Thursday, 9 December 2010

Remember the snow? No? Oh well then here is a little reminder...

It's amazing really how something so beautiful can cause so much anxiety and chaos (similar to a tiger you might say - or Cheryl Cole). Fortunately for Hertfordshire, we are currently enjoying a lovely snow reprieve, hence why I felt this was a good time to put up some of the pics I took out in the good old Herts countryside. So enjoy and look back with fond memories - I suggest quickly though - before the next load comes down and pandemonium / extremely loud and constant swearing fills the land once more....

Sunday, 5 December 2010

LinkedIn – A Christmas Appeal.

For months colleagues and associates alike have insisted it’s “the next big thing”. Time and time again I have been assured I wouldn’t regret getting involved. I can think of numerous occasions where I have been reminded that I’m no-one until I’m “linked”. So eventually, I caved, and registered an account with the allegedly new social networking phenomenon, ‘LinkedIn’.

And boy do I regret it (damn those who assured…). From what I can make out it is nothing except an annoyance that sends endless, useless emails to my professional email box that I get unnecessarily excited about (only a special chosen few get the professional account address, and they normally have something interesting to say). Sure, I am now “Linked” with my father (who I also live with so probably not such a networking breakthrough), and numerous ex-colleagues (most of which I am also Facebook ‘friends’ – so again, fairly lacking in substance), but it is yet to bring me the fame and fortune result I was anticipating (true, it’s only been a month, but I like to see instance results in anything where I have invested effort).

I’m certain I’m not using it right. Perhaps I need some tutoring (can you hire someone for that kind of service?)I know Twitter took a while to kick in – maybe I just need some more time. (From a now twitterholic to all the non-twitter users out there – trust me – I’m a journalist - once you get past the far-spread and incorrect assumption that it is just mere ‘Facebook updates’, you will venture into a wonderfully intricate world of information, contacts, and people pretending to be people that they’re not – it’s simply delightful).

So am I dismissing ‘LinkedIn’ too quickly? Will my rash decision to delete my account be one I will regret for the rest of my life? Will potentially useful contacts be overlooked for ones with some fabulously horrific Facebook photo albums? I just don’t know at this point. So this is my Christmas appeal to you all. If there are any LinkedIn pros out there, then please, please, do get in touch. I really need your help. Thank you.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Alan Rusbridger says 'its a great time to be a journalist' -he also said a few other things the Guardian forgot to mention...

There was an article in today's MediaGuardian about last weeks Student Media Awards. It quoted Alan Rusbridger, editor -in-chief of the Guardian, telling students that it was a "great time to be a journalist" albeit at "a fantastically insecure moment because people can't yet absolutely put their finger on the economic button that's going to prove it all works."

What the paper failed to report however, was firstly the runners-up (I know! Apparently even second means feck all nowadays!) and, more importantly for this piece, when Rusbridger enthusiastically announced, "the best thing about student journalists is that you're all FREE!" Pursuing debate at the after party indicated that many of us felt this wasn't in fact our best attribute.

Regarding this speech, I was asked today by a fellow shortlisted Guardian Student Media Award achiever, who is writing an article about the issue of unpaid work in general, what I thought. He asked:

Do you have any kind words of wisdom about the editor's speech?
Do you think it was fair?

So here is my brief opinion of the whole unpaid work experience issue / Alan Rusbridgers comment that night:

"As a group who had just been acknowledged as some of the top student journalists in the country, it was a rather painful kick in the teeth to then be told that our best trait actually was the fact that we are “free”. What Alan Rusbridger should have said was that it was commendable that we are so dedicated to our journalistic ambitions that we are willing to do whatever is necessary to achieve them, even when that - as it usually does - involves working for free. Yet he seemed sincere, and even mocking in his initial declaration, much to the obvious annoyance of us students.

It is a worry, and makes me ask is this condescending opinion shared amongst all the editors? Do they always view student journalists as free lackeys rather than as potential journalists they’d genuinely consider investing within? And if this is the case - does it not indicate that we are wasting our time, efforts and money partaking in work experience that is apparently so disregarded?

To an extent we have to accept that we are liable ourselves for becoming such easy and desperate free labour. Perhaps we should put up more of a fight, perhaps we should put a cap on the amount of free work that can be done by any one person. But then, as Girush Gupta has found, to kick up a fuss is to be ostracised from the journalism community, and if you don’t want to do it, there is always someone else who will.

What Rusbridger said was very unfair, and he is, of course very much mistaken; we’re not free. No-one is free. For now, we take payment in the experience, contacts, skills and knowledge we obtain, but mainly, we continue building up our work experience in hope that one day our efforts will be acknowledged and procure a permanent paid role. And there is a limit – there has to be – we won’t and can’t work for free forever. But drawing a line over your ambitions is a tough decision, and ultimately, this habit of the ever-extending work experience period is going to cost the journalism world a lot of bright and eager young minds.

It is a catch-22 situation that certainly needs to be reviewed, and a media issue that Rusbridger certainly shouldn’t take so lightly."

What does everyone else think? Some comment / debate would be lovely.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Runner Up: Guardian Student Media Awards Writer of the Year, An Underdog's Tale

Certainly being shortlisted for the Guardian Student Media Awards ‘Writer of the Year’ category was a huge accomplishment in itself. I hadn’t expected it – and was rather taken aback by the simple and unexpected, ‘Dear Vicky, I’m delighted to confirm that you have been shortlisted…” email that popped up in my inbox mid-September.

Thrilled as I was, I didn’t for one minute expect to get any further. Call me a pessimist, but from looking at the academic credentials of my fellow “shortees” (University of York, Oxford, Warwick etc) I felt as I have been repeatedly made to feel since leaving university; that my non-Redbrick university background meant I was destined for the bottom of the consideration pile. I believed my shortlisting was a fluke, or perhaps even an attempt to initially showcase a more open minded competition - one that wasn’t so Oxford / Cambridge led as the awards had been criticised for in the past.

Perhaps this sounds very bitter, but I’m speaking from the perspective of someone who is incredibly fed up of being made to feel incompetent because I didn’t go to a “top” university. Never mind that I achieved a very high first, got the top mark of my university course, all my NCTJ preliminary qualifications, the top dissertation mark, managed to hold down a job whilst attaining all this etc, oh no, the fact is, my CV doesn’t read ‘Redbrick’, therefore it is no good.

How do I know this is the case? You may ask. You’re being ridiculous, you may accuse. It isn’t all like that, you may retain. And I hope you’re right. But if I got a £1 for every job vacancy I have forlornly read that says; “candidates not from a top ten university need not apply” or “Redbrick universities only”, or even the testimonials of previous successful journalism graduates I have seen explaining their esteemed university background, then I wouldn’t need to a get job; but instead would live happily in my early retirement on the south coast in a lovely seaside cottage.

The part that most frustrates me is the fact that I am being judged on how I was over seven years ago. I will be twenty-five in January, and as with most people, am very different to how I was aged seventeen / eighteen. I wasn’t perfect then (not that I’m saying I am now but you get my drift), and for various reasons had lost motivation at school and didn’t achieve as everyone expected, or more importantly, as I should of.

It would have been good for everyone to remember that I didn’t do that badly either – but the fact is, I’d mucked up my chances of getting into all the “acceptable” universities. This was a big slap in the face, and I realised I needed some time out to re-think my plans and re-focus my ambitions. So I bought a one-way ticket to Australia via Asia, and didn’t return for another two and a half years.

Me on my travels

This was a very valuable period of my life when I learnt many important, often hard-hitting life lessons; something, I would argue, a lot of students lack education within (even those from the top universities). Most importantly though, those years gave me the precious ‘time’ element so many are forced to make do without, to truly consider what I was really passionate about and decide what I wanted to do with the rest of my life - and that was journalism. I also was obviously far more mature by the time I commenced university because of my experiences (anyone who objects can see me), and I know for fact I would never have tackled the unusual subjects I did within my journalism work at university (Afghan refugees, gay erotic writers, Jehovah witnesses, Uganda) if I hadn’t had taken that time out to get a bit of perspective on life, and to grow up.

My point is, I believe there shouldn’t be so much weight in society today on academia alone. As long as a person is intellectually qualified to a perform the available role – irrelevant of where they gained that suitable knowledge –then there is no reason why a candidate from Portsmouth (for example), shouldn’t be judged as equally as a candidate from Oxford. Instead, factors such as extra merits and relevant experiences they themselves are responsible for having, should determine the eventual victor.

When my name was called as the runner up for the Guardian’s writer of the year award, I became entranced in an astonished bubble. I had been that certain it wasn’t me, yet there was my name flashing up on the screen and expectant, smiling heads looking back and coaxing me to take my place on the stage. The next sequence of actions: going up on stage, being congratulated, having my photo taken, floating back to my previous position - all happened so quickly that I didn’t even hear who’d won. I was just so overwhelmed.

A very happy (and tipsy) me with my runners-up prize

And you know who it turned out had won in the end? The guy from Manchester Metropolitan University – or for other words, the other non-Redbrick university ‘shortee’. It was nice – the Guardian had recognised us. They had read our work, as our work, not as “non-Redbrick” attempters, and it felt good.

So perhaps I should eat my words and learn to be more positive. And assuming that people start to take more notice - then I will.

And don’t get me wrong - I genuinely have nothing against those who did attend Redbrick universities - many I’ve met and am friends with often amaze me with their intellect (as have, notably and in keeping with the theme of this blog, many who didn’t). I am merely asking that those who did not attend “the greats” are not immediately written off because as I, the winner of the writer of the year, and the winner of the publication of the year (Kingston University) have proven, we also some pretty good stuff to offer.

For a final thought, I must tell the story that always comes to mind when I think Oxford / Cambridge students (unfortunately for them perhaps). On safari in Uganda I met a Cambridge medical student who was only too keen to repeat to everyone as often as possible her university background. It was lunchtime, and upon my purchase of a cheeseburger she naively enquired, “Oh, are you vegetarian then?” There was a short silence as I pondered whether she was being serious. She was. No, I eventually replied. Because that would be a cheese sandwich wouldn’t it?

This is why I know I don’t need a Redbrick education to do well.

Friday, 26 November 2010

The Age of the Internship

In an effort to put some more serious and professional pieces on my blog (some...), here is the most recent promotional article I wrote for work:

Britain is on the brink of an internship revolution. What was once a purely American phenomenon has seeped to this side of the pond and is spreading throughout the British work sector. No longer is an office complete without an intern, and no longer is a graduate’s CV absolute without having interned.

The age of the internship, it seems, is upon us.

And it couldn’t have come a moment sooner. As the depths of the global recession continue to plight the business division and hold back employment opportunities - especially for the hundreds of thousands of eager graduates flocking out of the university nest each year - internships are bridging a gap in an imperfect and oversubscribed system.

Seventy applicants are reported to now chase every job vacancy, and graduate unemployment is at its highest number in seventeen years. Where previously a university degree might have secured a position, a candidate’s academic record is no longer a priority. Employers now need more for their tightened budgets; they need experience and they need a certain level of competence – something many complain they struggle to find even amongst the masses of applicants they receive.

This is where an internship is coming into its own. It is filling the training gap universities are omitting, whilst developing a far higher calibre of applicants for companies who can’t afford to get it wrong.

Of course, as with any revolution, the internship practice has its critics. Caricatures depict unpaid interns making coffees, sorting the post or collecting the boss’s laundry; whilst the unions shout exploitation charges when the intern is given relevant work over the remedial tasks of the work experience kid.

The age of the internship, it seems, is still developing.

A middle ground must always be maintained. The intern needs to gain educationally from their experience and be in a stronger employment position by the end; and the staff time and company efforts dedicated towards training the intern need to be justified by the work the intern puts in.

Madsen Pirie, President of the Adam Smith Institute has hired a number of interns and thinks those who believe its exploitative is missing the point. In an article for Coffee House, he argued that internships had become widespread because nearly everyone benefits from them:

“For employers, work experience is a useful way to assess a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses, and to make a full-time hiring less risky,” he said.

“And it works the other way…People are better prepared for work than they were, and they go into jobs more aware of what work entails.”

With almost a third of graduates currently out of work, many are opting to remain productive by taking on internships rather than staying at home, and importantly, usually have no regrets about their decision.

In a recent survey conducted by Inspiring Interns, 100% of those who took part said they had found their internship experience useful. When asked why, they all agreed they had learnt a lot of new industry skills from the experience, and explained that the internship had either led to a permanent role within the company they had interned with, or, they believed, had been responsible for their achievement of another.

Similarly, in a recent national survey, 69% of employers said they were more likely to hire someone who had spent time in their organisation, whilst for 43% any work experience completed was an asset.

Andrew Leacy, the Head of Careers for BPP Business School, agrees with these findings.

“Having worked with students in Higher Education for over ten years I am very aware of the enormous value of work experience,” he said. “Whilst students tend to put the greatest effort into achieving good results in their exams I know that employers value "real world" experience almost as much as , if not more than strong academics.”

Internships are also providing a way for both sides to ‘test the water’. With many graduates coming away from university unsure what profession they want to pursue, an internship allows a comprehensive insight into their options, whilst equally allowing an employer time to make sure they are investing in the right candidate.

With economical factors restructuring the office environment and recruitment process all over the UK, internships are occupying spaces which would otherwise be filled with unemployed desperation, or for a struggling company, just left vacant.

As an intern recruitment company, Inspiring Interns strives to find meaningful internships in ambitious companies, and continues to support a revolution which is proving to have a strong, mutually beneficial impact, creating a win / win situation for all.

The age of the internship, it seems, is only going to strengthen.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

The Student Riots Part One...'No Ifs, No Buts, No Education Cuts'

Max, Me and Mr Educate Don't Segregate

So as 'Student Riots' part two commences (unfortunately without my attendance this time - perhaps I'll be able to make the third instalment?) I remembered that I never put up the piece I wrote when Mr Max Clarke (see above) and I decided we would pop down for a gander. So here is the intro / personal piece I wrote for the company blog - it doesn't contain my usual, lets say, silliness, but then apparently I have been a bit "fiery" recently for some softer touches, so perhaps this will appease more, cough.

It was meant to be a noisy, but good-natured student protest against raising tuition fees.

Many had spent weeks organising and rallying for the planned November 10th London march. Subsidised coaches were booked and filled with students from all over the country, banners and posters were created, chants were scripted and rehearsed, and costumes were carefully prepared and fitted. Everyone was campaigning together to make Parliament hear the united student message, “no ifs, no buts, no education cuts.”

But after the 20,000 expected to attend escalated to over 50,000, and a small minority decided to take things into their own hands, all previous hard work became over-shadowed by the violent rampages that filled both the streets – and the headlines.

Millbank, the Tory HQ was the prime target, and had to be evacuated as the angry mob smashed their way into the building. They destroyed windows, stole ‘souvenirs’ and bombarded the roof where many threw objects – including a fire extinguisher which narrowly missed a policeman- into the chanting crowd below.

Fires fuelled by the placards were further lit outside, flares were let off and graffiti displaying ‘Tory Pigs’ was scrawled all over the Millbank walls.

With 50 people eventually arrested in connection to the violence, and police today saying that the protester who threw the extinguisher should face an attempted murder charge, it seems that the message from the original peaceful demonstration has been forgotten, and many will be left disappointed.

Aaron Porter, the president of the National Union of Students agreed that his cause had “lost a lot of public sympathy” because of the violence, and that those who had caused criminal damage had ‘”undermined” their argument.

David Cameron, who is currently in Seoul attending the G20 summit, condemned those responsible for hostilities, and confirmed that the government wouldn’t go back on plans to raise tuition fees as a result of it: “Look, even if we wanted to, we shouldn’t go back to the idea that university is free,” he finished.

And now an account of the event as reported by, yes! You guessed it! Me, Miss Vicky - disapproves of violence- Lane.

Getting off the tube at Westminster, I was almost disappointed to find things looking reasonably calm. After seeing the chaos of the student riots that had been erupting across the media, we were expecting to be greeted with an overwhelming spectacle.
Yet, initially, it seemed business was as usual.

However, the placards, face paints and crude slogans soon started to appear as we climbed the underground escalators. “When they say cut back we say fight back!” shouted one of the signs, “THIS IS NOT A DEMOCRACY!” screamed another. Clearly, the people were angry. “It is just absolutely f*cking ridiculous” one guy told me. “University will once again be for the rich, whilst the poor and unemployed can just clean the streets, what a joke.”

“I’m not doing it for me,” said Zoe Cleverly, a Bristol University student who had come across for the day with a coach load of her Bristol peers. “It’s for my sister and her friends and my cousins and all the other people who will be affected. University is already TOO expensive – how can they possibly justify raising the fees higher?”

As we walked towards the beaten Millbank building, different sing-song chants could be picked up in the gradually thickening crowds, and costumes changed from a line of face paint, to the truly eccentric. The streets became a mardi gras of bear and tiger ensembles, all in one body-suits, an outfit made of “money”, and a giant pair of cardboard scissors simulating the “cuts” as the students rallied together and fought for their cause.

Yet, upon approaching Millbank, the more good-humoured were quickly left behind and the jokey costumes rapidly changed to masks and balaclavas: attire, it was clear, that wasn’t just being worn to keep out the cold.

In fact, the angry spectacle illuminated by fires and riot police surrounding the Millbank entrance was quite shocking – even despite our previous media warnings. Voices on megaphones coaxed the enraged demonstrators, protesters on the roof waved and teased the crowds below, and sticks, stones and any other throw-able objects filled the air as they were hurled towards the entrance and blockading police.

“I’m just so disappointed” despaired Col Leech of Bournemouth University from the outskirts of the commotion. “We had everyone down today and it was really nice earlier on, it was quite cheerful, everyone was having a good time. And now, unfortunately, a few had to ruin it for everyone. I’m just so disgusted.”

“It’s just not fair,” continued Emma Tunston, also a Bournemouth university student. “Even if you’re angry at politicians – which is fair enough, we’re all angry – but to smash up something which is going to have to be cleared up by someone who is probably working a low paid job, just trying to make money for their family is not fair.

“And it subtracts from the rest of us who have come here to say that the fee increases and the cuts are wrong. We’ve all stood there and shouted; we’re all angry. But still, to come here and smash up private property I think is even more wrong.”

The opinions regarding the violent uprising seemed to range from absolute loathing of the few that had ruined “what was a really good day”, to a shrug of, “well as long as it gets the message across and no-one gets hurt – who cares?” (Notably, the latter comment came from a smug hooded young man holding a plant which he proudly exclaimed he’d “nicked from the Millbank entrance”).

Amazingly, the whole sorry affair became quite entrancing to outsiders like Max and I. Drums kept a regular chanting beat, ‘boom boxes’ provided a festival-like quality, and flare guns lit up the increasing darkness. After a few hours we were ready to leave, but the ‘celebrations’ looked to continue long into the night.

All in all, it was quite an incredible display of what a combination of determined young minds and extensive social networking can achieve. On the downside, it was also a reminder that there are always idiots prepared to take things too far, forget the law, and disgrace what was otherwise a commendably successful protest.

Hopefully the guilty will be punished, lessons will be learnt, and the peaceful protesters acknowledged as separate entities to their aggressive counterparts.