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.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Journalists must be ruthless. Discuss.

The three types of career that appeal to me (law, business and journalism) all have the stigma of requiring brutality in order to succeed. I find this slightly worrying. A friend recently challenged me on whether I’m suited to the cut-throat industry of journalism and it got me thinking: do journalists need to be ruthless?

Without question journalists have some unsavoury duties. For example, ‘doorstepping’ the family of someone killed in an accident. Journalists seek the truth, and that can involve asking confrontational questions or invading someone’s privacy. The bigger the story, the less important compassion and empathy becomes. Journalism is certainly not for the meek.

However, I refuse to believe that journalists need to be hardnosed and heartless. For starters, I will not get far if this is true. A good story needs good quotes, so journalists need to get people talking. People aren’t chatty if they sense you’re out to fool them in some way; so bullying interviewees is not productive. Whilst it’s true that many scoops come from journalists lulling people into a false sense of security; such a tactic won’t work twice on that person. Succeeding in journalism requires a mixture of very hard work, a bit of luck and good contacts. If you treat someone badly to get a story, you will not be able to use that person again.

A compelling story is a successful story, so empathy is crucial. With the doorstepping example; a bereaved family may wish to pay tribute to their relative if approached tactfully and given space to grieve. The ruthless journalist who dives in too soon shoots himself in the foot as well as upsetting others.

Overall I think competitiveness and determination are different to ruthlessness, and that it’s possible to succeed in journalism with your morals still intact. Being approachable and reliable are much more valuable skills in my view, but maybe I’m naive.

Any comments? Discuss below...

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Start a blog

Now, I know what you're thinking.
"This is only the third post, what does she know about writing a blog?!"

The fact is that I've been itching to start a blog for some time. However, because I knew it would be something prospective employers would look at, I didn't dive straight in. I wanted to carefully pick a theme that was credible and that I cared about, so that it wouldn't become a chore to write. If you're going to write a blog, you have to have a theme.

I looked around at other people's blogs to see what types were out there.

The 'me me me' blog
This is probably my least favourite kind of blog. These blogs can include the most mundane and trivial information that is really only fit for a melodramatic teen journal, which in itself should have an upper age limit of 15. I've come across a few in my time and they're definitely not my thing. I don't feel that anyone wants to know what I'm doing this weekend or what I had for breakfast.

HAVING SAID THAT...if done well these blogs can be fascinating; like a digital age Bridget Jones' Diary. A 'me me me' blog that I've really enjoyed reading is Nothing But Bonfires by Holly Burns. Take a look. It's addictive.

The expert-in-their-field blog
I haven't read many of these, as personally I prefer to read books if I want to learn about something. Expert-type blogs can be very interesting though, particularly if they're accessible to novices. I don't consider myself an expert in anything (yet), so this wasn't an avenue I chose either. Some of my friends are just starting out writing subject specific blogs and I've found them very interesting and insightful. One of these is beckybeequal by Becky Bryce about sociological and equality issues.

The current affairs blog
This was an option I seriously considered, but decided to try out later in my career. I felt that by reporting national news on a personal blog I'd just be rewording the work of other people and reporting after the event. I also considered blogging local news, but thought that would limit my audience. Someone who has done this well is journalism student Phil Baillie, and Bristol graduate Zoe Griffin has made a successful career out of celebrity blogging.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of blog themes, but these are the three I've seen most often. If you're considering becoming a journalist, you need to pick a theme and get blogging as soon as possible. Having a blog is a good way of getting experience, demonstrating your passion for writing and showing your awareness of the importance of online media. Adding your blog link to your CV gives universities and prospective employers an easy way of accessing your work and seeing what you're about. You need to get your name out there somehow and the internet is a big place.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Student Journalism

Student journalism is a funny thing. Sometimes it can feel like a pointless exercise; stressing to meet a deadline when no-one’s going to read it anyway. Other times it can be the most rewarding feeling, seeing your work in print. Having someone come up to me and say “Hey, I read your article” can make me giddy.

If you want to be a journalist, student journalism is something you have to do. Firstly for your own benefit; it can give you a taste of what journalism is like in a safe environment. If you don’t like it, you can quit while you’re ahead before spending thousands on the NCTJ. Secondly for your application forms, whether for university courses or job applications; you need to show enthusiasm and dedication and you need to have cuttings.

The earlier you get involved the better. However from my experience it’s not always the most glamorous of hobbies and it’s something you need to stick at. In my past experience of student journalism, there’s been a few ups and downs...

The Zone
This was a youth magazine I got involved with in 2005 at the tender age of 14.  It was published by the local council and was basically a means of advertising to teenagers all the activities (other than drinking in the streets) that were available in our area. I was lucky enough to be on the editorial team from day one.

At the start it was awful. The council made the magazine broadsheet sized, which meant everyone rolled up their copies to use like bats to hit each other with. We once ran a competition which no-one entered. It was altogether very cringy. If you need proof, here’s the front page of the 2nd edition. If you look closely enough you’ll see a very smarmy-looking 15 year old me, holding a copy of the 1st edition (which is almost big enough for us all to hide under).

However, it did get better. And what’s amazing about student journalism is, for the first time ever, people care what you think. It amazed me then - and I’m still not used to the idea now – that people want to read what I have to say. With that strange feeling comes the fear; because whatever you’re writing, it better be good.

This is the paper I’m involved with now, which is a lot more professional. I’ve been involved a few different sections, but I tend to stick to features. This is where it got real for me. Going from writing about the joys of doing your Duke of Edinburgh Award to interviewing MPs, GlaxoSmithKline representatives and the creator of Floxx is a big step up. There are still downsides; like writing articles which never get published, or get edited beyond all recognition. But for me the anticipation of waiting for the next issue, seeing ‘Emily Davies, Head Features Reporter’ and having people interested in what I’ve written, gives me a buzz I can’t get anywhere else.

So if you get the chance to do student journalism, give it a go. It might just be something you can look back on in a few years and cringe at, or you might end up making a living out of it. I hope I'll end up doing both.