I stood in the office, naked as the day I was born, while the old Etonian editor bellowed at me form approximately 3 inches in front of my face. “I need 3000 words on my desk on Jonathan Trott’s childhood problems and how they affect his ability to play reverse swing in Australia in 40 minutes – Gray, get on it!”
This had been the bad dream I had dreamt before my first day at The Cricketer Magazine, dreading that I would be dangerously out of my depth within the most inner workings of the biggest-selling cricket magazine in the world, which I had been an avid reader of since I memorised my dad’s Direct Debit details.
More than being a driven, enthusiastic, or hard-working, being able to manipulate a photocopier with an aptitude beyond your tender years is often a cornerstone of succeeding in an internship. Being able to memorise and deliver up to 12 different coffee orders is often another. In March I was thrust into the hot-desk at The Cricketer Magazine for two weeks, where I discovered exactly what it takes to survive in the nuance world of magazine journalism. *Cue introductory music and opening credits.*
My first job didn’t land on my overcrowded desk for some two-and-a-half-hours. Having only ever worked in daily newspapers, I had expected to be thrown the really annoying bits that no-one really wants to do, of which there are many. However, at a monthly magazine, on a Monday after the magazine has just gone to print, life is quite easy-paced. I was sat down in front of my 72” iMac, told to make myself at home, and that someone would be along to give me something to do. 12 feet away, the editor told me that he had some admin to take care of, and then he would find something for me to do. He and the rest of the office then vanished into a meeting for an hour.
It gave me the opportunity to settle in. I checked how much I could adjust my swivel chair along various axes, signed into my Chrome account so I could feel at home, and settled in for a session of updating my Linkedin to reflect my morning’s achievements.
Eventually, my colleagues returned and gave me something to do. It was the short straw job I had been expecting, which involved ringing up a random subscriber and trying to get them to say something interesting to fill a small space in the letters subscription: essentially, cold-calling. Not fascinating, and it certainly wasn’t the biting satirical column I had planned to write for page 27, but the first rule of training as a journalist is “never say no”. So I didn’t.
20 minutes later, after several rejections, I had completed the interview, received some pictures from the subject, and filed the copy with the publishing assistant. He was delighted with the speed of the turnaround, but seemed mystified as to why I had bothered to do it with such haste.
“You know we don’t go to print for another 3 weeks right?” The implication was that I really should have milked this task and tried to make it last all day. Needless to say I was little shocked.
It became something of a running theme. Every job I got, I made sure I did as promptly as was practical; I thought it would be the right thing to do. What I failed to understand was that the very nature of magazine journalism is totally different from newspaper. They are different industry pieces.
While in news there is an element of creation to putting a piece together, I find myself attempting to convey the facts in the most unbiased way possible while still making it readable. With the pieces I was putting together, I had to think in a totally different way about the flow of my copy, about my style, my paragraphing; everything I knew had to change. But that’s why they call it work experience.
As the week went on, I grasped the concept more, and was given more to do, but rarely was I rushed off my feet. It left me with substantial downtime, which I had to find a way of using productively. As it was, I started compiling stats. Anyone involved with cricket knows there are endless stats, some of which are not immediately available, despite the best efforts of Cricket Archive and Cricinfo’s StatsGuru. It quickly earned me a nickname – Statto, after Baddiel and Skinner’s character on Fantasy Football – and made me a valuable resource in the office.
In sport, there are always going to be people who know more than you; I was staggered by the depth of knowledge of guys who’d only worked in cricket for two or three years. However, if you recognise a niche in which you can make yourself useful, grasp it. As soon as you make yourself independently useful, things get a whole lot easier, and all of a sudden, you’re indispensable.
I was dispensed three days later.