Student in focus: James Gale (Sunday Times)
In the fifth of our series of posts exploring the journalistic work that our students complete alongside their studies, recent graduate James Gale reflects on his internship at The Sunday Times and how this invaluable work experience motivated him during his final year of study.
For two weeks in May, I was lucky enough — indeed, outrageously so — to work as an editorial intern on News Review at The Sunday Times. This is the features desk of the newspaper, with a real scope in their pieces; whether reflecting on the stories and people that have made the news over the previous week, topical reports from around the world, or interviews with those for whom the only criteria is a colourful life or engaging story to discuss. The opportunity really was by chance — I had been offered the placement last November, while trying to source an interview with a Times journalist for my dissertation; a social research project into the political power of British journalism. The offer was an enormous surprise, to say the least — so much so that I staged a leaping, fleeting revolt against the crutches I was using for illness. I was ecstatic and joyous, the moment brief and wonderful; and ultimately ill-advised.
The placement was a real carrot-on-a-stick during my final year, but given the intensity of the workload, one I didn’t always give a great deal of thought to. Indeed, I was quietly confident at the prospect, and looking forward to cutting my chops at a prestigious national broadsheet. However, on the morning of my first day I was a nervous wreck — a suited and booted, and extremely pale, rabbit in headlights; for the day itself, a rabbit slowly squashed and smeared, back and forth, under the wheel of a 4x4. With the News Building itself based in Southwark and set to breath-taking panoramic views of London, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that nerves absolutely got the better of me, and I was overwhelmed by the experience.
Nonetheless, I worked as hard as I could for the rest of the week, growing into the role a little more with each day; from a flattened rabbit to a small terrier chasing a flock of pigeons, I like to imagine. I compiled enormous research documents for stories; sourced potential interviewees; took or made phone calls; transcribed interviews with some absolutely fascinating people — such as Russell Davison, the man who tended to his wife’s body for days after her death, or International lawyer Miriam González Durántez; sourced data, information and statistics for stories; attended editorial meetings; offered ideas for stories and content and wrote Tweets for NR’s timeline. While I personally can claim very limited credit for my work on stories, there is something utterly bizarre recognising it, in the weeks that have followed, in the crisp pages of a national newspaper.
Ultimately, I absolutely loved the experience, and had the privilege of working alongside some excellent journalists while learning a great deal in the process. Indeed, the pace was breakneck; stories were often abandoned early or mid-week with breaking news — the death of Ian Brady was one example — and it was a fascinating and utterly surreal experience into the day-to-day of such a formidable, and prestigious, publication. There is something utterly infectious and addictive about that intensity, and to be a part of the enormous amount of work of a huge team was genuinely special; it really is so easy to be naïve at just how much research goes into a single news story. It was also impossible not to enjoy the simple buzz, the energy and atmosphere, of a team of talented journalists engrossed in their job; for whom, these fascinating events and equally fascinating people are not stories to consume, but their day-to-day reality.