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Learning on the job – my community paper experience

The pay was low and the job had its quirky side. But one young journalist believes her two-year stint at a regional community paper will prove an invaluable experience.

I feel like I am in mourning. I have recently left my job as a journalist at a regional community newspaper after two years and I will miss it. But it has been a very interesting experience.

I was offered the job half-way through my degree after doing work experience at the paper. I have been working there two days a week ever since. That’s why I would suggest to any student the value of work experience, and not overlooking sometimes boring community newspapers for the more ‘glamorous’ or ‘cool’ media such as fashion magazines.

It has been an amazing experience that not only gave me experience as a working journalist but as a photographer, receptionist, database gatekeeper, website updater, broad range journalist – I have written on everything from sport, music and hard news, to feeling like a pseudo counsellor at times for interviewees. I also started as an untrained photographer so having the confidence to give things a go is important for young aspiring journalists.

I now understand almost every facet of a newspaper from what the graphic designers do to what the publisher does, the importance of advertising revenue for a free newspaper, respect for the owners of the paper, and how the printers can make costly mistakes.

In an average week , I would take up to nine photos and write up to nine articles of all sizes. You don’t have to be as fast a writer as you would in a daily newspaper, but you do have to be organised. I may have spent a day and a half getting all the interviews and photos done to then spend an afternoon writing articles and putting it all together.

Right from the start it was very much a sink or swim environment. Yes, I had other staff members to help me but like may newspapers, we were underresourced so there was not a lot of time to sit down for a chat. I just had to think hard, have an eye for detail, be thorough in my work and network with people in the region. Apart from university, there was never any further training either.

However, there were many good things about working there. I had a lot of creative freedom with the photos, and I developed a good working relationship with my editor that would allow me to put forward the stories my contacts suggested. I also got to interview many celebrities such as Arj Barker, Bertie Blackman, Little Birdy, Darryl Braitwaite, James Reyne and Ray Martin, as well as meeting and interviewing many politicians.

Yet there was also a lot of frustration with pay issues because the pay was very low. I had a very low hourly rate yet I was still required to use my own car while I conducted the work of both a journalist and a photographer.

Also, a lot of the content I produced was advertising driven. This was often a problem because when a client decided to advertise with us, the sales staff would promise them a free editorial. However, many clients didn’t understand that the editorial was separate from their advertising and often demanded to see the editorial before it was published, to ensure it was what they wanted it say.

This really sharpened my integrity and respect for the profession – it is important for journalists not to feel bullied or pushed into writing for their advertisers. Instead, you have to keep respect for your audience in the back of your mind. Although, it was difficult when some clients spoke in ‘advertising’ speak during their interviews, which was hard to incorporate into the article and make it sound genuine.

Writing about so many advertisers though, has given me a thorough knowledge of many different kinds of jobs. I also live in the town where a lot of them were based, so I now know who is good to go to for services, who is nice and it has been interesting hearing from people on all the different issues they are having in a community. I also enjoyed writing about new businesses, and helping them attract more customers with the articles I wrote.

Overall, it was a life-changing experience that I will never regret. For students who want a broad range of experience in the media, community newspaper.

The author of this article prefers to remain anonymous.

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