Putting Nick Clegg on the spot

JMU Journalism’s Mark Scully with Nick Clegg MP

When I arrived in Sunderland last week for my work placement at the Echo, it is fair to say that I did not expect it to include an interview with the Deputy Prime Minister in London.

Yet there I was, at Channel 4’s Westminster HQ in Millbank Tower on Thursday afternoon, having done exactly that.

It all started late on Wednesday afternoon when the Echo’s Tom White pointed out to me that Channel 4 News was looking for people currently on a placement to talk about how they are finding the experience.

I responded on Twitter to presenter Cathy Newman and later took a phone call from a member of staff to ask me a few more questions.

Within 90 minutes, I had been told that Nick Clegg was coming in and that they would like me to head down to talk to him about the Government’s new internship proposals. It meant I would have to be on a train out of Newcastle at 4.45am but this was too good an opportunity to miss (especially since they offered to pay for my travel).

So after an unspeakably early start and a few hours of travelling, I found myself sitting down with Cathy, Mr Clegg and another young media hopeful, Nur Hannah Wan, chatting away about the pros and cons of a new policy announcement for the 7pm news.

To say it was all a bit surreal is an understatement, especially since the highlight of my day on Wednesday was a city council meeting!

The whole thing lasted about 15 minutes and we quizzed the Liberal Democrat leader on the way in which some businesses exploit interns. The discussion centred mostly around the issue of financial support and how those not receiving any are supposed to take advantage of the potential opportunities that are available to them.

Watch Mark’s appearance on Channel 4 >>

Certainly, good placements can be invaluable to somebody like myself, trying to get a foot in the door but many are denied the chance to take one because they simply cannot afford to do it. The new proposals aim to open up the internship process, which Mr Clegg said was often based on a “who you know, not what you know” system but, worryingly, they seem to backtrack from the guarentee of at least a minimum wage for full-time interns.

“Striking the balance is very difficult,” said Mr Clegg. “If you legislate for a minimum wage then businesses may well stop offering placements all together.”

It goes without saying this was a fantastic experience. I was able to work in the ITN newsroom and introduce myself to some influential people in the profession, to say nothing of the experience gained by interviewing a major statesman like Nick Clegg.

Nur Hannah had a few horror stories about work placements she had endured but fortunately I had nothing but good words to say about mine, including this week at the Echo, where I have been made to feel very welcome and given plenty of opportunities to get involved in producing stories.

I am back in the Sunderland Echo newsroom this week, looking forward to what my second week might bring. Anything less than a meeting with David Cameron at Number 10 and I will not be happy!