Blog: My fortnight at The Times

Some of you may be aware from my previous posts that some of the articles I wrote were during my 2-week internship at The Times newspaper, arranged by the UpRising programme.  Unsurprisingly, they’ve wanted me to write  a piece about my experience ever since and, embarrassingly, I’ve been incredibly poor at getting to them.  Better late than never I say and so, here it is.  You can now read the version on the UpRising website.

There are many organisations and initiatives that talk of “raising aspirations” for young people.  There are few that actually do it.   In my experience, the UpRising programme is the only one that has.

I was given the privilege of spending two weeks in the company of some of the biggest names in journalism with a placement at The Times newspaper. And it wasn’t just a generic work placement.

It is testament to the UpRising programme that the Managing Editor of an ubiquitous brand like The Times took time out of her schedule to not only speak to me at length about my aspirations, but deem it fit to place me on the Leaders/OpEd desk – the place which sets the tone for the paper on a daily basis.

As I was introduced to some of the most influential people in journalism – Daniel Finkelstein, Phil Collins, Hugo Rifkind, Oliver Kamm and others – it soon dawned on me that, for a while at least, these individuals would be my colleagues. And it’s all because of UpRising.

Sitting at David Aaronovitch’s desk, I’d hardly had time to compose myself before my boss for the fortnight, Anne Spackman (a Times stalwart and former Managing Editor herself), whisked me off to the daily News Conference.  Walking up the stairs, I was briefed that this is where section Editors (from Home Affairs, to Sport and times2 magazine) brief the Editor, James Harding, on content in the paper.

I sat down, notepad in hand, looked left and sitting next to me was Matthew Parris.  I could hardly contain my excitement but did my best to look engrossed in News Conference with the words “I’m sitting next to Matthew Parris” playing on loop in my head, preventing me from concentrating.

Whilst the “intellectual celebrity spotting” was exhilarating everyday, I was there to do some proper work.  And work I did.  After News Conference, on a daily basis, I would prepare for Leaders Conference that would take place immediately after.  Here, the Leader Writers (Phil Collins, Daniel Finkelstein, Oliver Kamm etc.) would meet with the Editor and tell him what they wanted to write about.  This was important as the Lead pages set out the tone and position of the paper – whether it be supporting another runway at Heathrow or criticising Bashar al-Assad in Syria – this part of the paper would have readers and commentators saying “The Times thinks this on this particular issue”.

To be part of that meeting on a daily basis and, at one point, having my suggestion warmly considered (that Scottish independence may have been dealt a huge boost by David Cameron’s decision to veto the European treaty on the Euro) was nothing short of inspiring.  I was even invited to a breakfast presentation hosted by Emily Maitlis at the Royal Automobile Club by Daniel Finkelstein who was debating the Euro with Oliver Kamm.  Embarrassingly, after the event, I left them waiting for me for a while as they jumped into a taxi as I’d decided to take the tube back to the office, even though Daniel suggested I take the taxi with them back the day before!

As the afternoon arrived, Anne suggested I develop my writing by trying to write something for Comment Central, the Times online blog.  What an amazing opportunity.  I would write every day and (after a few edits by the awesomely named James Dean), would see my pieces published on Comment Central.  I wrote about a range of things – from the Euro through to Ilford being the top tourist destination in 2011 – and was actively encouraged to do so.

But perhaps the biggest highlight of my time at The Times came on my last day.  Peter Brookes is nothing short of legendary in current affairs circles.  He has been The Times’ leader-cartoonist for 20 years, capturing the ever-changing national and international political landscape with his sharp observational cartoons.  Within hours of the News Conference, he would come to the Leader/OpEd desk with his initial sketch, asking our opinion (even mine!).  Generally, our feedback would be “Oh that’s just amazing!” – I’m not sure how much that helps him…

On my last day, the Managing Editor invited me to her office and we had a chat about my time at The Times.  She then handed me a signed copy of Peter Brookes’ collection of cartoons.  Signed.  By Peter Brookes himself.  I had to thank him in person immediately after and did with the most inane grin on my face.  I hope I hadn’t freaked him out.  But nonetheless, this book now has pride of place in my living room for all to see.

Not only do I have a signed copy of Peter Brookes’ book, I have wonderful contacts who have been generous with their time and advice since (Daniel Finkelstein wrote me a recommendation on LinkedIn!) and have the opportunity to write for Comment Central whenever I come up with a decent idea.  Not bad for 2 week’s work.

And I have UpRising to thank for that.

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