Ajay Makan: An intern’s parting thoughts

Every Wednesday, on the 14th floor of a tower in St James’s, a group of journalists gather for lunch in a boardroom overlooking central London. As a living embodiment of The Economist, it is perfect.

First there is tradition—an apparent holdover from the days before mobile phones, Wednesday lunch was started by section editors to keep reporters close on the day the week’s newspaper is put together. Then there’s the democratic atmosphere—everyone from editor to intern serves themselves and eats, balancing plate and possibly wine glass, on knees, with or without a napkin in support. Finally there’s the classicism of the menu—always one meat, one fish, and a token vegetarian option, with plentiful salad, fruit and two very rich desserts on the side.

But my first lunch experience was a daunting trial rather than a living museum piece. Exceptionally intelligent people sat talking about the future of space exploration, variants of Chinese state capitalism and, to my relief, football. I gingerly found a seat, tried not to drop my food or chew with my mouth open, and listened. By the time I was ready for dessert, I realised there was not much to be scared of, and took two slices of cake. Despite the intellectual atmosphere, The Economist has an incredibly warm informality and collegiality. Doors are open, offices shared, chatter is amiable and boisterous.

If you are invited to intern you will find yourself blogging from the first day, immediately invited to contribute to “Free Exchange”, just like any other economics correspondent at the paper. You have free rein, and I wrote on everything from the politics of succession at the IMF and Republican duplicity in the US budget debate, to arcane clauses in Greek sovereign bonds and also less serious matters.

Writing for the paper is more competitive, but, as a result, more rewarding when it happens. It can be hugely challenging. In my second week I was asked to write the “Economics Focus” on academic perspectives on privatisation. Combining academic rigor with an accessible style was tough, and I needed more than a bit of editorial hand-holding, but I survived. Although based in the Finance and Economics team, there’s a chance to pitch stories all over the place, and I managed to write for the Business and Britain sections during my time as an intern. Editors were unstintingly receptive to pitches, suggesting alternatives that might be explored, rather than dismissing ideas out of hand.

My short stint is now finished, and I am off to write about markets for the Financial Times. As someone whose previous experience before was mainly in television news, it has been a great learning experience to write for The Economist. It has also been fascinating to see such a grand institution from the inside. Its quirks are plenty, but the very few moments of frustration are easily outnumbered by the times they made me smile. I count myself very lucky to have been given the chance to intern here by the Marjorie Deane Foundation.

-Ajay Makan