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GAP YEAR | VOLUNTEER ABROAD | WORK EXPERIENCE OVERSEAS

 

Volunteers' Stories

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MAX MCLAREN
British

Journalism Work Experience Internship at a top daily Newspaper in Cape Town, South Africa
         

October 5th Today was the first day of my 4-week internship. I arrived at the office at around 10am and was immediately directed towards the daily 10am-conference, chaired by the News Editor of the Cape Times. Also in the conference were the newspaper’s reporters, other interns and the head photographer. Discussed in this meeting are all the possible stories that could fill the newspaper for the following day. Obviously, this was a lot to take in on my first day, but it was all quite exciting – even if I didn’t really know what was going on! I truly felt like I was being thrown in at the deep end, and if this was what the 4-week period would be likely to entail, then it certainly would be valuable work experience.

Unfortunately, today was a quiet day in terms of news … Thus, I was given the early afternoon to induct myself with the writing style of the newspaper and familiarize myself with the brief given to every intern on their opening day.

Later in the afternoon, I attended the page allocation meeting, and subsequently the mid-afternoon conference, held at 3.30pm. This meeting contained all the big-guns of the Cape Times and I strangely felt like I had been propelled to importance despite my position as an intern.

Following the brief afternoon meeting, I was told I would be shadowing one of the reporters for the JSC judicial appointments tomorrow at 9am. Therefore, for the remainder of the afternoon I did some research on the procedure and also on the candidates involved.

October 6th My brief for the day was to shadow one of the reporters, Aeysha Kassiem, at the JSC appointments. This meant I had to arrive at the office for before 9am as the appointments began soon after. The appointments were held in a very up-market hotel, named the Pepper Hotel. Again, I felt this strange feeling of importance, as a well as a bit of pressure on my first assignment.

The process was very intense and drawn out, each interview lasting up to one hour and sometimes even longer. In one instance, the interview had to be brought to a halt and then recommenced after a half an hour interval. Throughout, I furiously scribbled notes, and had to be alert in order not to miss any vital pieces of information, as a full account of the appointments was to appear in the newspaper the following day.

After 8 long hours (with two breaks included), the appointments came to a close and I accompanied Aeysha back to the office to complete the story for the following day.

October 7th In the office, every day begins by reading the morning papers, responding to e-mails, and preparing for the 10am conference. It was now my third day in the office and I had my name in the Cape Times – needless to say this not only put a smile on my face, but also provided a confidence boost that any person needs when starting an internship or indeed a new job.

After attending the 10am conference, I was informed by another of the reporters, Quinton Mtyala, that I could go with him to a press conference with the Cape Town Safety and Security Officer, J-P. Smith. Thus, for the rest of the morning, I prepared for the press conference, which centered on the forced eviction of residents from Hangberg, Hout Bay, by anti-eviction forces.

The press conference was interesting and informative, and J-P. Smith had obviously done his homework. I managed to ask a question and following my mid-morning preparation, felt comfortable to add my input to the story for tomorrow’s Cape Times. When Quinton and I returned to the office, I began writing up various paragraphs that would make up part of the story and assisted Quinton when asked upon.

I left the office at around 5.30pm to begin my weekend, as a working week at the Cape Times primarily runs from Sunday to Thursday. The first week had offered quite a lot already.

October 11th The day began with an informal group appraisal session with the Executive Editor. Needless to say on my fourth day, I had little to contribute. Following the appraisal session came the mandatory 10am conference. Here, the News Editor told me I would be doing my first solo story. The story was regarding a British nurse that had been living in Cape Town for three years, but was still unable to become a registered nurse despite extensive experience and a Masters qualification.

Initially, I phoned the lady in question and commenced a telephone interview. Although I established the majority of the information, I felt it necessary to go and meet her and talk over the story as well.

Going to the hospital was definitely a good decision as it made the interview seem that much more professional. Having chatted with the nurse for around half an hour, the photographer and I returned to the office so that I could start writing the story.

The article was finished at around 5pm, but as the News Editor had been in meetings all afternoon, he was unable to look over the article, thus, unfortunately it was not ready for the next day's paper.

October 12th At the morning conference I was given two assignments for the day. The first of which was to firm up the story from the previous day about the British nurse. There were a few stumbling blocks in the story, and my task was to do some further research to ensure the article held up in the Cape Times.

The second task I was given was to chase a very tenuous link we had to the miners rescue in Chile. Five South Africans were involved in the rescue operation of the 33 miners that were trapped in the Chilean mine, and I had to make a few long distance calls to try and establish the names and contact details of at least one of the South Africans.

The initial task regarding further research on the nurse's story occupied much of the day, as I had to ring the South African Nursing Council to get their side of the story. An added problem, I felt, was that the News Editor did not fully understand the angle at which I wanted to direct the article. Either way, by the time I had completed the required research, I believed the story would work as a newsworthy piece, but at that time it was too late for it to make the next morning's paper.

As a result, I began my second assignment of the day. First of all, I rang the Chilean contact that the Cape Times had obtained. Through speaking to him, I was able to get the contact details of one of the South Africans involved in Chile. I phoned this man, but it turned out he would not be involved in the rescue operation that was to begin in a matter of hours. However, he did give me the name and number of one of the South Africans who would be. He also assured me that he would tell this man that he should expect a call from me tomorrow evening for a post-rescue interview. This quite excited both the Editors and other reporters in the office.

October 13th As I was due to be in the office at 9pm in the evening to complete my interview with the South African miner, today was only a half-day in the office. I made a few calls to ensure I had all the information correct for the British nurse's story and subsequently made a few adjustments. This took me to around lunchtime at which point I left in order to prepare for my night shift in the office.

Returning to the office I was quite excited. Not only was this my first night shift with the Cape Times, it also gave me a buzz that I was about to make an international phone interview with one of the South African miners involved in such a huge story. The office was completely empty, and so I immediately got my notes together and prepared for the interview. One of the night reporters was to assist me for the interview and so we did it in the conference room, and on loudspeaker.

The interview was trouble-free and the interviewee was very helpful and informative. Having completed the interview, we were told that we had to get the article written within the next half an hour. The night reporter and I therefore got to work quickly and put the article together. At around 10.15pm, I left the office with the article written and ready for tomorrow’s paper.

October 14th I arrived at work fairly tired following last night’s evening shift. Unfortunately, due to a few technicalities that we had discovered during the phone interview, the story with the South African miners was not as big news as we had hoped. Rather it was a ‘light’ snippet that was therefore reduced to the lower pages. Nonetheless, another of my stories was in the paper, which was always a pleasing sight.

At the morning conference I was assigned two stories. The first was a brief report on a town in the Western Cape that had been awarded the status of a ‘Cittaslow’ – literally translated as a Slow Town. This required a small amount of research and a speedily written article. This was done before midday so that I could commence my second – and far more interesting – assignment of the day.

The second assignment was to report on a peaceful dolphin-hunting protest that was set to take place outside the Japanese Embassy. The protest was a colourful affair, with people dressed up, chanting and waving decorative banners and flags.

Having interviewed a number of participants, I rushed back to the office to write the article. This kept me occupied until my deadline, at which point I left the office.

October 17th Today was my first Sunday shift. It was a very slow start to the morning – something that I was told was standard practice for a Sunday. The morning conference was a little later than the usual 10am slot; proceedings in the conference were more lethargic; it was a Sunday…

However, my assignment for the day transpired to be my most difficult yet at the Cape Times. The third Evangelization conference had come to Cape Town and Chinese Christians – the second largest delegation – had been prevented from attending by the Chinese government.

This was obviously a big story and so I went down to the CTICC (Cape Town International Conference Center) to get some views and opinions circulating at the Conference itself. This, however, proved to be an arduous task. Not only did I have to register to be able to speak to anyone there, I was also told that nothing could be disclosed on the issue of the Chinese Christians’ omission until a press statement had been written.

This left me in quite a problematic position. I was unable to proceed with any form of story without the press statement; yet, my editors were saying I needed to get a story before the press statement was released to be ahead of the rest of the papers. The majority of my afternoon was therefore spent trying to draw information from sources that were not willing to co-operate. My editors appeared to not take this as a just excuse for the story to fall through, and I was told to plug on regardless. Eventually, I managed to piece together some sort of story, however, due to the lack of co-operation from sources at the Conference, it remained only a small piece.

October 18th With my story about the British nurse still having not made it into the newspaper, I decided to confront the news editor about the story. In my view, the story was both newsworthy and topical, yet it had continually been shunned. The news editor reassured me that there was nothing wrong with the story and that it would be in tomorrow’s early page newspaper.

Reading the morning paper in the office, I was a little annoyed that the story on the Chinese Christians had been chopped in half and reduced to a brief. By doing so, the evening editors had missed the point of the article and in turn had served only to echo what had been written in the weekend papers.

As a result, my assignment for the day was to re-write the story, this time (hopefully) with a press release from the Congress and consequently more co-operative sources. The morning conference was a little slow to get going as I think the Sunday shift had dragged on and subsequently Monday morning was proving itself to be a struggle. Unfortunately, I was told I had to follow up the story on the Chinese Christians, which had proved so difficult the day before. In addition, I was given a local story about scientific investigations at the University of Cape Town that had secured funding for a five-year study.

As a result, my day was pretty busy. I had to email Professors at the University, as well as regularly contact Press Officers at the Christian Conference to find out when the press statement regarding the absence of the Chinese delegates would be released.

Eventually, I got the required information from both sources and promptly began writing the respective articles. Fortunately, I managed to complete both before the required deadline.

I left the office quite excited at the prospect of having three articles in tomorrow’s paper. It had been a busy but productive day.

October 19th I began the day with the intention of following up the story on the Chinese Christians. However, in the 10am conference, I was given two different assignments and told to drop the issue of the Chinese Christians. This was not the worst news in the world to hear, as the story had been made difficult by the conference organizers, who were reluctant to offer any information on the matter.

Instead, I was asked to write an article on Media Freedom Day, and the Right2Know campaign. This proved to be a far less arduous task, as participants were more than willing to speak to me in order to publicize their campaign.

The second assignment I was given was one that I have started to call a ‘box-ticker’. This is because it is a small story that no one in the office really cares much for, but it is still news and still requires an article. Everyone in the office has to write a ‘box-ticker’ article from time to time, and today was my turn. On this occasion, it was regarding an award that the city of Cape Town had won in the Conde Nast Travelers magazine Readers’ choice award. The award was the ‘Top City in Africa and the Middle East’, and I had to get the reaction of Cape Town Tourism CEO on the matter. The ‘box-ticker’ article was only short (as they always are) and I was swiftly given a third assignment for the day.

The third article regarded Stellenbosch University – they were set to become the first African university to sign the Berlin declaration. The signing of this declaration showed the university’s intention to make research freely and widely available to society. On completion of this article, my day was finished and I left the office.

October 20th I was pleasantly reassured to arrive in the office with three emails regarding the article I had written on the British nurse. I am determined to follow the story up, as it seems the problems with the nursing council are more deep-rooted than one lone article can explain. My intention was therefore to take the issue into the 10am conference.

Unfortunately, the news editor had other stories for me to write, and for the time being, the nurse follow-up would have to wait.

With the approaching Currie Cup final for Cape Town’s rugby team, Western Province, my task was to find out the number of fans that were set to make the trip to Durban to watch the game. This involved phoning all the domestic airlines, train and bus companies and sources at the club itself. Though this proved quite a long-winded process, I eventually got through to the required people and began assembling an article with the estimates in mind.

Having completed the article on the Western Province fans, I was duly sent another ‘box-ticker’ regarding a new payment scheme by the City of Cape Town’s Traffic Services. One thing that has become clear in my short time with the Cape Times is that if there is little news in a day, then newspapers need to write about anything that will adequately fill the pages. Today was a slow day, thus, we were writing about payment of outstanding traffic fines.

Once this was done, I was told to brush up my story on Stellenbosch University as it needed to go in tomorrow’s paper. As the bulk of the article did not need to change, the brushing up was done fairly quickly.  As the day drew to a close, I did some research into the nursing council.

October 21st My rugby article was the front-page lead. It was definitely a good feeling to have my name on the front page, and with two other articles in today’s paper, I started the day smiling.

I was given three assignments for the day. The first was to write 300 words on an Irish millionaire who started a charity organization in Cape Town that has since built 15,000 houses in Cape Town. In Ireland, however, he is in financial trouble and has to sell his mansion at around half the price he bought it for in order to pay off long-term debts. For this article, I had to do a bit of research, as I had never heard the Irishman, or indeed his Charity Township Trust. After this the article pretty much wrote itself.

The second assignment I was given was regarding sex workers and an investigation into the amount of sex tourism around the time of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The press conference I had to attend was scheduled for 1.30pm and I promptly began researching the subject.

However, having just started my research, the News Editor promptly informed me the sex worker story was going to be dropped. Instead, I was assigned a different story altogether. The new assignment was to report on a press conference dealing with the increase of gang violence in Hanover Park, one of the townships in Cape Town. The press conference was also at 1.30pm so the News Editor gave me a crash-course in the gang violence in Cape Town.

The press conference itself was a fairly swift affair. The two men leading the conference gave their respective statements and a few questions followed. Within an hour, the conference was complete and I made my way back to the office to begin writing the report.

I had my report finished at around 4pm and relatively soon after my weekend began. It had been a hugely productive week that finished with an article on the front page.
 
October 24th It was the Sunday shift, so reporters entered the office in slowly but surely. Our News Editor was at a friend’s wedding anniversary, so we were under the directorship of the Assistant News Editor. Fortunately, as I was one of the earlier reporters in the office, I was assigned to write an article on a major sea rescue mission that afternoon. The Captain of a ship en route from Chile had been diagnosed with acute renal failure and needed to be airlifted from the ship by a helicopter. The rescue operation also involved the helicopter lowering a replacement Captain down to take charge of the ship.

Initially, I was sent out with one of the photographers, Neil, whom I hadn’t met before. He was quite a character and drove ridiculously fast! En route we received a phone call saying that we would not be allowed access to the Air Base we were heading to until after the rescue operation was underway. Therefore, we made our way back to the office.

As I already had much of the information on how the rescue was going to take place, I began writing the bulk of the story in the hope that things went according to plan. At around 2.30pm, I accompanied a photographer to the Air Base for the second time. On this instance, however, we were allowed entrance and witnessed the tail end of the operation. I interviewed the pilot of the rescue helicopter, as well as the NSRI station commander who had planned the whole operation.

It was exciting to be part of such a big story, and the photographer assured me that it would be the front-page lead for tomorrow’s paper. We made our way back to the office and I duly completed the article.

October 25th The photographer was right – it was the front-page lead. On my way into the office I was congratulated by two of the reporters, and subsequently by Tony Weaver, the Editor of the whole newspaper.

Today, though, turned out to be a strange one. Going into the morning conference, I had an article that I wanted to write about from last week. A lecturer at UCT had contacted me regarding a 2010 World Cup study he and his marketing students had carried out. He had already sent me an informative study of the summary, so the article was a relatively quick one to write.

On the contrary, the other assignment I was given for the day was quite tricky. It involved the build-up to the Currie Cup final between Western Province and Natal Sharks in Durban for the coming weekend. The News Editor wanted every day to include something regarding the game, whether it was betting odds, information on people chartering planes to Durban, stories fans making their own way to Durban etc. Thus, my job description for the next few days was to make a number of speculative phone calls to try and come up with interesting angles for any sort of article. Aside from the fact that it was difficult to get through to a number of the required people, it was also awkward that the brief for my assignment was so vague.

Nonetheless, I persevered for the majority of the afternoon and eventually managed to get the required betting odds for the game. Having obtained these, I spoke with the Sports Desk to come up with a viable angle for an article.

October 26th On my agenda for the day were two items. The first was to follow up leads given to me about other nurses who had suffered from the inadequacies of the South African Nursing Council. The second was to pursue any leads I could find for an article for the Currie Cup Final.

I arrived in the office to see an email sent to me by one of the other reporters, about a competition that had started on Twitter between the official fan pages of the two teams in the final – that was the second matter on my agenda sorted!

The competition was to see which fan page could get the most “followers”. It was a light-hearted competition that was instigated by a fan from each side, and it had completely exploded, drawing in participation from a number of celebrities.

I wrote the bulk of the story early on, but due to the nature of the competition, the statistics were always changing. As a result, I had to wait until early evening until a final draft could be sent.

This left me the majority of the day to pursue my leads for the nursing story follow up, as well as begin preliminary research for a ‘homecoming’ article that I had been asked to write for later in the week.

October 27th Reading the morning paper, the news desk and I were a little perplexed that the twitter story was not in the news pages... Subsequently we found that it was being held for tomorrow.

It was the penultimate day of my month-long internship, and from the morning conference, I could tell it would be a busy one. Initially, I had to keep the twitter article up to date; secondly, I had to continue calling the respective fan clubs of both Western Province and Natal Sharks; thirdly, I was told to keep trying with the homecoming article that was proving troublesome. My main assignment, however, involved comments made by Archbishop Desmond Tutu regarding the Cape Town Opera travelling to Israel to perform Porgy & Bess.

It soon transpired that this was a big article – a fact confirmed to me by the News Editor, who promptly informed me that it would be the early page lead. This put the pressure on somewhat, but it was pleasing that the News Editor trusted me with the story.

Throughout the day, the Tutu story spiraled out of control – I was confident it would be a hit.

As the day drew to a close, I made the final edits to the twitter article and sent through the Tutu story to the news desk for tomorrow morning’s paper.

My penultimate day had been one of my best.

October 28th It was my last day. As a result, there was a strange mixture of feelings – excitement, relief, satisfaction, all of which were aided and abetted by the fact that, as I had been informed, the Tutu story was the early page lead. Moreover, my twitter story was also in today's paper.

I had decided that my main priority for the day would be to follow up my lead on a nurse from New Zealand that had encountered similar problems as the British nurse. Thus, I organized a meeting with her and was subsequently scheduled to meet at Hout Bay at 2pm.

As it was a very slow news day, which can happen any day of the week, I was not very busy up until the meeting. As it was my last day I was a little disappointed but unfortunately there was nothing I, nor the news desk could do about it.

The drive to Hout Bay is along Beach Rd, which as the name would suggest is sandwiched between the beach and the mountains. Therefore, driving to the meeting was beautifully scenic and put a smile on my face. The meeting itself was also productive, with the story of the nurse from New Zealand echoing much of the same sentiments as that of the British nurse. This strengthened the potential follow-up article, however, I was a little apprehensive as a result of how hard I had had to push the News Editor to get the first nurse article into the paper.

I left Hout Bay and made my way back to the office for the final time. The afternoon drew to a leisurely close, as there was very little going on that was newsworthy. I said my goodbyes to the news desk who had been my colleagues for the last month or so, and exited in the knowledge that my experiences in the last month would benefit me hugely in the future.

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