The secrets of shadow shifts
And a summer sale
If you’re looking for a way to get into broadcast journalism and have never heard of a shadow shift, this week’s newsletter is definitely for you.
Lodged somewhere between an initial ‘chat’ with an editor and a secure, steady job, shadow shifts are a common step on the ladder to securing work in broadcasting. And if we’re being honest, it’s a trial. But the power doesn’t just lie in the employer’s hands, it’s a chance for you to figure out if the job is right for you too. Fear not.
In my experience, to book a shadow shift in the first place, it’s been a mixed bag of being offered a gig from an editor I’ve sat down for a coffee with, or simply asking boldly if I could have one after sending in my CV.
Once a date is set, shadow shifts can be between one or two paid opportunities at a reduced day rate where you sit next to a person in the role you’re looking to get. They’ll show you the ropes, and you give it a go yourself.
Shadow shifts are a standard way for freelancers to get into the newsroom, so don’t be afraid to ask for them and get stuck in.
How to make the most of the experience
It’s likely you’ll be learning by doing on the shift; no fancy training days on self-paced computer software for freelancers! So be sure to be a ‘yes’ person. It can be tempting to let your nerves get the better of you and avoid trying out a task because you don’t know the systems yet, but simply showing enthusiasm is key to succeeding.
At the same time, be honest about what you don’t know, and show willingness to learn. You’re just starting out so you won’t be expected to do the job perfectly.
I’ve found keeping fairly detailed notes about that particular newsroom’s methods - whether it be naming conventions of files or step-by-step breakdowns of editing software - will improve your memory of events and help you in the long run. The gap between shadow shifts and securing fully paid work can be big (I had a month in between at one of my current gigs), so having a guide written in my own language, as it were, has proven helpful in consolidating my knowledge and my confidence when returning to an unfamiliar setting.
Perhaps have a list of questions prepared before heading into the shift. From style guides to the kind of stories they’re keen to hear, showing interest in the programme dynamic never hurts. And it goes without saying, ask ask ask when you’re on shift. The more you equip yourself with skills, the more helpful you will be to the employer. Of course, be mindful of when you ask. People are busy; they’re probably showing you the law of the land whilst doing their full time job at the same time. Be savvy.
And lastly, spot gaps. Is there a task that urgently needs doing? Another team member has a lot on their plate? If you’re a quick learner, you can be a genuinely useful extra hand. Most newsrooms are understaffed, so if you can be the person that does a job without being asked, you’re already an asset to the team.
Securing steady work
It’s all in the art of a follow up email. Keep it simple, polite and short. If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. Thank your editor for the opportunity, outline what you learnt and clearly state that you’d be keen to come back for shifts. You may have to nudge them again - I’ve found an ideal time is after lunch, but as ever, keep it polite. The work might be few and far between to begin with, but if the timing is right, the work should start to come in.
Finally, keep in touch with other freelancers and people you met on the shadow shift. They may be able to give the editor a physical nudge about your follow up email or have your back if you need to swap a shift. And hey, kindly sharing your notes wouldn’t be such a bad thing either.
This incredibly helpful advice was brought to you by freelance journalist and producer Madeleine Drury. You can follow her on Twitter @DruryMadeleine
Summer sale on our Quick Guides!
To celebrate National Freelancers Day on the 18th June we are having a sale on our Quick Guides for the whole of the month. From today there is 30% off all our guides making them a bargain price of £3.50 each. They cover everything from finding work, developing ideas and pitching to finances and branding. In our shop you will also see our webinar on podcasting to download (also with 30% off). You can find out more and get your copy at our Payhip store. Just click the button below.
Also our four-week online course on How to become a successful freelance journalist starts next week so if you’re thinking about signing up but haven’t yet now’s the time to grab your place. It can all be done in your own time at your own pace with lots of feedback from us through our dedicated Slack channel. Click below to find out more or book your place!
Our lovely friends at Journo Resources are offering our newsletter subscribers a discount on their two upcoming webinars. The first one - which is tonight - is all about mastering the technique of Freedom of Information requests. The second event - on next week - is all about how to broadcast live on social media.
FFJ subscribers get tickets for just £3 by using the code pn8yGF2!
Sign up quick before the tickets go!
Triumph of the week
Meeting up in person at the News Rewired conference and coming home with lots of good ideas.
That feeling when
An editor says they will look at your feature you filed but you then hear nothing and assume they hate it….
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Bye for now!