Saturday, 9 March 2013

My work experience at Cosmopolitan magazine: part one

Ever since my first-year student self abandoned the idea of becoming a forensic linguist (true story dat) and set my peep toes firmly on the path to a career in writing for glossy magazines (a dream inspired largely by a particularly decadent issue of CN Traveller- but that's another story for another day), Cosmo has been the holy grail for me. For many journalists, The Guardian, or The New York Times is where it's at, but for me, it's always been Cosmo. Three applications for work experience later (I'm nothing if not persistent when I know what I want), I finally received an email back in October saying that I had secured work experience at Cosmo. Cue four months of panicking over what to wear, scrutinising old issues from cover to cover (more of a pleasure than a chore, really) and generally being very excited.

My first day, I was so excited, which makes a change, as I'm usually a bundle of nerves when I come to work experience placements - but this time I just wanted to get stuck in. Having narrowly avoided rocking up to the wrong building (Hearst Magazines have two buildings within the same street!) I arrived.

My first hour, I was a little bit star struck! Having followed many of these people on Twitter for ages, digging around for titbits and insights into what it's actually like to work at Cosmo, it was exciting and intimidating to finally be meeting them. Cue verbal diarrhea as I gushed at Rosie Mullender (Deputy Features Ed and enviably talented writer) how much I love her Burrito Blog before accosting Gem of Gem Fatale fame in the kitchen (Cosmo and Company magazine share an office), clearly knowing waaaay too much about her (an occupational hazard of blogging), then having to back track and explain that I had met her at the Company magazine blogger forum, and was not in fact a crazy stalker (all this as I was brandishing a kettle and a somewhat bent teaspoon)!

Naturally, I have undertaken the stereotypical work experience task of tea-making. Although many see this as the lowest of the low, a task assigned to those at the bottom of the office food-chain, any seasoned "workie" knows that it presents a fabulous opportunity to network. Turns out people are more receptive to chatting when waiting for a kettle to boil than they are when trying to respond to emails, answer 8 phones ringing simultaneously and meet a deadline. Who knew? The office kitchen is a great place to strike up conversation (although I did become cripplingly tongue-tied when I shared kitchen time with Company magazine editor Victoria White!)

Another task I have been asked to do is transcribe several interviews which the team have conducted, both with celebrities and non-celebs. A task which any journalism workie is oh-so-familiar with, I actually really enjoy transcribing interviews - not only do you get to hear the bits which don't make it into the magazine, it's a great way to learn new interviewing skills by observing techniques that journalists use to get information they want, lead conversations in the direction they want, and elicit print-worthy quotes from their subject.

My lowest point so far was my attempt at vox-popping. Having done a small amount of vox-popping at The Yorker, I was keen to improve my skills by going out onto the mean streets of London and ensnaring young men to feature on the "Twenty men who..." page (a feature which sees twenty random men answering the same question). No problem, I thought, there must be a plethora of men who would love to be featured in a national magazine, photo and all, read by thousands of women nationwide. Off I trotted, armed with a notebook, camera and oodles of naive optimism.

And so the problems began. Whilst past questions for the feature have included the relatively tame "What is the last thing you argued about with your girlfriend?", this month's question was "How do you feel if a girl is braver/ more adventurous in bed than you are?". Go out onto the streets right now, collar a dashing young man and see if you can get him to answer that question. I dare you. After a couple of hours of wandering the streets of the West End, accosting countless game-looking guys, I had to return to the office with my tail between my legs and just one respondent. At this point I was angry and disappointed with myself - I had been offered a chance to show what I was capable of, yet was left feeling like I had failed.

On the upside, my highlight so far was being invited to join in a planning meeting for the summer issue of Cosmo on Campus. Not only was I invited to join the meeting, but as a recent graduate, the team genuinely wanted to hear my opinion on some of the ideas thrown around, as well as allowing me to share my own ideas, a very gratifying opportunity, and one that intensified my desire to one day become a permanent member of the Cosmo team.

Between all this, and other tasks including web-based research, phoning film company PRs, organising interviews and generally getting stuck in, my time at Cosmo is going heart-breakingly fast. On the plus side, I am actually excited to be going to work on Monday morning- and I bet there aren't many people who can say that!

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