Sick of the Sunday Times

I moved back to London from my hometown last January, in a bid to pursue a budding career in journalism. I’d worked on a local paper with a decent salary and was pretty sure I could write myself out of any tight spot; so I set about lining up work experience and internships to give myself an edge.

I managed, through a friend, to get 2 weeks’ placement on the Sunday Times News Review. I arrived bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on the Monday morning, not expecting to be given the most fascinating jobs in the world, but hoping that if I proved myself willing then I might make some useful contacts.

An ostensibly friendly woman showed me to my desk from the lobby and said somebody would be with me shortly. I waited an hour for my “boss” to turn up, who simply said to me, “do you know what you’re supposed to be doing?” When I replied that no, I had no idea what was in store for me, she sighed and set me about making lists of the day’s news stories published in all the day’s papers. She didn’t tell me how long the list was supposed to be, or give me any examples; she just barked out a simple instruction and vanished. For the rest of the week, she communicated with me only through one-sentence emails.

Once, my “boss” demanded I transcribe an interview from the Today programme that I later found, after contacting the BBC press office, did not even exist. Days passed in complete silence and boredom. Nobody in the office spoke to me. At lunch, I went to the canteen, where I had to purchase a lunch card to top up with credit - a bit like an Oyster card. Needless to say, I wasn’t given any allowance for this.

On the Friday of the first week, I woke up so sick I couldn’t leave my bed. I had winter vomiting illness and felt utterly wretched. I rang my “boss” and she said it was fine not to come in, and that she would see me next week. I thought it had all been sorted, and that I could focus on getting better.

But later that day a furious email popped up in my inbox from another person in the office, the woman who had set up my placement but who was not responsible for me during it. I still have the email because I found it so incredibly offensive. It said:

“I assume by your no-show today that you won’t be coming in next week. I am extremely disappointed in you. Work experience at the Sunday Times is highly prized and extremely competitive to get. Interns are given a level of trust and responsibility and we rely on them to produce two pages of the news review.”

The woman hadn’t even thought of asking her colleagues if they had heard from me. She distrusted me and despised me enough to jump the gun and assume I was a good-for-nothing layabout who just couldn’t be bothered to show up.

I rang the woman in question, and told her there must be some mistake - I had rung in sick earlier that day. She simply said wires must have been crossed, “sorry for the confusion”. But they had found somebody else for next week already, so she said not to bother coming in again anyway.

I’ve done work placements since, but this is the worst experience I’ve had. I left the Sunday Times feeling completely worthless. How dare they “rely on interns” yet refuse to show them even the slightest respect or manners.

As for internships, I thought I was getting an edge by doing them; but it doesn’t give you an advantage at all. It just places you at the same level as every other sucker out there naive enough to front their life savings to work for nothing.

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7 Responses to “Sick of the Sunday Times”

  1. 1 Tim 01/21/2010 at 2:52 pm

    One would suggest showing a bit more initiative and asking other people in the building for odd jobs to do.

    Journalism is hardly the career where you get briefed every five minutes you know?

    And please don’t tell me you were patiently waiting for the scoops to fall on your desk?

    We’ve all had bad internships - but in your case, you were hardly locked in room, unable to get out and do something, were you?

  2. 2 Mark Watson 01/21/2010 at 11:59 pm

    On the contrary it sounds like they were utterly vile to you, quite apart from placing entirely unreasonable expectations on you as an unpaid intern.

    Great posting, good to hear someone telling it like it is.

  3. 3 Jen 02/09/2010 at 4:03 pm

    It’s not always easy to find tasks to fill your time with, especially if you’re an uncertain intern in a busy environment where everyone is so focused on what they’re doing.

    I had a similar experience where I wasn’t briefed on what to expect, the person ‘in charge of me’ introduced me to people here and there and told I’d be involved in some exciting sounding meetings. Then I was left at a desk for hours. Next, I got picked up by another person working on a project. Was I supposed to be working for them? I didn’t know, but helped them out anyway, and my supervisor seemed to have already forgotten about me when I checked with her later. She had mentioned I should say what I was interested in, so I asked politely if I could be moved to another department.

    After a couple of days, she sent me to the department where they already had plenty of people silently working on a research project. Before, I’d resolved to be friendly, to put myself out there, but now I was feeling like I was just bothering people a lot and not getting anywhere. After a few days of mainly, repeatedly, asking, ‘Is there anything I can do for anyone?’ ‘Tea, anyone?’ and cringing at the near-silence, I got called to my supervisor’s office. She said the company wouldn’t need me any more and I should go away and think seriously about whether I wanted to work in the media or not! Nothing I said made a difference. It was a 4 week internship I’d diligently applied for, and she kicked me out after 8 days!

  4. 4 simanga 02/15/2010 at 10:59 am

    i want to get internship at your newspaper ,if you cn make that possible.

  5. 5 rob 01/19/2011 at 9:27 pm

    I’ve also spent two weeks at The Sunday Times. One boy who was with me spent his entire week reading The Guardian online - oh, the irony - while I and another girl were given inaudible transcriptions to write out for hours and hours and hours. Or else, nothing at all. For days at a time.
    Don’t go there. Go somewhere you can get a byline, learn and be active. The bigger the name, the less is expected of you.

  1. 1 Celia Walden: Journalist, Piers Morgan’s fiancee and… misandrope? « Dina Rickman's Blog Trackback on 01/22/2010 at 6:33 pm
  2. 2 Interns Anonymous’ review of 2010… and a look forward to 2011 « Interns Anonymous Trackback on 01/10/2011 at 12:09 pm

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