Communications students – in whatever specialisation they are undertaking – are accustomed to many age old sayings. Whether it be a revision of the five Ws (the who, what, when, where and why – and the how – elements of a story), or the importance in identifying your macro and micro audience, there is really only one teaching that truly matters! What could that possibly be you may ask? Well…
Rewind to the early days of the pandemic in March 2020. I was seated in a small lecture theatre surrounded by the entire first year communications cohort. While explaining the varied forms of verbal communications, my lecturer sidetracked and said, “Your experience in the industry is more important than the degree you will walk away with.” My immediate response was, “Surely not! How could often unpaid work be more valuable than possibly $30,000 + degree?”
Having spent two weeks interning with one of Australia’s largest news channels, I can tell you, without an ounce of doubt, that my lecturer was right. And while you may not be up to this specific stage of your communications degree – or any degree really – I want to disclose the incredible learnings and experience I was gifted during my time with Sky News.
How I even secured this opportunity?
An internship – or work experience, or placement… whatever you want to call it – is generally set up by yourself or your Faculty’s workplace learning team. In my case however, I was fortunate enough to win the David Banks Memorial- Sky News Australia Scholarship in conjunction with Charles Sturt University. I have touched on this previously but essentially, this involved an online application and interview process. The scholarship included some money and an internship at Sky News Australia’s Macquarie Park premises. After COVID-19 challenged the possibility of this taking place in 2021, I was finally able to secure two weeks prior to Christmas (December 6 to 17).
Although I am not exactly a third year journalism student just yet, I was aware I needed to tick off at least 80 hours for a work placement subject. So, I enrolled in this subject prematurely, liaised with the subject coordinator and organised all the paperwork needed for my hours to be completed across this same two week period with Sky News. This is a huge fist pump moment because now I have three subjects per semester this new year and a free(er) looking schedule (but I say this lightly).
What did I get up to?
The Deputy Head of News at Sky, Elise Holman, was responsible for not only selecting me as the scholarship recipient, but for organising my schedule of activities. I encourage all Charles Sturt journalism students to research Elise. Originally from Parkes, NSW, Elise studied at Charles Sturt Bathurst and has had an outstanding career in overseas sports broadcasting and reporting. Amongst her busy workload and responsibilities as a soon-to-be mother of two, Elise made sure I got to spend time in every corner of Sky News. Aside from being extremely grateful to her, she is also one of my professional inspirations.
Equipped with a cheap notebook and black pen, I noted down everything I did and learnt throughout the two weeks. Here we go…
Day 1 (Monday December 6):
- Joined in on a monthly staff Q & A with Pete Stefanovic. I got to ask about his origins in regional journalism and conversed on its importance.
- Worked through some learning materials on their computer programs such as ENPS and Qantel. I also got familiar with Sky News’ style guide.
- Sat in with the team at News Exchange (News X). They are responsible for the filing and distribution of footages like press conferences and overlay (OLAY).
- Sat next to the editors and got to see what they do. Interestingly, they use a pen and touch pad instead of a mouse which in turn, allows them to work very fast.
Day 2 (Tuesday December 7):
- Followed reporter Danica De Giorgio as she did several live crosses at the Hyde Park teachers protest. Did you know reporters have to commit their script to memory and can often report on the same information for hours on end (if there are no updates of course). While we were on the road, I also got to see the ‘day in the life’ of a cameraman.
- Upon return to Macquarie Park, I sat in with the control room producers who are almost solely responsible for what you see on TV.
Day 3 (Wednesday December 8):
- Back into the style guide materials with a side of producer slang and abbreviations. For example, a live phone interview is known as a PHONO.
- Joined reporter Caroline Marcus at Manly. Her job for the day was to collect vox pops (voxies) on the hot topic of Gladys Berejiklian and her possible representation of the Warringah electorate. I learnt that when it comes to vox pops, there is no need for small talk: just get in and ask the question before people have the time to decline you.
Day 4 (Thursday December 9):
- Joined Sky News Liaison Producer, Angus MacDonald, at the Channel 9 headquarters in North Sydney. Essentially, Sky News is one of the less resourced Australian news channels. To assist their coverage, Sky News, Channel 7 and Channel 9 have an agreement to use each other’s footage and scripts for each others content. Posting an employee like Angus at Channel 9 helps Sky News get across everything that is happening there as well as literally send through resources.
Day 5 (Friday December 10):
- Got to meet reporter, and Charles Sturt University Bathurst alumni, Gabriella Power. I joined Gab in collecting voxies at Manly after Gladys Berejiklian settled rumours that she will not be running for the Warringah electorate.
Day 6 (Monday December 13):
- Spent the day writing stories in accordance to the style guide information I learnt last week.
Day 7 (Tuesday December 14):
- Alongside Gabriella Power again, we were stationed at Pitt Street with COVID-19 related live crosses.
Day 8 (Wednesday December 15):
- Just like I did with Angus MacDonald at Channel 9, I joined Sky News Liaison Producer Joanne Lahood at Channel 7.
Day 9 (Thursday December 16):
- Most of my days have been either 9am to 5pm or 8am to 4pm. However for this day, I went in at 530am to observe the producers and presenter of the Regional Breakfast show.
- Practised presenting with Gabriella Power.
- Worked on cropping OLAY for short scripts.
Day 10 (Friday December 17):
- Had a meeting with Deputy National Editor, Todd Nardi, about my experiences over the past two weeks.
- Joined reporter Jessica Maggio who was VJing (working as a video journalist or essentially, a journalist without a cameraman) at Kirribilli. She was doing live crosses on new COVID-19 restrictions and case numbers. This is where the crazy Christmas case numbers started to rise and ultimately, scare many people including myself.
After spending two weeks by myself in the hustle and bustle of Sydney, I thought I would be well and truly ready to go home. But when my final day came around, I was very sad to leave; I felt like the flowers and card that I gifted Elise and team was not enough; I delayed my exit by prolonging my last conversations with some of the producers. And before I actually did leave, Elise asked me to recall my favourite moment from the past two weeks. After quickly spinning through all the amazing things I had seen and done, I replied with, “The people I have met and spent time with.”
You know those movies where the ‘small town girl’ secures a writing role in the big city! Think ‘How To Lose A Guy In Ten Days’ or ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ or ‘Bombshell’ or ‘The Post’, for instance. To me, these movies presented newsrooms as these all-powerful, almost untouchable places. Sure, the newsroom looked exactly like I imagined – numerous computer and TV screens, a maze of desks and employees typing frantically – but other than, the movies were wrong.
Instead, I observed an array of highly educated, dedicated individuals who valued nothing more than accurate news. And it was clear they too, wanted to extend that legacy onwards. Not one person was ‘too busy’ to teach me something or have a chat. I was able to make some truly lifelong connections with both industry professionals and friends.
But if I had to discuss some journalism related learnings, here are a few that my fellow students might find interesting:
- Producers are encouraged to proofread their scripts out loud. This is similar to the editors who do not use headphones at all. One editor told me that, “You want to hear everything just as someone would in their living room.”
- Do not overwrite your script. Pretend you have a story to tell your friend, and just have a standard conversation about it. This is because you only have a limited amount of time for the viewer to understand everything they need to know.
- Of course this is relevant to TV script writing but use full stops instead of commas.
- Another writing tip, don’t use ‘with’ as a joining word. This was a huge learning for me!
- Avoid using cliches.
- And from the ‘package’ side of things, write to the pictures!
Oh and side note, Sky News’ amazing weather channel is actually produced by presenters who obtain a meteorology degree as well. You can watch them do their thing as you walk through the first set of doors. This blew my mind!
Maybe it’s an inherent trait of mine or something I have learnt in my 20 years of life, but I knew I wanted to maintain the connections and learnings I made even before I flew to Sydney. I must have done something right during my two weeks because I was offered a casual position as a Sky News Liaison Producer. Given I haven’t graduated yet and live in Bathurst during semesters, the team was happy to give me uni holiday shifts. What a jackpot!
Sure I may run into some curve balls as I aim to coordinate three jobs amongst study. However, this is an opportunity I could not turn down. Not only did I return to Sydney in mid January for some training shifts, it has also taken me this long to come down from the high of my experience. And I can tell you reflecting and writing about it has certainly reinstated some of that joy.
As someone’s uncle’s, brother’s, cousin’s, father once said, “You’ve got to start somewhere.” I’d like to pass on my deepest thanks to Charles Sturt University and Sky News Australia for giving me the best start a budding journalist could ask for!