Editor urges journalism students to adapt and conquer

27 05 2010

Laura Oliver, Editor of journalism.co.uk, heralded the rise of the entrepreneurial blogger and urged new journalists to “get online”, in a talk given today for NCTJ students at Brighton’s Journalist Works.

Her 45 minute talk focussed on the changing media landscape and how journalist’s skills must continue to be updated and develop if they are to prosper.

“Business isn’t just for business journalists” she said and pointed out that the wealth of data that is released by public body’s means that numeracy skills are almost as much use to journalists today as good news sense.

Drawing attention to stars of the blogosphere such as BlogPreston and PoliticsCymru, she said that advertising their skills through their own endeavours can bring bloggers to employer’s attention and could be decisive in landing a job.

These sites show that journalists should find a niche and learn how to market themselves.  Modern social media tools have become essential for this.  Laura said:

“A few years ago, I’d have thought that Twitter was just a passing fad, but it’s things like this and blogging that have stolen a march on traditional media”.


Politics in the pub

27 05 2010


Prime Minister's Debate

By Davet Hyland 

Where were you on the night of the most historical General Election in decades? Were you at a count? On your own with a homemade swingometer and David Dimbleby for company? Or did you spend it keeping the Brighton public informed using nothing but a battered old Nokia in a raucous, partisan pub?

That was my task as part of the Argus’s election liveblog team. I got sent to the Grey’s Pub, Southover Street and was told to tweet my observations of events as they happened. From the start, the atmosphere reminded me more of the pub I had been in the night before. Except it wasn’t Man City V Spurs on the big screen, it was the results of the BBC/ITV/Sky exit poll being projected onto Big Ben.

The punters were a mix of students, young professional couples and political anoraks, but they were united by one fact that quickly became clear: not one of them had voted Conservative. I realised this when chants of ‘1-0, 1-0’ were heard after the first Sunderland result and it became the theme of the evening, the mood of the crowd changing every few minutes depending on whether the latest result meant a Tory gain or Labour hold. The loudest cheer of the night was reserved for the Liberal Democrat gain in Eastbourne, a mixture of local pride and glee at the loss of a ‘safe’ Tory seat.

Chris the landlord made sure everyone was kept refreshed and entertained throughout the night, with filled baps for sale and sweepstakes predicting the seat-count every half hour, and I kept the outside world informed through texts to Twitter. The only disappointment was that the Grey’s license only extended to 3 am, far too early for the Brighton results. I’d like to tell you I stayed up when I got home to see it but I was fast asleep, dreaming of another election this year so I can do it all again.

What you should know about ‘Freedom of Information’

10 05 2010
BBC drama

Brian Cox as the House of Commons Speaker Michael Martin in the BBC drama On Expenses

By John Jenkins, former night editor at the Daily Telegraph

The Freedom of Information Act is the most important piece of legislation to affect journalism for fifty years. It enables journalists to exploit legally one of the most important definitions of news ever uttered: the ability to tell people what officials do not want them to know.

You can read up the Act and learn it off by heart and obtain a 100 per cent mark in any future examination. And that will be useless to you.

Just as you could learn the Highway Code alongside a manual for a Bentley Mulsanne and not have a clue how to drive.

If you can watch a superb BBC dramatised version of the revelations surrounding MPs’ expenses written by Tony Saint, you will know the conditions in which this Act changed the shabby face of British politics.

Instead of hiding behind a novel’s standard disclaimer, the programme, about the heroic tenacity of Heather Brooke to break the code of secrecy, goes out of its way to confirm that much of its content is actual historical reporting.

It was first shown on BBC in February 2010 and repeated two days after the general election on May 8th.

Heather Brooke

Heather Brooke

You should also buy Heather Brooke’s book: The Right to Know. If you buy it online make sure you get the latest edition.

Within a short time of the introduction of the FoI by the Labour government  in 2005 politicians were saying it was the worst thing that Tony Blair had done.

A vicious campaign to water it down began but the expenses explosions which rocked Westminster has made every MP in the land wary of trying to emasculate this important Act.

Having digested as much as you can about the Act and highlighting those parts which are vital or unclear,  it is then time  to listen  to one of the handful of master practitioners. Such a man is Matt Davis, renowned by the news desks of national newspapers as a reporter who digs gold out of mountains of statistics and has a forensic cross examiner’s skill at putting questions.

Over the past years I must have listened to more than 100 people lecturing on various aspects of journalism and creative writing.  Some are good, some are hopeless and a very, very few are brilliant. Davis is in the latter category.

So much so, that when I came to write what I hope will be the best and most up to date book on the black art I went to TheJournalistWorks in Brighton, where Davis lectures on the fast track course for graduates, and asked permission to sit in.

In two hours what I suspected was right was confirmed. What I found difficult to understand was made crystal. What I had seen – and experienced as hurdles – were destroyed. I left with a dozen ideas for stories churning through my mind.

Even better, I revised my lectures on how to get to the front of the queue in the quest for a job.

Any job on a reasonable publication will attract a shoal of applicants.  The editor will whittle them down to five or six. Frequently there will not be a whisker, or should I say an eyelash between them – first- class exam results, pleasant appearance, articulate, bright eyed and ambitious.

So who gets the job?  Simple. The one who displays most energy and initiative.

Hence my advice has always been – for the interview take a story in with you for that publication. Make sure it is topical, accurate and relevant to the publication. Now I have added a rider to that advice – and if you take in a story which is the result of a Freeedom of Information inquiry, which is topical, controversial and well researched you can knock your name off the unemployment statistics.

The stark fact is that not every working  reporter understands or can handle FoI inquiries. And whisper it: some editors are not experts on the procedure. I say that as a man who was once a member and regional secretary of the Guild of British Newspaper editors.

Here then, is the gospel according to Matt Davis and Heather Brooke.

Study this website: http://www.whatdotheyknow.com

Phrase you questions with care

Be as specific as you can about dates and reports

When necessary ask for a comparison – e.g. number of unsolved murders in Dorset over a five-year period

Research who is best to answer the information

Speak softly and politely in any phone call

Often the suspicion that you will follow up with an official FoI request will be enough to obtain the information

If your request is refused the source must explain why

Your request must be answered within 20 working days (about a month)

If the source says they do not have the information ask them who has

Never take no for an answer

Don’t waste your time pursuing information which is already available

Use full names: e.g. British Broadcasting Corporation, not BBC.

There is a list of government departments and executive agencies listed by the Cabinet Office which is available to you

You do not have to reveal that you are a journalist

You have a right to appeal to the Information Commissioner against a refusal.

Now beware the standard ploys to put you off.

The data is not available…the Data Protection Act…a matter which is sub judice…a hint to local reporters that you will not get any future co-operation if you persist…a matter of national security…the cost of providing the facts is prohibitive..the information is already in the public domain…the facts are so delayed that your expected story becomes stale.

There is also the ploy of submerging you with minutes and reports which will make your heart sink when you contemplate the amount of work required to pan the gold from the dross.

Don’t give up. You may find an even better story than the one you originally envisaged and you can always return with more precise supplementary questions.