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The Sunday Times: Jonathan's placement experience

Posted by. Jonny Whitfield
Posted on 02 August 2017

blogs, blogs:Journalism, blogs:In the media, blogs:Employability

​Did you know that every undergraduate degree at Leeds Trinity University includes at least two professional work placements? No wonder we're the top university in Yorkshire for employability!

Our placements give s​tudents the opportunity to put the knowledge they've learnt throughout their degree into practice, as well as develop the essential skills they need to succeed in a professional environment. But don't just take our word for it. Meet Jonny Whitfield, a Level 4 Sports Journalism​ student who completed part of his placement at the Sunday Times. We asked Jonny to tell us about his experience and the skills he developed during his placement. ​

Over to Jonny:

​I spent two weeks in June on an intensive placement at the Sunday Times, which saw me work on the news desk as one of the youngest interns they've had. The experience, which I took on alongside stints at the Warrington Guardian and the Bradford Telegraph and Argus, formed part of my Level 4 placement and it was massively rewarding, helping to improve my confidence.

The opportunity arose after I completed the 2016 News Academy Summer School, an annual week-long programme that invites 20 aspiring media professionals from across the country to work at News UK and learn from top journalists. In 2016, the team produced a 16-page newspaper, while this year, 16 young people will help produce a digital news product. I learned of the News Academy at one of their conferences in Salford in November 2015, after which I applied. It was only in July 2016 while at the Leeds Trinity Summer University residential that I was told I had an interview, before I was confirmed as the youngest of 20 to take part in producing the newspaper. Upon completing the News Academy Summer School, I was offered a place at the Sunday Times.

I arrived at the News Building on my first day at the Sunday Times nervous of what to expect, knowing initiative would be key if I was to succeed in a renowned and experienced newsroom. But after introducing myself to the reporters, I was kept busy every day with tasks from various journalists, including Chief Investigative Reporter Dipesh Gadher and News E​ditor Becky Barrow. 

During my placement I mostly worked with Chief Reporter Jonathan Ungoed-Thomas on a story exploring the amount of waste produced by the UK's top music festivals, for which I received a by-line alongside Jonathan. My task was to research waste disposal figures for festivals including Glastonbury, V Festival, Download Festival and Leeds and Reading Festivals. I had to find the total waste produced by each festival in 2016, as well as the proportions sent to landfill, converted to energy and, crucially, what was recycled. This involved me emailing and telephoning press offices, before drawing conclusions from my research using a spreadsheet and cross-checking the data with a graphic put together to accompany the story.

Working on the story not only improved my researching skills, but gave me the opportunity to present and defend my findings, which I found rewarding. ​​​Getting to work alongside Jonathan was also fantastic – he was really supportive and motivated me to carry on ringing around various festivals to try to get their figures. "Always make that last call" is his motto – and it's a great way to leave no stone unturned when researching a story.

While completing my research on festivals, I was also in the newsroom during the Grenfell Tower tragedy. To get the experience of watching a fast-developing story such as the fire unfold in a live newsroom was invaluable. It was also good to understand the angle the newspaper chose to run with, considering the story broke on the Wednesday and had been covered intensively by the dailies throughout the week.​​​

I helped with various tasks as the paper covered the fire, including sourcing messages from the board set up by the local community, while making sure they were not libellous or controversial. I also conducted a nationwide search of council websites for Reynob​ond, one material allegedly involved in the fire, to find other buildings in Britain containing this material.

To pick up the paper after my first week and see how Grenfell was covered after hearing Jonathan and the other journalists making calls and putting together reports was amazing. But it was even better buying the paper after I'd finished my second week – to see my name in one of the biggest nationals in the country, and to know my work in contributing to the festival landfill story had been recognised, was brilliant.

When securing opportunities like this, it's important to get your name out there and get yourself known, which is why I'd recommend applying to as many opportunities as you can. I'm pleased to say that since completing my placement I have been offered another opportunity ​at the Times, which will form part of my Level 5 placement,​ and I can't wait to go back.