Lies, damn lies and statistics!

14 02 2013

This week  Alastair Skeffington and Belinda Kemp visited Brighton Journalist Works to talk to our students about the importance of understanding and reporting scientific and statistical information correctly.

Student Ros Branagan wrote:

New research has shown that 89% of statistics used by journalists are incorrect.

Is a sentence like this over-simplified, misleading, or just plain inaccurate?

These are the kinds of pitfalls that can easily befall journalists, many of whom don’t come from a scientific background.

Thankfully stats experts Alastair and Belinda ran a fascinating, informative and interactive workshop for Brighton Journalist Works students to flag up the essential skills needed to write about scientific data with clarity and accuracy.

For someone like me, who doesn’t have a head figures, this workshop was a must. I had feared flashbacks to GCSE maths, but luckily 100% of this blogger has now learned to fear stats just a fraction less.


Editor Colin Channon visits Brighton Journalist Works

31 01 2013

colin channon

Never miss a deadline, get your 100 words per minute shorthand, be willing to work for free and don’t give up trying to get your work published.

These were the words of advice from Worthing Herald and Chichester Observer editor in chief Colin Channon, who dropped into Brighton Journalist Works this week to talk to our students.

The newsman, whose career spans decades, told students that local papers were all about understanding what makes readers tick and knowing what makes a good, solid story.

He also delighted the class with tales of the champagne golf tournaments, helicopter rides and far flung travel – we just hope our trainees don’t expect all that in their first job!

Contacts, contacts, contacts!

29 11 2012

So, we train you up to know how to write a story, to not type any libels and to be able to take down what your interviewees say at lightening shorthand speed. Then we sort out your work experience and unleash you into the big wide world of journalism. What you do next determines whether you make it in the career you want.

Here’s a few words from past graduate Juliet Conway, who won the National Council for the Training of Journalists’  Scoop of the Year award three years ago whilst studying at Brighton Journalist Works. We think this says it all about perseverance….

“I did my journalism course before going to university, and so being trained as a journalist before starting my degree, I used the expertise to become editor-in-chief of the student paper. I also fitted in work placements during the holidays, so by the time I graduated I had amassed invaluable skills and knowledge – but of course as any graduate knows, that hardly ensures walking into a job.

“I began the arduous task of searching for jobs and editing my CV, but I also secured a work placement at ES magazine by contacting the editor directly. I knew sending out my CV was important, but I also knew my best chances of getting a job was to actually be in the right place at the right time.

“The month-long placement at ES magazine was unpaid but my travel expenses were covered and it was great experience (all placements are, even if it’s because it teaches you what you don’t want to do). However, it was clear there was no job at the end, but that hardly mattered as I met people and made contacts.

“For one job, I was sent to report on a film premiere and met a journalist from the Daily Telegraph. She told me her editor was looking for freelancers and I immediately took her email address and she said I should send her my CV. I did so the very next day.

“They got in touch and I started working for them as soon as my ES magazine internship ended. I’m still a freelance reporter but I work for them regularly each week. I could never have planned this. But what I did plan was the internship, and I did have the drive and desire to put myself out there when I met other journalists and contacts. Above all, I could never have started any of this without the essential skills I learned at Brighton Journalist Works. “

Brutally honest inspiration from Fleet Street Fox

1 11 2012

Fleet Street Fox is not afraid of brutal honesty, whether it’s written on her blog or Mirror Column.

When she talks to journalism students, Foxy encourages them to consider a career at the tabloids because it is there they learn the skills that will take them on into any job.

Her visit to Brighton Journalist Works left Melita Keily excited at the prospect of her future career as she shares on her blog post Fleet Street Fox:

“A talk  I had been looking forward to for quite some time was the anonymous Fleet Street Fox. Hard hitting and brutally honest, it was a talk that inspired me no end, while at the same time scared the bejesus out of me.

“To be told that you will be called a liar several times a day, have countless doors slammed in your face, be the victim of the odd punch or strangulation, witness suicide, see corpses and become very accustomed to phrases involving the word ‘fuck’ and ‘aunts’ (as autocorect loves to put it) is a lot of information to absorb in 60 minutes.
“Oh, and did you know that when you’re hit by a train at 70mph you’re pretty much vaporised and all that’s left are little fat droplets the size of skittles? Yeah, you might witness that too.
“It was at this point I realised she was not joking when she said some people’s human-inhuman ratio tips over into mental illness. I think it’s clear why.
“But I also heard how writing can take you all over the world. How a 3pm phone call could see you on the next train to Edinburgh, or grabbing your passport and heading for the airport, or being on the front line of ground breaking stories, watching and telling history in the making.
“How you can bring down a government, have the press office for the House of Commons or the spokesperson for the Queen on the phone in a flash.
“How you will know information that you may never be able to publish due to ethical and legal reasons but you will know and more often than not you will have the power to tell. And let’s not forget experimenting with Jaegermeister which seems to be a fundamental journalistic skill.
“People will read your stories, your words, take in the facts that you sourced. And that’s why I’m more excited than ever about the career path laid out before me.
“Now I think I’ll go get some fresh air like Foxy told me.”


What a difference work experience makes

25 10 2012
One of the advantages of studying for NCTJ qualifications at Brighton Journalist Works is that we organise three weeks of work experience for our students. It takes the stress out of the search.
When students make sure they stand out from the crowd they regularly find themselves at the head of the pack while job–hunting.
We hear from three students whose performance while on work experience has paid dividends and helped them land the job of their dreams.
Ben Leo graduated in July, achieving the gold standard in all his NCTJ exams including 100wpm shorthand.
Now he is working at The Argus.
“Aside from being in the right place at the right time, I think I was offered a job at The Argus due to my pro-active attitude.
“When I was studying for my NCTJ exams at Brighton Journalist Works, I would try to regularly send the news editor as many news-worthy stories as possible.
“Some he liked, which were published. Some he didn’t. But the point was I had worked to make myself known to him and the other reporters in the office before I started my work experience.
“I spent  four days in the Argus offices and have been working there ever since. In my short time there, I’ve noticed that some of the other guys or girls who come in for work experience tend to wait to be spoken to or given something to do.
“In all honesty, I think the newsroom of a daily paper is busy enough without the staff having to care for and look after work experience people (as harsh as it sounds).
“My advice, whist not necessarily right or wrong, would be to come prepared with story ideas, get on with something worthwhile and try to bring something to the table.
“You only have a few days to make an impression and first impressions as they say, are key.
“Finally – it might sound weird but it also helps to be able to talk to people. And when I say that I mean looking people in the eye and showcasing some degree of social skills.
“It doesn’t mean you have to turn up at 8am acting like a big brother wannabe, just be you and just be genuine.  No employer wants to hire someone who stares at the ground all day and who doesn’t try to make an effort to fit in.
“I recognise I am very lucky in being able to work at The Argus despite my experience, or rather inexperience. For that I am extremely grateful to the relevant people for giving me the opportunity to prove myself – which I hope I am doing.”
Sarah Morgan impressed her colleagues during a work experience placement at Esquire. They encouraged her to apply for a job and now she works as  a sub-editor at Elle Decoration.
Here she explains how work experience placements helped her recognise the type of journalism she wanted to pursue.
“I did work experience at Esquire, The Argus and They were my top three preferences and I’m so glad I got to experience three such different work environments.
“My placements helped me decide I wanted to go into magazine journalism and I learnt the differences between working for print and for online.
“I watched how the professionals worked and learnt about the dynamics in each editorial team, from who was responsible for what to how much everyone communicated.
“However well you do in reporting or production journalism, and however regularly you blog and tweet, the only way to judge if you want to (and are going to be able to) do it for a living is to give it a try for a couple of weeks.
“My work experience was invaluable because it gave me first-hand experiences to draw on in interviews and subbing tests, and it was a chance to practise and get feedback from the people you really want it from.
“A final point – no matter how much you hear it, a content management system (or CMS) for a monthly magazine or daily newspaper is NOT as easy to use as Wordpress or blogspot sites; the askamum one in particular was incredibly tricky to get my head round.
“You’re only going to get practice at using one by doing this kind of work experience, and it really does help.”
Becky Barnes is a reporter at the Bracknell Forest Standard. During her weeks work experience at The Argus Becky wrote numerous  stories and features.
Becky Barnes
One of the keys to her future success was making herself useful to the web editor by managing a live blog and Storify of a council meeting.
These skills learnt in class at Brighton Journalist Works put Becky ahead of the game.
She offers her tips on how to stand out.

” Although work experience is unpaid – I found it invaluable to get as much of it as possible and I am glad I had the chance to go to different places and see the way things work differently in each place.

“For my BJW work experience I spent three weeks at The Argus and found it useful that I had already built up a relationship with the team by submitting work during my time at BJW.
“I also arranged my own work experience so that I could use the Christmas break to get straight on it – take every opportunity!
“Work experience is a great way to see things from different points of view and you get out as much as you put in.
“Without work experience I wouldn’t have been able to get a job as it gave the opportunity to have work published and build a quality portfolio that set me in good stead for tough interview questions. I defy anyone to get a job without it!
“Also it’s the ideal opportunity to check journalism is definitely for you.
“Here are my top tips for work experience on a local paper:

1) Go in there with at least three story ideas a day, minimum.  Otherwise you’ll be stuck re-writing press releases and hardly get anything for your portfolio.

2) Be creative with where you look for stories, think outside the box. Ask your friends.  Follow up every potential lead.  Utilise Facebook and Twitter to search for stories and ask questions.

3) Be confident.  You might feel as though you’re in the way but you have to get through that and make yourself known.  If you have your own story ideas, ask the news editor or another reporter whether they think your ideas would make a good story.  Ask to sit in on conference.  Introduce yourself to everyone.  Remember their names.

4) If you don’t know ask.  Ask questions and listen to the answer so you don’t have to ask again.  Write it down so you don’t forget.

5) Take opportunities.  If another reporter is going to court, ask if you can go with them.  Listen out for news editors looking for someone to take a story and you may end up going to court on your own and getting a cracking piece for your portfolio.  Always answer the phone at every opportunity.  Smile when you talk and be confident and get the details right.

6) Get a copy of the style guide and use it before you ask silly questions.  If in doubt, look for an example in a recent copy of the paper.  For example: do they say Maureen Fisher, aged 50 or Maureen Fisher, 50, it’s quick and easy to find a story that will give you the answer.

7) It may sound obvious, but read the publication.  Get a feel for what stories they are doing at the moment and how you could develop those stories.  Even if the reporters are following something up, you can always ask the news editor if you can check your news nose is working by running past them what you think are the important follow ups.

8) Look at national press every day and think how a national figure or story can be localised.  The news team will be able to help you with advice on who to contact for local figures and statistics.

9) Ask for feedback.  Look at how your stories are tweaked and learn from it.  Write down everything you learn and take note of how they make any changes for house style.  If in doubt, ask for an explanation.

10) Smile, be polite and make tea.  It’s important to get your face known so make sure it’s for the right reasons.

Musings on being halfway through the course…

19 10 2012

Brighton Journalist Works student Chris Cox is in thoughtful mood in his most recent blog post about the transition that takes place here at BJW from wannabe journo to nascent newshound!

He writes:

“So there it is. Halfway. This week marks not only the midpoint of the course but also the start of the transition into the exam period. Chocolate rain heralded the end of the Teeline theory (and the beginning of two hours of speed building lessons a day), we’ve reached the end of the public affairs syllabus and very nearly the end of the media law material. Mocks are looming and soon we’ll be starting production and subbing.

I realised a couple of weeks ago that, in spite of my best efforts to choose a phrase that I was confident I could write in Teeline properly at the time, the banner at the top of this blog isn’t quite correct. We hadn’t done the w-n blend by that point.

I’m leaving it as it is though because the whole point of this blog is that it’s a chronicle of learning. There’s no better illustration of that than close-but-no-cigar shorthand.

With the end (sort of) in sight, thoughts are naturally beginning to turn towards the future. They’ve been focused for so long on the build-up to and actually being on and getting through the course that it feels a little bit odd to be considering life after once again.

We’ve been talking about work experience, putting a journalism CV together and actually starting to secure placements. This has prompted me, for the first time, to contemplate properly what kind of journalism I’m really interested in and what I’ll need to do in order to pursue it.

In truth, I’m still working on that and I don’t really have an answer just yet.

I do feel energised though. It might all come crashing down around me at some point but, right now, the prospect of getting out there, getting a job and starting a career is actually starting to look achievable and that is a very refreshing feeling. After all, the prospect of finding something fulfilling was really the ultimate motivation for me doing the course in the first place.

For the first time in my life that I can remember, I actually find myself looking forward to the future. If nothing else (and there’s plenty else) it’s been worth it so far just for that.”

You’re doing great, Chris, keep it up!

Flurry of excitement as Fleet Street Fox returns to Brighton Journalist Works

25 09 2012

Fleet Street Fox

Who is Fleet Street Fox?

Journalist, newspaper columnist and blogger Fleet Street Fox is always willing to give her forthright opinion on breaking news and how journalism works.

She shared her colourful stories with students at Brighton Journalist Works in April, and returns to offer her wisdom to the latest intake of NCTJ students on Monday, October 1.

Foxy’s career began at her local newspaper at 18 – from the age of 14 she pestered for work experience and a job  – before moving on to national titles ranging from tabloids to broadsheets.

Students will learn what it’s really like to face complaints, abuse and hear noises no one should ever hear from a soap opera star.

Foxy has a few handy tips on working with a raging hangover and how not to crash a nuclear submarine.

Her blog and Mirror column is a must read for any newshound as she picks apart leading news and controversy.

In a recent column for The Mirror, Foxy lays into the paps who took photographs of the Duchess of Cornwall in a piece titled: Why Kate Middleton Closer topless pictures are a continent apart from Harry’s naked Vegas escapade

“One knew they were being pictured, the other didn’t.

“Harry’s pictures were sold by someone who woke up with a hangover, flicked through their phone and thought ‘wow’. Kate’s were planned, sought, and stolen by a professional.

“But is it worse if your privacy is invaded by a stranger, or someone you’ve got drunk with?”

Writing about Hillsborough disaster on the Fleet Street Fox blog, she used powerful language and the horrific image from the front page of the Mirror published on the Monday after the tragedy.

Commenters commended her for the piece Hooligan (n.): A rough, lawless person.

“The anger I feel cannot be put into words, I was at the other semi final that day.  You put it into words for me. Kudos.”

“This is one of the most powerful pieces of journalism I have ever read.”

When it comes down to it, her fans think Foxy rocks.

Now Brighton Journalist Works students are very excited to hear about a life in journalism from directly from Foxy herself.

Melita Kiely is a an avid reader:

“I’ve been reading Fleet Street Fox’s blog for a while now and I like how incredibly opinionated, descriptive and witty she can be in her writing.

“Reporting for a newspaper leaves little to no room for opinions and it is refreshing and insightful to read about the topical news stories that Fleet Street Fox covers, the stance she takes on them and her reasons for doing so.

“You are definitely left with food for thought after reading her posts.”

Gareth Davies‘ imagination is running wild:

“The anonymity aspect is intriguing and bears a resemblance to ‘the secret footballer’ – if he/she/it is anywhere near as interesting as the secret footballer I’m sure we’re in for a treat.

“I’m anticipating a talk by a woman wearing an elaborate fox mask. I’m also preparing myself for disappointment in that regard.”

Puja Tirwari likes Foxy’s way with words:

“I think Fleet Street Fox has a way of bringing to light current issues in an amusing and unconventional way.

“I love how she weaves her words, starting out indirectly at first and then gradually transitioning into the subject.

“What I anticipate the most are the hilarious pictures at the end of every post.

“Her scope on different issues is refreshing and gives the reader something to ponder about.”

Jamie Walker likes a strong woman:

“I enjoy reading her blogs because I love how opinionated she is, she is very passionate about her work and has a lot of opinions about world events which is important for a journalist.

“Obviously it is difficult to give your opinion as a journalist but that is why her blog is so enjoyable.

“Her opinion is so strong and really makes the reader think about the issues being discussed.”

Student Emily Noszkay described Foxy’s previous visit in the blog post 43 and never been spanked – don’t read this:

“She jumped feet first into the blood-thirsty jaws of Fleet Street and worked her way around several high-profile tabloids. She got married, travelled the world, wrote a book, became a twitter phenomenon, hacked her husband’s phone, heard Denise Welch reach an orgasm and got divorced. Although, not in that order.

“While this was all very entertaining, and provided me with my favourite quote of the year so far: “I hacked my husband’s phone but he was shagging a fat bitch, so that’s ok.”

“The real message we got, although littered with unprintable words, was that the highs of being a journo completely out-weighed the lows.

“Fleet Street Fox told us we would be treated like second class citizens, called liars, have no employee rights,  exposed to sexism and people would never understand why we wanted to do our job.

“If we hadn’t of been too scared to try to leave, a good portion of us probably would have. However her next point made us feel more like we could reach our dreams, albeit with a strong drink.

“We were regaled with stories of deaths, births, scandals, expenses, sex, sex, bad breath, sex, and why we would hate our job most days.

“However, the glimmering hope was that we would not only be witnessing the events that everyone wanted to know about but would be writing that every one would be reading.”

Fleet Street Fox has her own range of t-shirts and mugs. The latest addition is a ‘proud to be a pleb‘ mug.

Proud to be a pleb

                       Stay classy