Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Feckless Student Hacks: A Word of Advice

On the 17th January 2013, Stefano Hatfield, editor of i - The Independent's bite-size sister paper - launched his iWriters competition: An open call for university students far and wide to write an opinion piece. The winning entry will be selected for print. Who knows where this could lead? Could the result be a new pool of fresh columnist talent?

It came as no surprise, however, to read Mr. Hatfield's comments at the close of the competition: 
"As ever, half the entries arrived in the last 24 hours. A few of you trailed in late with lame excuses, the worst of which being 'I didn't hear about it in time'. A deadline is a deadline, he says, staring daggers across the i newsroom trying to burn urgency into an un-named hack. Safe to say 'my wi-fi wasn't working' has become the 21st century 'the dog ate my homework'."
Now don't get me wrong, all 'creatives' - whether they be writers, artists or graphic designers - thrive under the pressure of a last minute deadline. We sit, waiting for that flash of inspiration, poring over sentence structure and semantics, we stare out of windows hoping to come up with the pun of the century. Our writing needs to communicate, engage and spark debate - we want it to be as perfect as it can be and we spend hours turning 450 words into a work of art.

But submitting a column to the editor of a national newspaper late? If I were him, those entries would be heading straight to the digital trash can unopened. Feckless students, don't you get it?

A national newspaper editor has conducted an open call-out. It's like an open audition in the acting world. He has asked you, yes you, though you have no experience or clippings to your name, to send him 450 words of your talent. Not only that, but he has committed himself to personally reading every. single. entry, however boring, inane or just plain rubbish. And from that he will select one entry, possibly yours, for print. If you're really good, and you catch his attention with real talent, you never know, he could offer you a job.

With all the mobile technology that we have access to, never has it been easier to file a column. If there are hacks in war zones filing columns on time, then you, in your student digs with your fibre optic broadband, iPads, mobile phones and laptops, can do it. Your WiFi isn't working? Go to Starbucks. There's one round the corner from you. They have FREE broadband. 

A word of advice to student journalists: The printer waits for no one. If you don't file on time, someone else will. If you see an open call out like this and you don't have time to do it justice and meet the deadline, don't enter. 

There will be other competitions. You could even take a step of courage and send a column in on spec saying you're a freelancer breaking into the world of opinion writing - but if the editor happens to remember your name as the idiot child who entered late with a lame 'dog ate my homework' type excuse, then you'll be incredibly lucky if he decides to take a chance on you. 

Grow up students, this is the real world.

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