Monday, 5 March 2012

Tips from those at the top

An interesting article appeared on the Guardian website last week, Jack Oughton asked journalists for their tips on how to make it as a journalist. Their answers were as follows:

Sam Delaney is a writer and broadcaster. He has contributed to the Guardian, BBC, Channel 4 and Channel 5. He is a former editor of Heat magazine. His book Get Smashed: The Story of the Men Who Made the Adverts That Changed Our Lives is published by Sceptre
 "Pick up the phone. If you want to work for someone and have got an idea, don't dither, call them up. Find out who you need to speak to and ask questions. Be tenacious and thick skinned. Don't take rejection personally. Picking up the phone is answer to both finding a job and delivering a great story.

"I rang up the Guardian and just told them I had a story. Then I called up the people I wanted to interview for that story. Every big step in my career has involved me just asking people stuff repeatedly until I got an answer.

"Good journalism is gathering raw information and crafting it into a form that conveys the facts to the audience in a way that is compelling, maybe even entertaining. This is regardless of subject matter or medium. Your job is to tell a story, communicate clearly and concisely. It should never be a chore for the audience to imbibe the information you're trying to communicate, it should be a pleasure."

Ben Goldacre is a writer, broadcaster, and a doctor who specialises in unpicking dodgy scientific claims. He writes the Bad Science column in the Guardian and runs the Bad Science website
 "Keep an outside option. Bad journalism happens when people think: 'I have to write this to pay the mortgage.' Writing's not really my career, it's a hobby, which means I only write about things that interest me, in ways that interest me, which I think has been good."

David Quantick is a writer, broadcaster and critic specialising in comedy and music. He has written for, and appeared in TV and radio shows, from The Day Today and The Fast Show, to the controversial PopeTown and Brass Eye
"Anyone who's aspiring should stop aspiring and go and do it. Meet people, make contacts, practise your skills, and work. I wrote to the editor of the NME and told him his paper was no good. He wrote back and asked me if I'd like to write for it.

"Good journalism can be lots of things. It can be a clear and concise small report in a local paper that does what it needs to do, it can be a massive expose in a proper newspaper, or it can be a screamingly loud piece about why Lady Gaga is better than the Beatles. So long as the work does what it intended to do, it's good."

Jack Schofield is a technology journalist and former computer editor for the Guardian. He joined the staff to launch the newspaper's computer section in 1985. Schofield was also one of the Guardian's first bloggers, launching the 'Online' blog with Neil McIntosh in 2001
"Become an expert in something, or even two things, and you should be able to find a niche, even if it's a small one. "Spec reps" [specialist reporters] are harder to replace than generalists, and a specialist can get better with age and experience.
Good journalism is when readers feel or even say to themselves: 'I'm glad I read that.' The most brilliant story is wasted if nobody gets past the first paragraph. Or, worse, thinks you've wasted their time."

Mark Kobayashi-Hillary is an author, blogger, and adviser on technology, globalisation and corporate change. He has written several management books, including 'Global Services: Moving to a Level Playing Field', 'Who Moved My Job?', and is a regular contributor to Reuters, the Guardian, and Computer Weekly
"I'd tell aspiring journalists to open their mind to the way journalism is changing. The entire media industry is being shaken to the core by the internet and uncertainty over distribution models. This is affecting the very idea of what it means to be a journalist. In the short term, the best thing any aspiring journalist can do is ensure they are multiskilled. Today, it is no good just being able to write well. You need to understand how to record good audio, edit it, record video, edit that too, and interview/publish in all these various formats. If a potential editor can see that you are familiar with various forms of multimedia publishing then you have a big advantage over the crowd lining up for that job.

"The most important thing I did for my career? I wrote a book. In an era of blogs and online video it may seem archaic to sit down and write 200 pages on a single subject, but it can shape your entire career. When you go into an interview, you can often be seen as just another hack. If you go into an interview and that person knows you are a published author on your specialised area, it opens doors and creates a lot of respect. You won't sell many copies of business or specialised literature, but the effort will be rewarded in the effect on how you are viewed in your company and the marketplace in general. This also opens new doors into research, analysis, and management roles.

"Good journalism is clear, direct, and engages the reader. It uses simple language even for complex subjects. The classic example I show to people is the difference between the FT and the Economic Times - the equivalent financial paper in India. The FT is finance-focused, but explores the impact of finance on every aspect of industry with a lot of comment that is rich, human and jargon-free. The ET uses acronyms in headlines and believes the world is about to end if a new bond issue is unpopular with investors. There may well be a cultural difference in terms of investing and finance, but FT manages to be full of finance information without it feeling like you need a finance degree to read it and be engaged."

To read the article in full, visit:

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Future of the press in Wales conference: a hard pill to swallow

Yesterday I went to the Future of the press in Wales conference at the Universityof Glamorgan. I wanted to see what people had to say about the problems with the press and what kind of solutions are realistic. As someone who is job hunting at the moment I think it’s good to have an awareness of what you’re getting yourself into. 

The day was split into four sections:

1.    What is the current state of the press in Wales?

Andy Williams gave a very informative analysis of the state of the press in Wales. The outlook seems bleak with the number of editorial and production staff at Media Wales having dropped from 700 in 1999 to 136 in 2010. Circulation was deemed to have fallen from 55,000 newspapers in 2000 to 27,000 in 2011.

2.    Do we need a press in Wales?

Speakers included:

-       Ken Skates, a Labour AM who is participating in the National Assembly’s task and finish group on the future outlook of media in Wales
-       Bethan Jenkins, a Plaid Cymru AM and spokesperson on heritage, media and sport
-       John Osmond, Director of the Institute of Welsh Affairs.

Ken emphasised the link between having a national newspaper in Wales and having a feeling of citizenship, and suggested public funding might be a way to support the press. Bethan felt more research is needed into what kind of press valued in Wales, before taking action . John said the Western Mail in its current form is not going to survive.

3.    Is there another way?

This section involved Stewart Kirkpatrick, Duncan Higgitt and Ken Smith; all of whom have launched news sites which are aimed at providing local and regional news to certain areas.

I found this section frustrating. Whilst all of the speakers are making a valiant effort in maintaining good quality news sites whilst having a day job; none of their sites are making money. None of the sites will be sustainable without making money. The idea of paywalls was not considered appropriate for the content being produced. In summary, from this session, there doesn’t seem to be another way.

4.    Where do we go from here?

Ideas stemming from the group discussion included; crowd funding, mobile phone apps and public funding, among other things. The idea of public funding was controversial as some thought it could work as it does for the BBC, while others thought this risked introducing government influence into the press.


I think this tweet sums up the conference:

I felt nothing was said about the state of the press that I hadn’t already heard, but that nonetheless; the truth hurts. When I asked speaker Martin Shipton if I should focus on applying for newspaper jobs at regional papers, or if my future would be more secure on a national; he responded: “My advice to you is to switch to broadcast. There is no certainty whatsoever in a future in print journalism”

In some ways this was hard to swallow. But in others, I felt this showed an outmoded way of thinking. I am not a newspaper journalist, I am a journalist. I may not know how to use technical equipment, but I can learn. This is what I want to do, and if it means putting a few extra hours in maintaining two blogs, and learning to shoot video, and improving my photography skills, AND learning to edit audio AND all the other things that haven’t even been invented yet. Then so be it.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Jack of all trades, master of employability

If you want a job in journalism, or in fact any job at all; you need skills. And you need them now. Although I’m studying to become a newspaper journalist, from day one  the Cardiff  tutors have told us don’t be in a silo; don’t just stick to one type of media.

More than ever journalists are expected to (among other things):
  •  write for a variety of publications and sites
  •  produce, feature in and edit audio and visual content
  •  process, simplify and deliver complex data to the community
  •  cultivate, manage and engage with communities.

And if you can do all that in multiple languages that’s always a plus.

This is a daunting prospect for any budding journalist who just likes writing. Which is why I’m trying to become a jack of all trades, and yesterday I had my first workshop in learning how to shoot video.

We were taught by Tony O’Shaughnessy, who has worked at the BBC and Tower Media. He taught us the basics of how to set up a shot, what kind of shots work for journalism, how to film interviews and action sequences and how to do basic editing on Adobe Premiere software. We were then released onto the streets of Cardiff to put what we’d learned into practice. I worked with my housemate Jo Price (a Magazine student at Cardiff). We got a few shots of the city and managed to get an interview with Ben-the-passer-by who happened to be in a band (thanks Ben). The end result of our first attempt was this:

With more time and more training, we would have liked to record more of the music to extend through the whole clip,  record a narration voiceover introducing the Swn festival to lead up to the interview, and increase the volume of Ben’s voice. I really enjoyed the whole experience and all in all I was chuffed we only got asked to “stop filming and leave the property” once.

Comments and criticisms about the clip are welcome, as are any words of wisdom about what kit is good to use when shooting video.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

It’s all about standards.

At my first lecture at Cardiff today, the word ‘standards’ was mentioned a lot. A hot topic at the moment, it seems.

In the aftermath of further phone hacking revelations, journalists are not renowned for their high standards of practice; and today Shadow Culture Secretary, Ivan Lewis, outlined his plans to rectify this.

Talking at the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool, Mr Lewis said that some lessons needed to be learned.

1.   No one commercial organisation should have such power and control over the media ever again. 

2.   Self regulation of the press is ineffectual and a new system of independent regulation is needed. As part of this, journalists guilty of malpractice should be struck off.

3.   Mr Murdoch should realise that the integrity of the UK’s media and politics is not for sale.

Now, I’m all for points 1 and 3. However, point number 2 is something that would make a lot of journalists squirm. I’m unsure how I feel about it myself, but I understand why Mr Lewis thinks it’s necessary.

The media has the power to completely ruin a person’s life. Just like those in the Medical profession in some ways, though less obviously. But for those whose life has been torn apart, the cruel effects of bad press can cause deep emotional pain like a shoddy operation causes physical pain.

In this light it seems that the all-powerful media should indeed be kept in check, and held accountable where they are reckless with the lives of others.

Adam Boulton from Sky said:

However as most journalists these days are required to complete a Postgraduate course where they will learn about the law, isn’t it fair to treat them equally to other professionals like doctors, teachers and lawyers?

Aside from the issues of power, an independent regulatory body might be a good mechanism for restoring trust in the press. If the public know that ‘bad’ journalists can be held accountable they can be more confident in the fact that what they’re reading is produced to the highest standards. Some people argue that journalists can already be sacked for making errors. But if you ask Rebekah Brooks or Johann Hari, this doesn’t seem to be the case.

A move like this would cause a massive headache to editors and reporters everywhere. It would also require an extensive (and no doubt expensive) regulatory infrastructure to be created. Considering the amount of citizen journalists and bloggers out there in this digital world I’m not sure it would even be possible.

But something needs to be done. I’m not convinced a journo-register is the answer; but somehow the power should be checked and the trust in the media restored.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Top tweet to woo employers

There are no jobs in journalism. This is almost 100% true. To (loosely) quote Rob Attar speaking at a Media Course earlier this year: 

“To get a job in journalism, you basically need to wait for someone to retire, get pregnant or die.”

And that’s certainly been true for me. (No, I didn’t hatch any sinister murder plans to secure myself a job this summer, a reporter was on maternity leave). Anyway.

Employers are inundated with CVs from equally qualified applicants, to the point where one frustrated editor today decided not to read any. Alan Geere, Editor of Northcliffe Media South East claimed on his blog to be “fed up wading through turgid ‘letters of application’ and monstrous CVs outlining an early career in retail handling and a flirtation with the upper slopes of the Andes.”

So, in a move to separate the mice from the men Geere decided to limit all job applications to the 140 characters allowed in a tweet, stating that he wants reporters that can write “quickly and accurately.”

I thought I’d give this a go and see what I could fit in 140 characters. My would-be application looks a little something like this:

@alangeere LLB 2.1, shorthand 60wpm, attending Cardiff for journalism postgrad 11/12, 3 months experience @WTelegraph, clean driving licence

Whilst I think that writing concisely is a skill, I don’t think this 140 character passage really does me justice. On this subject Matthew Holehouse tweeted this:

And I have to say I agree with him. In 140 characters you can only establish the very basics to a person’s qualifications. Geere says himself: “I keep getting told there is an over-supply of qualified people wanting to do journalism. Well, maybe there is but there’s definitely not an over-supply of people who are any good.”

If you limit someone to 140 characters, all you can establish is their ability to make an extremely short list. In an incredibly overcrowded job market, I would hope that prospective employers take budding journalists more seriously than this. It takes half an hour, maximum, to read a CV. A yes or no to a job application can affect an applicant’s whole life.

It's been a while.

Apologies to my nine blog followers for the lack of regular (or even rare) posts recently. The reason I have neglected this blog all summer is because I have been doing extensive research on how to become a journalist, by actually being one!

Due to a mixture of luck, timing, and (I hope) a good first impression, I managed to get a three month contract working for Newsquest on the local papers in my area. I’ve been working hard all summer, to contribute and to learn as much as I can; because I know how lucky I am to get an opportunity like this.

However, this is not an excuse for lack of posts and I intend to be much better in future. I’ve got a few things up my sleeve, but in the mean time to see a few things I’ve been doing during my absence, check out thisthis and this.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Welcome to orange answerphone, the person you’ve called is not available, please hack into all their personal messages after the tone….

Further to my last post I feel I should comment on the hacking scandal in the context of ruthlessness. I didn’t intend for this to be a current affairs blog, but this story has brought the whole journalism profession under scrutiny and I feel it would be ignorant to overlook it.

Without getting bogged down in the definition of ruthlessness (which was rightfully challenged in the last post) I think the hacking saga presents a prime example of when a thirst to succeed to the detriment of others becomes standard journalistic practice.

And it works. Of course it works. If you hack people’s phones, naturally you’ll hear the story first, even before your protagonist knows the scoop themselves. News of the World was the most popular newspaper in the UK before it closed this month.

It doesn’t work forever though. I’m certainly no expert on this; I have yet to study media law. But without any knowledge of the plethora of illegalities of hacking someone’s phone, it doesn’t take a genius to know that newspapers rely on trust. People buy a newspaper once because there’s a scandal on the front page. They buy it again because they have trust in that paper. That trust evaporates if the reader feels that their phone could be hacked, that – in the wrong circumstances – the scandal could turn round on them.

Rebekah Brooks will have to answer for this. She has to choose whether she condoned hacking and was involved in malpractice for nearly a decade; or whether she was oblivious to a practice which was rife throughout a paper she was responsible for.

The news today that whistleblower and former NOTW journalist, Sean Hoare, has been found dead is incredibly sad. It is not known yet whether his death is linked to the hacking scandal, but I sincerely hope that it’s not. If any good can come of this scandal, I hope that journalists see the importance of integrity and transparency. Hacking is not investigative journalism.