Monday, September 01, 2008

Auntie Em Joins the Fourth Estate (Part Two)

Day 1: FT Head Office, One Southwark Bridge. 11am.
I arrive early. It's a mark of my nerves that I arrive a almost 15 minutes early, despite the fact I live only ten minutes away. I go in and sequester myself in the bathroom (thank goodness for sympathetic receptionists) until it's time to meet my editor.

Clive Cookson immediately puts me at my ease. A desk is waiting for me, a password has been set up. I have my own FT email address and access to the Méthode news management system.

I already have an article to write: 800 words for a supplement coming out soon. I'd say more, but I've just met this beast called the embargo and I'm seeing its footprints everywhere. I'm not saying anything about anything that's not in print yet, just in case.

The FT Canteen, around noon
Clive makes introductions and I tout myself around for any more writing that might usefully be done by me. I'm invited for coffee with Clive and Andrew (the other science reporter - there were three, but science coverage is being squeezed everywhere). Andrew is just back from his holidays and an AIDS conference. Hearing Clive fill him in on what he's missed is very useful for me - I get a recap of a month's events at the FT.

I still have the first day at school feeling and, as we leave, I glance around the panoramic windows of the canteen to try to spot my flat. There's no place like home, there's no place like home. I feel very disorientated as we descend to the section marked "specialist writers"

One Southwark Bridge. Early afternoon.
Earlier, Clive handed me a folder of material he has compiled over the last eight years or so on the topic of my first piece. It's extremely useful, though I'm glad I'd already done my prep. by reading up on the subject this weekend. It helps me make short work of the reading and by lunchtime I have a stack of useful notes and an outline. Questions are sliced into two categories by the invisible blade of a deadline - on the one side, the questions I can find an answer for quickly, and on the other, the questions I'll ignore.

At lunchtime Clive shows me how to find the door nearest to Borough Market. It's nice to be on familiar ground, though I'm further disoriented to find that the entrance to one of the world's best known financial newspapers is through what appears to be a cul de sac of late 20th century low rise flats. Finding my way back on my own I was sure I'd made a mistake and was about to claim asylum in someone's living room when I found my temporary home again.

The afternoon's rhythm is broken by a power surge which knocks out everyone's computer but mine (beginners luck) and a fire alarm (caused by the initial surge). On my return I find that I don't like what I've written and begin again.

By late afternoon I have 750 words, but I'm not sure how many are any good. Clive reads it through and points out several places where my writing is stilted, overly pedantic or just reads too much like a journal paper. He likes the overall structure though. The two parts I liked least are the two parts Clive likes least too (to the extent of showing me how to temporarily erase chunks by using the software to strike them out). With about 50 words to play with and a much clearer sense of what I should be doing I spend the next hour and a half finessing what I've written.

Bincho Yakitori, Oxo Tower, 7pm
I meet David for a celebratory dinner. The strangest thing is that, in retrospect, doesn't seem strange at all. It has been a total immersion baptism. Clive's willingness to put a piece entuirely in my hands and let me run with it simultaneously humbling and confidence building. I've met previous fellows that have worked for Clive and they both said they'd had the same great experience.

I feel incredibly lucky: not all of my other fellows have had the same opportunities in their placements. Some are in broadcast outlets and have had to spend much of their time learning how to use the equipment; some are in weekly outlets; some are in print outlets that have too many science correspondents fighting for too little space on the page. I am incredibly lucky, not only to have this fellowship but also to be placed at the FT.

No comments:

Post a Comment