By Adam Hagan
I have dreamt for some time of one day working in a newsroom. Ever since I began bingeing the American hit show The Newsroom, a programme about fictional TV news network ACN, I have romanticised the idea of newsrooms being non-stop hubs of dramatic, stressful and chaotic work. The mission: trying to expose all the world’s wrongs.
The newsroom I entered at the Sheffield Star was not one where government-level scandals were a daily occurrence or where the credibility of the paper was constantly under threat. Instead, it was one dominated by local court trials and city council decisions, along with tree felling protesters and uproar about new allotment charges. I wasn’t exactly exposing the next set of Pentagon papers, but I loved every minute.
I walked into the reception area of the massive office block which now housed Johnston Press. Everything seemed very modern and swanky. I nervously told the receptionist I was there for work experience. She didn’t say much, just handed me a guest badge and pointed me towards the lift.
By chance, I shared the ride with Ben Green, Head of Digital South Yorkshire, who showed me into a fifth-floor newsroom buzzing with activity. The page designers were at the far end, sports writers in the top right corner, and on the left was where the Doncaster Free Press is published. The bottom end of the office was where I would be working: alongside the Sheffield Star journalists.
The whole place was exactly as I had expected: desks filled with computers and different documents, infinite amounts of tea mugs, and lots and lots of notepads.
Head of Content Julia Rodgerson sat me down next to reporter Sam Cooper who, I later discovered, had done the same degree as me. At first, though, the journalists seemed intimidating. They were constantly discussing stories and court trials, constantly on the phone chasing up leads, and their shorthand was truly off the charts. They must have been writing 120wpm and made it seem so easy.
It was hard to concentrate, because there was so much to observe. Sometimes I’d lose myself watching the big screens dotted around the room which had constantly updating online statistics for Johnston Press publications. Or I would spy on the Head of Print designing tomorrow’s front page.
After writing up a couple of press releases, I got my first story assignment from the Editor, Nancy Fielder. “Adam, I’ve got a real treat for you here,” she said. John Burkhill, the green-wigged “Man With the Pram” who has raised thousands for Macmillan Cancer Support, was downstairs. He wanted to be interviewed about an award he’d just received from Prince Charles. I reached for my notepad and pen and went to meet him.
About an hour later, I returned to the office. I had copies of John’s letters from the Prince and some very good quotes. I wrote it up in about 40 minutes and sent it to Julia. Not long after, Nancy approached me again. There was a charity canal boat – The Ethel Trust community barge – which organised trips and residentials for disabled young people. She wanted me to go down the Tinsley canal and write a feature on them.
I took the tram down and met Tim Miskell and his crew of volunteers, who all told me heart-warming tales of the children they’d helped. After interviewing crew members, and once the Star’s photographer had taken pictures, I headed back to the office.
After about an hour’s write-up, I sent the piece off. It would go on to be published the following week as a Page 4 spread.
The experience I gained at the Sheffield Star was invaluable. Although I wasn’t exposing all the world’s wrongs, I’d certainly reported on some of its rights. And I’d found that there was just as much excitement in local reporting as in national. The trick is just knowing where to look.