Observer: A Retrospective

It was short. It was sweet. And it was great for my career.

Can an unpaid internship ever be better?

In the two weeks since I posted my wide-eyed wonder in the lobby of a building that I’d pretty much always aspired to enter – yet one which I’d flown by countless times and rarely paid attention to (it sits adjacent to King’s Cross’ train tracks) – I’ve made some great professional strides forwards. My tenure straddled three weekends, and on two of them I was published. In the Observer. The Sunday version of the paper that my family has read, since, well — since forever. 


First came three ‘lab notes’ in the Discover section of the Observer. More important than simply receiving a byline was the process that the commissioning editor, Dr. Nicola Davis, took me through whilst progressing from draft to finished article. One of the three pieces was torn apart and rebuilt because it was labelled too ‘inefficient’. As much as it hurts to see your playfully constructed words be cast asunder, especially when you’ve merely waltzed through academic life without anyone really saying anything other than ‘you write well’, it was a necessary process. Shit gets edited all the time. I quite like this quote from Nicola’s (first name terms) piece on ‘How to write a science feature‘, which helps to explain why it’s so vital to cut and edit:

‘ 10. Kill your darlings

Your hilarious sentences and painfully crafted metaphors may seem like works of genius, but they are probably too esoteric to appeal to anyone else. Write them, love them, cut them.’

So I learned to cut my darlings, and produce something more fit for a national paper.

After that came the coup de grace – the denoument of all of my work. Les fruits de travail, if you will. Or some other pretentious descriptor. Your call.

A two-page spread with all of my copy mostly intact, on pages 28 – 29 of the Tech Monthly! It’s the photo at the top of the post – talking football physics. From there, I picked up an ‘additional reporting’ credit on a piece written by the Observer’s Sports Editor. So that was good. Check it:

Additional reporting JPEG

Christy Romer additional reporting JPEG

On top of all that, there were some smaller things too: dealing emotionally with writing copy that will be read but not really read (ie. event listings, or questions in a quiz); researching the right kind of story for the publication you’re working on (a painstaking process that involves many a ‘hmm, that’s not quite right’); and being prepared to conduct an interview at 22:30 because your interviewee is in a different time zone. The latter actually spawned an article that was solely attributed to yours truly on the Guardian site, and reached over 100 tweets and 300 Facebook shares. Makes the odd share on this blog look puny, to say the least!

Guardian Data Garden article JPEG


So, yeah. All of it combined to provide me with some great experiences and some great portfolio fodder. The people were great, the coffee was free, and I got to pretend that I still lived in London for another precious few weeks. Great stuff.


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