With more than 40 articles across 20 issues, Ben Cornwell reflects on his decision to take on a work placement at HIP, away from his journalism course at the University of Sussex.

With my first year at university being cut short by the start of the pandemic and subsequently moved online, I returned to Brighton in September 2020 with a degree of optimism. Surely life will start to go back to the way that it was. Like many other people, I was naïve and very wrong. The second year kicked off how the first one ended with more online teaching over Zoom. Now I don’t mind having lectures over Zoom. It made note-taking during classes with fast-speaking lecturers a lot easier. However, the main reason I picked the University of Sussex course was the practical elements that they offered and with teaching on Zoom and other covid restrictions in place, it was very difficult to put those teachings into practice. Therefore, once Christmas had passed, the search for a work placement began.

Ben holding 200th issue

Unfortunately, my university course wasn’t the only thing affected by the pandemic. With many businesses furloughing staff and not knowing how long it would be till they could return to their offices, large national companies which would often offer several placements for university students were no longer advertising roles.
I approached every national/regional media company that I could think of directly in the hope that one might be capable of taking me on. But my efforts were to no avail. One day I thought I had struck gold when my regional paper, the Kent Messenger, showed an interest in taking me on. However, with many of their staff on furlough, they couldn’t justify paying me and didn’t feel it was right for me to work unpaid despite my assurances that I only wanted the role for the experience. I sometimes wonder what it would have been like if I had managed to secure a placement there. Would I have been writing articles regularly and learning the same things as I have at HIP or would I have been more of an assistant, doing the administrative tasks and the morning coffee run? Thankfully the Hastings Independent Press team ─ who I had previously written a piece for back in 2018 ─ were more than happy to take me on for the academic year, and so in July, my HIP journey began.

Initial thoughts on Hastings and its community newspaper

Coming to Hastings was an incredibly new and exciting experience for me. Before HIP, I had only been to Hastings a handful of times in my life and that was mainly for the fish & chips and crazy golf – a pretty good reason to visit if you ask me. During my first week, the team asked me to get acclimatised to the area and explore the town in full. As I wandered through the cobbled streets of the Old Town, and along the seafront to Norman Road, I realised that there was so much more to this town than I had first thought. Fast forward 11 months and despite reporting on anything and everything happening in the area, Hastings and St Leonards still managed to surprise me, revealing new hidden gems with every visit. 

Editing the community pages for HIP’s 200th issue was a particularly proud moment for me

When I joined HIP, I had so many questions. The main one is how have they continued to produce a high-quality fortnightly newspaper for over seven years? It soon became clear that it was due to the newspaper’s structure and organisation. While many would think a lack of office/working environment or clear editor may lead to production issues, in reality, it helps this team of volunteers to thrive. Every volunteer involved in HIP is passionate about the newspaper and more importantly the local community that HIP serves. Of course, at times there may be an unexpected dilemma or an ounce of chaos thrown into the mix but this can often be resolved after some healthy discussion amongst the group. After all, who doesn’t like a bit of chaos every once in a while, to make things interesting?

Experience, Experience, Experience

While in Hastings, I covered all sorts of topics and stories. From sewage leaks on Bulverhythe Beach, safety on our streets, to even covering a resident’s plan to walk from Cape Wrath to Hastings. But the articles I am probably most known for by my fellow volunteers are those written for the sports page. Sport is something I am very passionate about and is the reason why I would like to become a sports reporter in the future. I felt it was important to report on as many different activities as possible for the newspaper and my portfolio, even covering lesser-known sports like Pickleball. 

Ben interviewing the coaches at Hastings Athletic Club
CREDIT: Bob Beaney

I didn’t spend all my time at HIP writing articles. Very early into my placement, I volunteered to take on two separate responsibilities, writing the weekly online newsletter and handling the social media accounts. With social media becoming more prominent in the industry and people now consuming news on various platforms, I wanted to make sure I practised writing for online mediums too. It was challenging juggling both roles on top of continuing to write articles for print, but after a while, I adjusted to the additional workload. 

While on the whole, both roles ran smoothly, there was one incident that was a major learning curve for me. Back in February, I learned the hard way that HIP and Facebook have differing opinions on censorship after sharing an article on the social media platform led to the removal of the newspaper’s Facebook page. The tech giants deemed the artwork from the article to have broken their community guidelines. (For the full story and reaction see Facebook ‘censors’ Hastings Art in Issue 193) 

I won’t be doing that again, but at least it made an interesting story for our readers. For a while, I considered getting involved in the HIPcast but the last thing I wanted to do was spread myself too thin and there were plenty of other opportunities to get involved in throughout the year including briefly becoming a section editor.

Taking on the responsibility of being a section editor for multiple issues (three for listings and three for community) was something I never imagined I would have the opportunity to do when I started. Editing the community pages for HIP’s 200th issue was a particularly proud moment for me. It felt good knowing that the rest of the team was happy with the work I had been doing so far and trusted me enough to take on the challenge of producing the entire section for a landmark edition of the newspaper. 

Thank You HIP

I believe that I have gained so much from this work placement at HIP. There is no doubt in my mind that the experiences and lessons I have learned will help me in the next steps of my career. Anyone thinking of pursuing a career within the industry should definitely consider getting involved in their local newspaper as it’s a great way of developing your writing and honing your skills. 

Finally, I would like to say a huge thank you to the entire Hastings Independent team for giving me this opportunity and for helping me throughout this journey. Good luck with the next 200+ issues of the newspaper.

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