More than fifty years after it began, AAP’s cadetship remains one of Australia’s top training programs for aspiring journalists. Each year a fresh batch of enthusiastic reporters joins the team in Sydney to learn on the job in the country’s only news agency cadetship. Over 12 months, they’re taught to write fast, tight and accurately while spending time in all the news disciplines AAP covers. The training also continues in the classroom where cadets learn shorthand, video skills, ethics, and media law.
We spoke with AAP’s current cadets and asked them about the highs and lows of their year on the job.
I’ve had some amazing adventures since arriving at AAP. From sitting opposite Jimmy Barnes for an hour as he talked Cold Chisel to climbing the harbour bridge at dawn, great stories keep on coming. It’s not all fun though, from politics to crime, courts, sport, and finance, we cadets were thrown straight into the deep-end of breaking news.
The Central station shooting, the Circular Quay fire, protesters scaling the Opera House and the riotous anti-Dutton-and-Abbott protest in Redfern all happened while I was on shift. They were dramatic, sobering events and invaluable learning experiences.
"Even though you’re regularly moving between teams as a cadet, you’re genuinely treated as part of the crew whenever you go, meaning you’re given plenty of opportunities - often including working on the day’s top stories - and are held to a high standard."
Currently, I’m at the Sydney bureau covering general news, which means anything from politics and crime to human-interest stories. The range makes every day exciting and challenging. My day starts at 7 am with the overnight police stories while helping the COS with the bigger yarns breaking that morning. By 9.30am I’m generally out the office and heading to a presser. Some days it’s about local issues, on others it could be the premier or even the prime minister making an announcement.
Being new to Sydney, every outing is a map-reading adventure and every story needs boning up on - nothing in life is as stressful as running late to a packed presser and then asking questions of a leading pollie when you have no idea what you’re talking about. But I guess that’s the whole point of the cadetship. You learn by doing it.
We also learn by spending time in each of AAP’s news departments where experienced journos are always ready to lend a hand and teach us. And the training doesn’t stop on the job, we’re kept on our toes with weekly shorthand lessons and daily practice as we chase down the 120 words a minute speed required to pass the cadetship.
It’s a white-knuckled ride that’s as exhausting as it is gripping. It’s also the most fun I’ve had in years. While on the job I’ve had a laugh with Steve Smith, talked tennis with Pat Rafter, marveled at INXS guitarist Kirk Pengilly’s mo and stood in awe before Susan Sarandon.
There’s also the laughs I’ve enjoyed with new colleagues and my fellow cadets. But, if I had to pinpoint just one moment that topped them all in my cadet year, it’s the day I squeezed with dozens of reporters into the tiny reception room at Kirribilli House for a prime ministerial presser.
As I waited nervously for Malcolm Turnbull and Jacinda Ardern to arrive, I stole a moment and looked out through the window to Sydney harbour. How many world leaders - and aspiring journalists - had stood in this room before me and marveled at the view I wondered. Another amazing adventure on the job.
The AAP cadetship has been an awesome way to get acquainted with various kinds of reporting, from sport to finance. Even though you’re regularly moving between teams as a cadet, you’re genuinely treated as part of the crew whenever you go, meaning you’re given plenty of opportunities - often including working on the day’s top stories - and are held to a high standard. That’s all coupled with support and I’ve constantly felt grateful for how generous bureau and desk chiefs have been with their time in providing any guidance I’ve asked for.
Some of my memorable moments at AAP so far have been contributing to coverage of the same-sex marriage postal survey result - by collating reactions and gathering analysis - travelling to a press conference about a new flight service between Adelaide and Kangaroo Island on one of the flights, learning more about some of our federal politicians by watching them frolic with endangered animals in Canberra and assisting with coverage of the ARIA and AACTA award ceremonies in Sydney.
I've enjoyed dipping my toes into several different areas of journalism. The cadetship challenges you to quickly familiarise yourself with a topic, track down additional information, contact various actors and then succinctly explain it.
And every six weeks or so, you're off to a new round. It can be frightening, frustrating and tiring. But, with the backing of colleagues and superiors, it's an overwhelmingly rewarding experience.
The AAP cadetship is like an all-you-can-eat buffet of learning; you're chatting to an analyst about the stock market one week, a winning jockey the next and sitting in a courtroom reporting on a murder trial six weeks later. You'll also learn to file quickly, from anywhere, and be gadget savvy.
Be ready to hit the ground running and thrive on each challenge.
If AAP is a maze, the cadetship is the express route through it.
From balancing a notebook on my knees in a packed courtroom to clutching the barrier at a Saturday race meet, to interviewing sweaty footballers in the sheds or filming the PM in a primary school coding lesson, I found each corner of Editorial as challenging as it was exciting. An open mind and a sense of adventure are vital and will be backed by the wealth of knowledge and experience in your colleagues and editors on every desk.
But if that’s not enough, shorthand makes for a pretty impressive party trick.
"The access and breadth of the national newswire has allowed me to quiz leading lawmakers, sit in on dramatic court cases and experience the thrill of seeing my story on Boris Johnson's Sydney visit in the New York Times and Washington Post."
The cadetship has taken me from the Sydney Opera House for video, to Port Moresby for sport, to a One Nation election night 'party' in Queensland, to Canberra for the day marriage equality was passed. I've worked alongside some of the best reporters and photographers in the country. They've (hopefully) taught me the art of brevity, and helped improve me as a journalist.
Every rotation has thrown up its own unique set of challenges and skills, and I genuinely feel like it's been the perfect springboard for a career in what is now a difficult industry to navigate.
The AAP cadetship has taught me the beauty in writing clearly and quickly. The access and breadth of the national newswire has allowed me to quiz leading lawmakers, sit in on dramatic court cases and experience the thrill of seeing my story on Boris Johnson's Sydney visit in the New York Times and Washington Post.
There's no more thorough and exciting training program for graduate journalists in the country.
Many former AAP cadets have gone on to senior roles at Australian and international media outlets. SMH editor Lisa Davies, Reuters Australia and NZ bureau chief Jane Wardell, Studio 10 host and news.com.au editor-at-large Joe Hildebrand, AAP chief of staff Paul Mulvey and AAP world news editor Judy Skatssoon among them.
Applications for AAP's 2018 - 2019 traineeship program will open on April 2, 2018 and close on April 13, 2018.
What do we look for in candidates for the three traineeship levels?
Competition is fierce and the standard of applicants exceptional. You'll need a keen knowledge of news and current affairs - including hard news, finance, politics, sport and popular culture.
Show us how serious you are about the craft of journalism with evidence of internships at different media organisations. We’d also like to know how you write, so make sure you provide a good body of published work too. These stories should demonstrate experience with hard news and show some involvement in breaking news. Ideally, the work will have been published by mainstream media outlets.
Your CV should also show us you're a self-starter and have a current driver's licence. Email it and your body of published work (up to 10 items) to firstname.lastname@example.org