Internship at the New Statesman

Posted on September 11, 2012

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written by Robert Pollard

In January, I spent a couple of months interning at the New Statesman offices on Fleet Street. As an aspiring writer, it was an offer I could not refuse. The New Statesman is my favourite publication and the chance to go and work with the writers who I had long followed was too good to turn down. I left my graduate job as a Marketing Assistant at Dulux Decorator Centres after only six months to get a closer look at political journalism.

The reason I have decided to blog about this is because there are other accounts from former NS interns which distort the reality of working there; something which may discourage other graduates from contacting the NS and applying for one of their highly coveted internship placements. One person writing on Interns Anonymous described it as ‘a shambles’ which is far from my own experience. I therefore feel it important to write about my time there to offer some balance.

I worked closely with Jon Bernstein who, at the time, was Deputy Editor. As far as I am aware, the success Jon had in driving more traffic to the website and revamping its appearance means he has since been promoted to a new role which probably doesn’t involve looking after the interns but I’ll describe my experience of him anyway since it was crucial in making my time there useful. Jon was brilliant with me. On my first day, he said “ you can sit in the corner for the duration of your time here and get nothing out of this, or you can be proactive and make good use of the time”. I like to think I did the latter but the reason this struck me is because I had read one account from an anonymous ex-intern which basically said the staff gave him/her nothing to do. But it was clear that if you actively sought work you would be kept more than busy and leave with a plethora of published work.

Jon was consistently supportive of me. Approachable, knowledgeable and, crucially, critical of my work; I couldn’t have asked for more. If I had an idea and pitched it to him, I’d have feedback within minutes. If I wrote it and it was rubbish, he’d tell me to do it again and if it was good, he would praise me and give me confidence. He has a superb management style. On my last day, he took me in to his office and told me that because of how proactive I had been during my time there he had no doubts I would get a job as a writer/blogger somewhere, and that he would be on hand for a reference at any time. I think you’ll agree, that kind of support is worthwhile in what is a very tough industry to crack.

Jon’s replacement is Helen Lewis who I presume has taken on responsibility for the interns. If anything, the new interns are getting an even better deal than I had since Helen is one of the finest bloggers in the land. Anyone wanting to know what makes a great blog post should study her work. It’s superb. So, in terms of the support I received, I couldn’t have asked for more.

Jon’s words on day one stuck with me. If they needed two business pieces writing and the US Pick of the Papers compiling, all before lunch, and then a story broke that required a blog post, I’d happily take it all on and bust a gut to deliver them. If there had been a development in the GOP race which was in full swing at the time, I would pitch a blog to Jon in the hope of adding to my work. I would stay late and finish an extra piece. Basically, Jon was right. I could easily have done as little as possible and been bored but if you wanted to do more, it was easy to do so.

I also decided to use my position as ‘writer at the New Statesman’ to secure myself some interviews with people who would have otherwise been unattainable. I contacted Stewart Lee, Martin Parr and the indie band Wild Beasts about the possibility of being interviewed for a piece about David Cameron I had in mind. To my surprise, they all agreed, and I put together a nice article off my own back that demonstrates my ability to work creatively and independently. I also did an in-depth interview with William Ellis, a photographer famous in the world of jazz, about the art of photographic portraiture. Both pieces were published by Jonathan Derbyshire, the culture editor at the NS, someone who I didn’t work directly with as an intern, but who I approached to get myself another section of the site I could contribute to.

Another anonymous ex-intern complained about having to transcribe interviews, claiming it was ‘drudge’ work. Now, OK, this isn’t the most glamourous task one can undertake but it’s necessary in journalism, don’t you think? Unless that intern had ideas of arriving and writing feature length articles for the magazine, I don’t understand the complaint. I actually enjoyed this element, particularly when I was asked to transcribe an Alistair Darling interview that Jason Cowley had conducted. I was getting the opportunity to hear Darling talk before anyone else bar the NS editor had heard it. That, i thought, was cool and certainly not ‘drudge work’.

By being around talented writers and thinkers, I was inspired to achieve more in my life, another fantastic element of my time there. Mehdi Hasan, in particular, was central to this. Sat behind a mountain of books he had consumed at incredible speed, he was so enthusiastic about the direction of the magazine and led the way in the planning meetings I was allowed to sit in on. I liked how actively involved he was and I want to acquit myself in a similar way when I find a job in the industry.

In sum, my time there was fantastic. It was expensive and I lost a job in order to do it, and I still think it was the best decision I’ve made. I was made welcome, given plenty to do, and if you are prepared to really get involved, you can do some really great stuff as an intern there. Even the editor would regularly check I was OK and that everyone was keeping me busy. It’s a small, brilliant team and you can learn a lot from all of them. If you get the chance, I’d say do it and grab it with both hands.

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Posted in: Media, Politics