The dreaded tube strike was in full swing AND there was an almighty storm. But that did not stop us. My fellow Brunel journalists and I braved the urban Armageddon scenes and brimming Thames so we could do what we had all been waiting to do: invade The Guardian and Observer offices.
And by invade I mean tip toe around politely, saying please and thank you to each and every journalist we were fortunate enough to meet. We are well behaved journalists really… So far we have visited the Sky News and BBC News offices, and our latest field trip didn’t disappoint.
I left home with two hours to spare (keen), donned my bulky winter coat, eskimo hat and fluffy gloves. I was ready to brave the storm – du du DUH. London was in full panic mode. I honestly expected to see a black cab fly past me as I exited Kings Cross station, you know, like those cows in ‘Twister’.
Jo: [cow flies by in the storm] Cow.
[cow flies by in the storm]
Jo: ‘Nother cow.
No in all seriousness the strike wasn’t that bad and we could hardly complain about a storm when there was and still is serious flooding in some areas of the UK. I actually noticed a bit of a buzz going around London, something I like to call ‘disaster buzz’. People were chatting, exchanging their surprisingly ‘adventurous’ commute stories, ‘I actually had to get off at Aldgate and walk, can you believe it Lucy?!’ said my seat neighbour.
We were even uniting in our anger, and who doesn’t love a bit of negative cohesion once in a while? People were not only making eye contact on the platform, they were tutting together, asking for the time and even rolling eyes in unison. Next stop: smiles.
But we all made it. We arrived at The Guardian, entered the swish glass doors and ascended the escalator towards the modern reception. We had to make sure our names were on a specific guest list. This wasn’t Disneyland after all…
We were greeted by Sarah Hewitt, Editorial Manager, National, International News and Politics, who is responsible for project budgets and the general logistics of everything that goes on at The Guardian. The fairy godmother of the establishment you might say.
Before entering the field of journalism Sarah worked as a meteorologist in the military. She took us round the building in two hours, introduced us to lots of journalists and did this all with smile. It was military precision with a dash of feminine za-za-zu. Her career with The Guardian began with The Guardian supplement, before moving to the family section then news. She said: ‘People move around quite fluidly here. There is a lot of freedom and not much hierarchy. In fact, lots of people join The Guardian and never leave.’
After our short talk from Sarah we were introduced to James Hislop, the Assistant G1 editor. He told us about how the newspaper’s flatplan (which shows all the pages and content at one glance) changes throughout the day and how they have to work their content around advertising.
After that we sat down in a little alcove to chat with Emma Graham-Harrison, an International News Afghanistan correspondent who spent two years in Kabul.
Emma has worked in China and Spain and was previously Afghanistan bureau chief for Reuters news agency. She has a degree in Chinese Studies and spent nearly six years covering China, based in Beijing.
She said: ‘I speak fluent Mandarin and Spanish so that is one major piece of advice I would give to any budding journalist, learn another language and you will be able to write better stories. You’ll also have more chance of getting a job’. She gave us some guidance about writing too: ‘Tell the story, not just the topic.’
It was time to move up a floor, this time to the multimedia section. We were lucky enough to meet Alok Jha, a science correspondent and Laurence Topham, a video producer, who have only just returned from a mammoth Antarctica expedition.
They spent a gruelling but incredible two months exploring the effects of climate change in the area. With Alok writing a daily blog and various features for the Guardian and Laurence making short videos for ‘Antarctica Live’ alongside documentaries, they had a lot to take on. It was no easy mission and their ship became trapped in ice over Christmas. Luckily, help was close to hand and they were airlifted to safety.
‘Antarctica is in our dreams and in our history and we wanted to explore that mystery. We wanted to be interactive with The Guardian audience, which although difficult and expensive was worth it in the end,’ said Alok.
‘We wanted to report what was happening now. A penguin once walked straight up to us and people in London could experience that too because of the live feed. But the most important thing for us was that we helped bring Antarctica and climate research back into the headlines,’ he added.
We were then given a short presentation by Shiv Malik, a National News reporter, who spoke to us about citizen journalism and gave us a great top tip: If you want to send a video into a newspaper or news organisation: make sure you video your scene in landscape or the news desk won’t accept your piece!
There is so much more I could tell you but I won’t keep you any longer.
The Guardian really is a diverse and multifaceted place. By the end of the day I had forgotten about the strike and the storm and was feeling extremely positive!
The day was made even better by a large glass of wine with my fabulous friend and fellow blogger Sophie Ferreira. Wine and city girl gossip – tick!!
A version of this article was published on WannabeHacks in March 2014