Student and aspiring journo Ellie House elaborates on why she thinks regional papers provide the best training for budding journos…
Whilst my flat mates spoke of free dominoes at fresher’s fair, I opted for a placement with my local paper, The Lancaster Guardian.
I spent the first few days asking the long-suffering chief reporter to double check every single sentence I typed, and even practised my phone voice once I got home. It’s been over a year since that terrifying week, and I owe the paper one heck of a lot!
Whilst national experience may help you to walk the walk, the skills learnt at regionals will enable you to talk till you’re blue in the face.
Part Of The Team
At the Lancaster Guardian, I was allowed to come back on a weekly basis. A national newspaper can rarely offer this type of opportunity.
Nationals are an experience in themselves, but it is incredibly difficult to make your mark when there is a different wannabe journo in each week.
It’s easy to feel like an outsider there, especially when it comes to office politics. Regionals, on the other hand, can provide a far more nurturing role in an incredibly tough business.
Deadline days at The Lancaster Guardian are often extremely stressful, but in my experience people always found the time to have a quick chat with me. I was asked to write stories from day one, so I felt a valued member of the team.
Learning The Basics
Understanding the basic dynamics of the newsroom stood me in good stead for other work placements, and also improved my confidence.
I learnt invaluable skills across all four regional placements, such as the art of writing a good introduction, interview technique, structure, and working to deadline.
After ringing an irate shop owner back for the fifth time, I learnt to have all my questions prepared before I eagerly dialled. I also learnt the importance of diplomatically asking ages and spelling names right.
Although these are basic skills, it’s surprisingly easy to overlook their importance. I certainly did, which led to a correction in the paper the following week, and a mild slap on the wrist from colleagues.
The lessons learnt enabled me to go on to write articles for The Independent, and flourish during a BBC placement.
Whilst it’s always worth asking if you can accompany someone on an interview during national experience, I was repeatedly told that PR teams “wouldn’t like it” and was left to do the recycling.
The Lancaster Guardian, on the other hand, allowed me to interview people over the telephone, and finally in person.
An interview with the local vicar may not be considered as important as a national feature, but both require an equally professional technique.
You have to be prepared to be given the jobs that nobody else wants to do at regionals, and there were certainly times when I nearly ate my own head with boredom.
I was rewarded with some really interesting pieces after writing an article about a computer shop, which taught me the importance of knuckling down regardless of the subject.
Knowing Your Patch
Unlike nationals, regional newspapers give you the opportunity to become part of a community. Some of my work gave me a feel-good factor which is perhaps rare in today’s media. The older generation were amazingly grateful for my local coverage of a sixtieth wedding anniversary, for example, and I felt very lucky to talk to such couples.
These moments reminded me why I wanted to be a journalist, and also taught me vital people skills. Regional newspapers offer golden opportunities if you’re prepared to work for free, and stalk locals in your spare time.
From covering a rural campaign with The County Times to attending a controversial inquest for The Shropshire star, regional newspapers have been far more influential in my development as a journalist than national placements.
Had The Lancaster Guardian not given me a chance, my portfolio would not be nearly as strong.
Do you think that placements at regional papers have more to teach than nationals? Have you had experience at both? Get in touch with your thoughts or leave a comment below. You can follow Ellie on Twitter @ellie_house