I met some of Cornwall’s inspiring young people this morning, via Cornwall Learning Education Business Partnership, a council initiative that prepares students for work by exposing them directly to business. I’ve spoken at several “Women in business” events, encouraging girls to follow their ambitions, regardless of their gender; and welcomed youngsters into the office, to answer carefully prepared questions. Today’s group was made up of four Gifted and Talented Year 10 students from Penair School in Truro.
It’s always heartening and refreshing to hear the ideas and opinions of minds that are undeveloped, and therefore have yet to become fettered and jaded by overwork. I am frequently surprised by the pertinence of their questions, and the maturity of their approach. Today’s bunch gave me a thorough grilling on all aspects of magazine publication, from editorial inclusion to commercial pressures and distribution strategies.
My contribution to such events hasn’t always been journalism related. On one occasion, I conducted mock interviews in Camborne. One young man was training to be an electrician, and while I tried hard to mask my ignorance of this field, it must have been obvious as he executed perfectly the “show and tell” technique that I’d learned in management training just days earlier.
I’ve also come to realise how many small things I’ve come to take for granted. One work experience candidate was a dedicated worker and produced sparkling copy, but had a handshake that could only be described as limp. Yet this is one of the first impressions any of us can make upon meeting a new professional acquaintance. As she left the office for the last time, my advice was: “Practise.” She did, on her father, and I can attest that her next handshake with me, while not a crusher, was a vast improvement.
A few years ago, I visited a tiny primary school on the Helford, to coach a class of nine-year-olds producing their own magazine. This was a worthwhile exercise for me, as I had to shed the industry jargon – for example, referring to the magazine as “the product” – that I had picked up as second nature, and to explain in simple terms such complex notions as context and defamation.
I also saw first hand the influence of modern technology on the future intake of journalists. Having decided to include jokes and recipes in their publication, they turned straight to the internet to Google them. When I gently pointed out the existence of copyright law (not to mention the importance of originality and imagination), they replied: “It’s all right, Miss, they won’t sue us – we’re only school kids.” Not quite the spirit, but such is the carefree attitude of youth.
At the other end of the scale, I’ve met students who have taken the first step into journalism by choosing a media course at University College Falmouth. Here, the Q&A has been more challenging, posing loaded questions on political hot potatoes like second home ownership. They then blog about you – all very 21st century. It’s quite disconcerting to see myself quoted in print, although I suppose it’s good to know how it feels, for a change.
I get many things out of doing “outreach” work. Firstly, I remember the journalists who patiently tolerated me at the Grimsby Telegraph when I was a cocky little upstart with dreams of a glittering career in Fleet Street. My confidence was matched only by my incompetence, and I atone for this now by doing my bit where I can, for the next generation.
But it also gives me a kick to see the promise in so many of these young people, who are only at the start of their career. To spot that natural ability gives me hope in my middle age that I’ve learned something over the years. Some of them have since gone on to do journalism courses and secure permanent jobs. I hope they’ll remember with fondness the advice I gave them, and who knows – perhaps, when the time comes, they might be the ones giving me a job.