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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