It helps to investigate like you’re on the job before you get the job.
“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” - Benjamin Franklin
I came across this quote the other day and it reminded me of one knock-out thing I did to help me land a job as a reporter. I didn’t write the story but I did have something to talk about during interviews (and put my idle thumbs to work while job hunting).
After spending time in New York, jobless and money running out, I moved with my girlfriend (now my wife) to London. Housing in London is expensive but an estate agent guided me to little flat off the main road in Kilburn that was in budget. Perfect, I thought.
It was tiny, it had one window and was on the ground floor on a side street just off the main road. On weekends, drunks used to urinate in front of our window and while it stank, at least they occasionally dropped a five-pound note or some loose change. The best shower in the world made up for its many misgivings but we had a place to call home.
It would have been great but we couldn’t get a landline installed, our mail wasn’t being delivered and there as a weird, elevated square lid in the middle of the place which you might occasionally trip over.
My mail was being delivered to the neighbours above us. I knew they were home as their staircase ran through our flat. Picking up the mail from them was not a long term solution but I did get to know them and learned a thing or two about the place.
I called the post office to check on the situation but there was no flat registered at my address. I couldn’t get a telephone line installed, which meant no internet connection so I had to walk up the road to use an internet cafe for my daily job hunt.
After speaking to my neighbours and other tenants, it turned out the last renter was forced to leave after sewage had flooded the apartment and destroyed her belongings. So that’s what that weird covered up square was in the middle of the flat is! She couldn’t get contents insurance on an apartment that didn’t exist and didn’t receive compensation for the damage.
Another resident claimed the apartment was the caretaker’s tool shed before it was converted. I called the council to investigate and requested access to the building permits. The council had rejected the proposed conversion of a tool shed into liveable quarters.
The flat was illegal.
The documents I requested also revealed information about the owner, which, once I had tracked down using a few searches and requests turned out to be a shell company run out of Greece. My efforts to track down a number and physical owner didn’t reveal much but I didn’t feel like running up against mafia and I had amassed enough evidence.
Instead of going public (writing a story for the local paper would have been one move) I enlisted the support of a housing charity and forced the estate agent to relocate us to a bigger and better flat with a garden. My girlfriend and I were in the process of bringing our dog over from New York and, somehow, the place didn’t seem right for the pooch.
I landed a job during this whole ordeal and told this story during my interviews when asked: what makes a good journalist or what makes you think you’ve got what it takes to be a journalist?
Do you think I should have gone public and boosted my portfolio or was using this information for my agenda the right move? Let me know.
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