Unpaid work experience: It pays

I worked for free, one day a week, almost every week, for just over a year in my late teens in a regional television newsroom. It eventually led me to casual paid work.

My path to television news was a little unconventional. I knocked on newsroom doors for months when I was in high school to let me do some unpaid work experience. They didn’t say yes immediately. I was already working for free on community radio and newspapers back home in Wollongong, so I guess after being quite persistent, 10, 9 and 7 in Sydney let me visit, as too did WIN News Wollongong.

Since it wasn’t part of a university placement, I had to organise and pay for my own insurance.

During those weeks, I was sitting around, reading newspapers, answering phones and observing how a newsroom operates. I’d follow journalists on their jobs, hold up their sun reflectors, and then watch how they would write and edit their stories.

When it came to university time, my marks weren’t high enough to study journalism at Charles Sturt University. So on some advice, I studied Commerce at the University of Wollongong, and decided to double down on my practical experience.

Given I was a Wollongong local, and already made a professional connection, I convinced the WIN News Chief of Staff to let me stay on doing unpaid work one day a week while studying Commerce, saying I’d be able to bring a business perspective if given a chance.

Again, just being there and offering to help meant that I absorbed so much practical experience.

It was difficult, studying full-time, working a paid casual job in sales at David Jones and offering my time at Win News Wollongong.

I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth. My parents were hard working blue collar migrants who also worked two jobs to get my brother and I through school. We inherited their work ethic.

One day, on an unpaid news shift, there was a rupture in a pipe along the Illawarra escaprment late in the afternoon. I was the only person free, and on station to cover the story. I was sent on the job with a camera operator. That was my break and the first time I was able to actually report on air.

If I hadn’t been observing how my fellow journalists were putting stories together for months, I may not have felt as confident doing it myself.

Since that gig, I was given stories as a regular reporter, unpaid one day a week.

This happened for a further six months.

But I loved it. I saw it as an investment in my future, and I must stress, there was never an expectation from WIN News that I’d turn up, nor was it a requirement of my business degree. I chose to do it. I turned up because I wanted. There were days when I called in saying I wasn’t coming.

WIN was happy to have me there because management saw my drive and if something came up to do, they would offer it to me, or I’d pitch it myself.

It eventually led to casual paid work as a reporter for WIN News while still studying at university.

Ultimately my plan to study business while getting practical knowledge as a journalist paid off when I graduated, because I immediately got a job as a finance video journalist and producer for David Koch’s Palamedia Group, working across Sky News, Seven News, 2GB and various newspapers.

I’m not saying everyone should work for free, and in many cases, it’s not legal. You need to understand your rights.

In this instance, I did it for me, and again, there was never an expectation from WIN News that I would turn up, nor was it a requirement of my degree.

To this day, I still feel lucky to be given a chance at WIN News. When you are trying to crack a competitive industry, you need do what you can to stand out and demonstrate ability, passion, talent and dedication.