that up” or “That’s who I’d call on that” or “I’m not sure that that really works”.

The final piece of advice I would give, and possibly the most important, is this: if you don’t know something, say so. You aren’t expected to know everything when you are young and fresh out of university. What they really want to test is whether or not you have the guts to turn round and say “Well I don’t know that – I would have to find out”. Honesty is very important in a reporter.

What tips do you have for those who make it onto the 2014 scheme?

You need to be prepared to be left to your own devices. You’re expected to make your own way and pitch your own stories, so you really need to be willing to put your head above the parapet.

I joined the week before Lehman Brothers collapsed and one of my first assignments was to go to the company’s London offices to interview bankers who had just been sacked so I could feed news lines back to the desk. You need to have the confidence to go to a patch and find stories by talking to anyone and everyone.

It can seem like a lot of responsibility, but it’s a great environment in which to develop as a journalist. People won’t try to hold you hand the whole way, nor will they relegate you to researching for their articles. Everyone will be keen for you to get out there to do you own stuff and get your own bylines in the paper.

You can follow Kiran on Twitter @kiranstacey and read his Westminster blog here.

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