Category Archives: Journalism

Work experience in journalism – an essential part of training for all or an outdated concept only accessible to the well-off?

University of Northampton journalism students grill Saints players at Frankins Gardens. Pic © HScott

University of Northampton journalism students grill Saints players at Frankin’s Gardens. Pic © H Scott

GAINING work experience before getting a career may be the trend for many jobs today, but for journalists it has been a standard requirement for decades.

There are few editors or broadcasters who will not have started out their career on the bottom rung of the ladder as a cub reporter, and to get those traineeships you always needed to show enthusiasm by volunteering in your ‘spare time,’ as a ‘workie,’ willing to type up sports results, proof village correspondents’ copy, shadow ‘real’ reporters and make the tea.

It made for some loose equality and understanding in an industry that often means more than just a regular hard day at the office. Most pre-internet journalists, even those who climbed the ladder into management, will have experienced a death-knock, a murder scene, a grim sexual-abuse court case and several missing-kid stories.

It is only in recent years, since the traditional ‘prof-test’ training route has been overtaken by university journalism degrees, that would-be hacks are now also expected to be graduates. But they are all still expected to get at least one stint of work experience on their first CV.
Many undergraduate courses now include work experience as a compulsory, assessed element, which means more and more student journos looking for fewer places in newsrooms every summer.

But with the huge changes in modern newsrooms, and often far fewer staff available to supervise a terrified newbie, (not to mention the paranoia about HR policy and procedures), are workies still getting the chance for hands-on experience they need to show their commitment and ability to do the job?

Despite a tacit agreement by employers not to exploit volunteers (goodness, there’s even laws against it) and to sometimes pay travel expenses, placements might still cost hundreds for the workie in train fares and accommodation.

Our Northampton-based students may only be an hour by train from London, but to take up a placement in the city they need at least £132 for five day-returns (and that’s only if they use London Midland’s pre-booked weekly season ticket, if they don’t it’s 300 quid).

If they need to head north, to say Media City in Salford, then they need pricey accommodation or a Mancunian relative with a sofa-bed. Even locally, they often need a car due to the lack of reliable public transport.

Many regional papers and broadcasters simply won’t take work experiences anymore because they don’t have the manpower. Some are forced to refer locally-based students to nationally-administered placement schemes that might send them anywhere. These organisations seem to have little interest in their workies having local knowledge and contacts, which seems bonkers.
Anyone who grew up on their paper or station’s patch will usually nuke the opposition when it comes to genuine exclusives. They went to school with that woman who’s up in court, or played football with someone who gives them a great tip-off. Their aunties will always know what’s happening around the community.

Even if the student journo gets a place at a media organisation, is there much for them to do? There are few opportunities to shadow different departments if they are no longer all based in the same office.
A day on newsdesk, a day with the snappers, a day on sport, in court and with subs isn’t possible if they are all now working in ‘hubs’, often in different counties, let alone different towns.

If they come in with their own stories or leads, as we encourage them to, is anyone going to have time to go through it with them? Will they be trusted to go to a job on their own, like we make them do during university newsdays?

But those who do get placements, and working journos who can spare the time to guide them, can get priceless experience. Some of our students have gained full-time jobs as a direct result of their work experience while at university. Newsrooms and PR agencies have sent glowing feedback about how useful it is to have a young, enthusiastic workie in the office, and many reveal that they in turn end up being taught new ideas on multimedia and mobile by the students. Everyone benefits; the workie gets a real-life view, the newsroom gets a new perspective, and an extra person on the tea rota. And that means it must still work, right?

I’m very keen to hear your views. Please feel free to comment and most importantly, please take five minutes to fill in the survey below, aimed at people who have undertaken media work experience, even if their careers took them elsewhere. You can fill in the survey by clicking here. Please feel free to share too.

Work experience survey 2016

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The BBC White Paper and what it could mean for journalists

WHILE the main rumours circulating about the BBC’s future have been about the salaries of celebrity presenters and whether Strictly clashes with the X-Factor, there are more important issues buried in the paperwork — including whether the regional press is holding councils and quangos to account.

As a journalist and academic, I’ve been a member of the working group into the relationship between the BBC and the regional press since it was set up in June 2014. The group’s discussions fed into the white paper published today.

It’s pretty much guaranteed that if you raised the issue, over a pint in the pub, of whether the regional media has declined/failed/is dead, you’d get a tidal wave of negativity from people who claim never to read a paper anymore.

They wouldn’t understand that most of the information about their local team/school/hospital they get is still investigated and reported by the local media — but published online.

If they were not so overwhelmed by the demands of constant deadlines to feed their organisation’s websites, the journalists might be in the pub to point this out themselves, but those days are long gone. You’re far more likely to see a local reporter, be they from a paper, local radio or TV, in a Starbucks or McDonald’s car park, balancing a laptop and a phone on their knee while simultaneously trying to upload images and write the story straight on to pages via erratic free Wi-Fi.

“I don’t buy a papers, I get my news from Twitter and Facebook,” is a line guaranteed to bait the most unflappable of journalists. No. You don’t get news from social media, not the full story anyway. What you get is a headline, a tease, and you then click through to — guess what? — the newspapers and broadcasters you think you don’t read. Social media is simply a noisy vendor; a billboard, a town crier directing you to find out what’s going on. It’s rarely the actual story, except, of course, when it is eyewitnesses Tweeting live from an unfolding disaster, or a Facebook fundraiser for a poorly child. Even those live events will see readers looking for validation; for authority and confirmation, by checking what the established news providers are saying.

There is no doubt, regardless of how much the owners and managers of regional papers and broadcasters will tell you otherwise, that the number of journalists in the regions has rapidly decreased. Newspapers have closed high street offices and moved production into ‘hubs,’ often on industrial estates with no physical contact with the public, producing dozens of papers that may be many miles away. Reporters, if they’re lucky, may still be out on their ‘patch’, but instead of returning to an office to file their story, they do it from the aforementioned car park — wi-fi and phone signal permitting. Office-based staff are having to produce more copy faster than ever before, because they are now also writing all the ‘non-news’ text — the property edit, the what’s ons, the sports results — that used to be someone else’s job.

This is not confined to the newspapers, as both the commercial and BBC local TV reporters also have to cover larger and larger areas and often don’t have the time to attend, interview and edit for same-day broadcast deadlines. And yet the regions have a much larger audience than all the nationals put together.

The decline in print is not simply down to fewer people buying papers because they can get the same content via their smartphones. Newspapers never made their money through the cover price, they make it through advertising, and in the pre-internet years, that advertising was almost exclusively purchased in print. If you wanted to get a job, buy a house or sell a car, you bought a local paper. If you wanted to get eyes on these areas as a business, advertising in the local paper was the only, and often expensive, way to attract customers.

News and feature pages were essential to attract in those readers who might also want to buy a car, or a house, or whatever: the news media is a healthy business if you can make people pay for it, and if the cost of printing had not gone through the roof.

However much reporters want to be the messenger of truth between The Establishment and The People, bringing news is a business, and in print, those numbers just didn’t make the profits the ever-larger publishers wanted, and the online revenue has been slow in coming.

Even back in the most recent heyday, management were tasked with making savings, by reducing the number of editions, or making one reporter cover the job of two, by making expenses claims such a long-winded process that reporters simply stopped doing anything that required claiming. But it was unquestionably better staffed than today.

A big regional daily like the Yorkshire Post, Birmingham Mail or Manchester Evening News will still have a good number of ‘portfolioed’ reporters — like an education correspondent, court reporter and most likely a politics editor, covering council and the various authorities and quangos. The big papers will be making sure that issues like planning, schools, pub licensing, health, transport, leisure facilities and local councillors’ expenses are brought to the public’s attention. But on a weekly paper in a small town like Northampton? Maybe not.

Here you’re unlikely to find a reporter able to give their attention and expertise to one area like the council. They’re likely to be half the entire reporting staff on a given day, assuming no-one ever takes annual leave.
Council agendas (have a go at reading one, they’re online) take time to read and analyse. Meetings are usually in the evenings, and if you’ve been the only reporter on the day shift, it’s unlikely you’ll be awake enough to do the late shift too, and that’s assuming you have no life and responsibilities outside of the office.
And those ex-journalists who took redundancy in the last round of cuts, are now in council press offices, writing handy news-style, pro-council press releases, which are just so easy to slip into that gaping hole in your paper or website. They’ve done the hard work for you, haven’t they? The public can even watch the meeting on a council-run webcam.

So what has all this got to do with the BBC White Paper?

The BBC’s current Royal Charter — the agreement which sets the broadcaster’s rules and purpose — expires at the end of December and a public consultation into its future was launched last year.

Tory Culture Secretary John Whittingdale, who oversees charter renewal, has published detailed government proposals for the BBC’s TV licence-fee-funded future in this White Paper.

Included was a section on “Supporting and invigorating local news provision across the UK”, which included a commitment to provide 150 extra

BBC-funded journalists nationwide, who will be based in newspaper offices but share content to all local providers, as “a Local Public Sector Reporting Service — investing in a service to report on local institutions.”

The White Paper continues: “… a service that sees the BBC providing some funding for local journalists to provide reporting for use by the BBC and other news providers. These proposals could provide a positive contribution to the diversity and quality of local news provision. The government welcomes the BBC’s commitment to continue to work with the industry to develop and implement these plans and its commitment to provide funding for 150 journalists from 2017, given the public interest in a plurality of local and regional news provision. This number could rise to 200…”

Hang on, why has the BBC got to prop up the staff of local (commercial) papers at a cost of £8million of BBC license-fee coffers?

Is it just to make friends? To stop criticism by the press that the liberally state-funded BBC killed local journalism with its early regional websites? (Press Gazette, 2007)

Going back to the original set-up of the working group by new BBC news chief James Harding in 2014, and further back still, there has always been ‘tension’ between the state-funded BBC journalists and everyone else.

Newspapers still think the BBC ‘steals’ their stories and simply reads them out on air, however vociferously BBC newsrooms will argue that they don’t, and that news is rarely exclusive.

A generation of current print editors will remember how they started their career on a paper on £7,000, while their fellow trainee reporters slithered into the BBC on £18,000 for doing the same job. They claimed it was impossible for commercial news providers to compete with well-staffed, state-funded newsrooms whose reporters were only writing-up one story a day, while their own staff covered half-a-dozen or more, only to see them ‘stolen’ by the BBC. They’ll say that the newspapers, both regional and national, do all the legwork on an investigation and the broadcasters will just mop up the headline and conclusion. This was still being claimed at the Revival of Local Journalism conference two years ago that sparked Harding’s working party.

I’ve been to every one of the meetings over the two years and made several observations: the most notable being that for all their efforts, the tensions between the BBC and the regional newspapers, and the Press Association, and hyperlocal independent publishers, the commercial regional TV stations, all represented on the panel, are still there.

Some are further evolved than others, and have joined schemes that see newspaper website stories cross-promoted on BBC regional sites (the data on whether this helps the newspapers is still to come). There have, as detailed in the White Paper, been ideas about sharing the vast BBC archive, creating a shared data unit and distributing video to regional publications to use online. This could easily happen if the technology allows.

Meanwhile, some editors will struggle to even contemplate liaising with their local BBC, who they view as their competition, along with whatever other rivals they may have in print.

The idea of the BBC funding ‘extra’ reporters was originally thrown into the mix at an early working party meeting, as a way of covering not council, but court. Many around the table thought court reporting was being neglected in all but the cities, but subsequent enquiries saw this idea discarded.

Then it appeared again last September in an announcement by BBC DG Tony Hall, this time as a potential way for the BBC to be seen to be spreading some of their funds to report on courts and council matters. The announcement came as a surprise to the working party who had previously been told it wasn’t a cost-effective idea, because all areas of the UK, even those where council was already adequately covered by larger papers, would have to be included. That’s before you even consider the logistics of where to put a BBC-paid reporter who wasn’t to be based in a BBC office and who would have to share content between rival newsgroups, much like a rota reporter on a royal visit.

The idea was again rubbished, especially by Ashley Highfield, head of newspaper publisher Johnston Press, and Vice Chair of the News Media Association (formerly the Newspaper Society). He accused the BBC of ‘recruitment of more BBC journalists through the back door.”

But away from the working party, meetings were arranged between Harding of the BBC, and regional newspaper bosses including Highfield, with presumably his JP hat on top of his NMA one, to thrash out an idea of the BBC funding journalists who would work within the newspaper groups, which is pretty much what was revealed today.

Two major questions:

If the BBC funds new reporters to cover council and quango matters for the newspapers, what’s to stop the newspaper groups getting rid of their existing reporting staff? I asked this at the last working party meeting and remain unconvinced that it will be prevented from happening by ‘editorial gatekeepers.’

If there are 150, or even 200 new reporters funded by the BBC in the regions, which everyone would welcome, newspapers would be able to ‘bid’ to have one. Why would happen if, say, the Chronicle & Echo ‘got’ a BBC-funded council reporter, and they were expected to share their brilliant council story (at exactly the same moment) with BBC Northampton and the Herald & Post? Anyone who knows journalists will know the idea of sharing is never as attractive as beating the opposition to a fat exclusive. And newspapers have high targets for reader ‘hits’ just as they do for maintaining high print circulation. A good exclusive will not be given up easily.

Will the 150 reporters ever materialize? If the time it’s taken to get this far is anything to go by, I wouldn’t hold my breath. But I might cross my fingers, and meanwhile try and support my local papers by advertising, clicking through to pages online and picking up the print papers whenever possible. You might not think you need them but you’ll certainly miss them if they go, when the BBC could be the last man standing.

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Who could resist the sight of 2,000 Santas in Becket’s Park, Northampton? Sign me up!

Santa A4 Poster with Charity Logos.jpgI’ve been needing a deadline to get my lardy backside shuffling a little further than just once around Northampton’s Racecourse. What better excuse than joining several hundred people – and dogs – dressed as Father Christmas?
The Northampton Santa Run is to be held on Sunday December 13 at 10.30am, for a short 3km jog or (for those of us who plod) walk. You can enter with your kids and even enter with your dog – the aim is to raise much-needed cash for Northants-based charities.
The six charities who will benefit are the Cynthia Spencer Hospice, St John Ambulance, The Warwickshire & Northamptonshire Air Ambulance, Rotary Club of santa runmap.jpgNorthampton, The British Red Cross and Northamptonshire Health Charitable Fund.

The entry fee is £18 for adults and £8 for children and includes a Father Christmas outfit that you can take away with you and a finisher’s medal. Or you can raise even more by getting sponsorship for your run.
Organiser Chris Dolan said: “We’re hoping to see thousands of red and white bearded participants run, or walk, two laps of Becket’s Park, raising as much as possible for the six Northants charities. We’ll be doing lots of things to get people to sign up as Santas in coming days, so keep an eye out for us!”

If you sign up online you will be able to collect your Santa suit and race number from a pop-up shop in Northampton Town Centre before the race event on December 13, to avoid any queues on the day.
Anyone wishing to take part can apply online by visiting the event’s official website northamptonsantarun.com or for more information email chris@northamptonsantarun.com

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Review of Gaslight, starring Tara Fitzgerald, Royal & Derngate, Northampton, October 2015.

Review of Gaslight, Royal & Derngate, Northampton. (Press night performance)

 

By Hilary Scott

Tara Fitzgerald as Bella Manningham in Gaslight. Photography by Idil Sukan/Draw HQ

Tara Fitzgerald as Bella Manningham
in Gaslight.
Photography by Idil Sukan/Draw HQ

YOU usually find mention of the set design for a new theatre production much further down in a review, but in Gaslight at Northampton’s Royal Theatre the stage is the first star you lay eyes on.

With the action confined to the classic ‘one-room-in-a-period-setting’, it’s a tough job to be original.

But William Dudley and the Royal’s set-production team have created a stunningly clever Ames Room – one of those that alters your perception of the things within it – which perfectly reflects the theme of the play: manipulation of someone’s mind to make them doubt their own sanity, or Gaslighting.

The use of clever modern video projection, in a 130-year-old theatre, for a play set in stifling the stifling late Victorian age shouldn’t work – yet it does, brilliantly (except for one very ridiculous section near the end which doesn’t, and made us laugh when we should be shocked).

We had no time to leaf through the programme beforehand, which is just as well, because then we had no spoilers or expectations. This is a psychological thriller, which made the entire audience shift uncomfortably in its seats as the stellar cast messed with our minds.

Tara Fitzgerald as Bella Manningham Jonathan Firth as Jack Manningham in Gaslight. Photography by Idil Sukan/Draw HQ

Tara Fitzgerald as Bella Manningham
Jonathan Firth as Jack Manningham in Gaslight.
Photography by Idil Sukan/Draw HQ

Tara Fitzgerald is exquisite as the vulnerable, bullied Bella Manningham, running the gauntlet in her own house between her domineering husband Jack, played menacingly by Jonathan Firth (I was two-thirds through before I recognized him as Colin’s brother), the servants, and her own sanity.

Fitzgerald stars in the globally popular Game of Thrones and I suspect a percentage of the packed audience was there to see her.

Is her encounter with her apparent saviour, the rosy-cheeked Inspector Rough (Paul Hunter), just another example of her mind playing tricks?

No spoilers: You’ll have to go and see for yourselves.

Gaslight, a Made in Northampton production, runs at Royal & Derngate until November 7. Box Office on 01604 624811 or visit www.royalandderngate.co.uk

 

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Huxley’s Brave New World is Made in Northampton

Review of Brave New World, world premiere, at Royal and Derngate, Northampton, running until Saturday September 25, before touring nationally. Press night performance.
By Hilary Scott

Olivia Morgan as Lenina and William Postlethwaite as John the Savage, with ensemble. Photography by Manuel Harlan.

Olivia Morgan as Lenina and William Postlethwaite as John the Savage, with ensemble.
Photography by Manuel Harlan.

IT is a compelling, and at times uncomfortable, adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s dystopian Brave New World which challenges the audience at Northampton’s Royal theatre.
Those not familiar with the original 1931 text will not struggle to find familiarity in its themes, particularly pertinent to contemporary issues of the stupefying capitalism of western society juxtaposed with the violence, poverty and despair of the abandoned poor.
And hey, you get the story that spawned the Hunger Games trilogy, and even a Poldark-esque shirt-off scene from the floppy-haired William Postlethwaite as the passionate outsider, John the Savage.
The production whacks the viewer straight between the eyes – opening with a boom of music and lights and steading with the sterility of the laboratory conditions of the hatchery and conditioning centre.
For this is a world 500 years in the future where parentless babies are grown in test tubes and genetically modified to join their caste of clones to work in factories and sewers, or to be the educated Alphas and Betas of the elite.
But there are no wars or crime; this is a society controlled not by pain and fear, but of perceived happiness, conditioned from birth and powered by sex, consumerism and drugs. In this manufactured utopia, nature and art are treated with distain, while gyms and gadgets are the trophies of the elite. The citizens of this World State have everything they think they want, no family bonds, no emotional ties, an ecstasy-style drug called Soma, promiscuity and entertainment, and an indifference to death. “Everyone belongs to everyone else.”
Happiness is essential, and those misfits who aren’t happy and promiscuous are shipped off with their unwanted emotions to remote islands.
Brave New World - James Howard, David Burnett and ensemble 102 c Manuel Harlan[1]Meanwhile, out of sight and left to rot are the majority of the population, the Savages, who live ‘naturally’ while imprisoned in vast ‘reservations, occasionally gawped at like zoo animals by the holidaying Alphas.
These two cultures come into contact with the discovery of a young man accidentally born naturally in a reservation, and brought back to see the utopian world of his elite parents. John the Savage, educated in secret by reading the complete works of Shakespeare, sees the world through the constraints of ancient, Tudor rules, and is both enticed and repulsed by the hedonism of the World State.
On press night the theatre was packed, and any early-run technical issues had clearly been fixed, as the multimedia production was visually stunning. Huge video screens hung above and around the stage adding texture and depth while the original music by These New Puritans was perfect for the adaptation. The casting is excellent, particularly for the performances by Gruffudd Glyn as the bullied misfit Bernard Marx, Samantha Pearl’s naturalistic portrayal of conformist Polly, Olivia Morgan’s confident Lenina and Postlethwaite’s conflicted savage. All ones-to-watch.

William Postlethwaite as John the Savage and Sophie Ward as Margaret Mond, and in the background, Theo Ugundipe as a guard, Scott Karim as Helmholtz Watson, Gruffud Glyn as Bernard Marx and David Burnett as a guard. Pic by Manuel Harlan

William Postlethwaite as John the Savage and Sophie Ward as Margaret Mond, and in the background, Theo Ugundipe as a guard, Scott Karim as Helmholtz Watson, Gruffud Glyn as Bernard Marx and David Burnett as a guard. Pic by Manuel Harlan

Also in the talented cast of ten is Abigail McKern as Linda, the bedraggled former Beta elite and John’s reluctant mother, who gives both mature gravitas and light relief to the piece, while playwright Dawn King’s adaptation cleverly morphs the dictatorial World Controller Mustapha Mond into the female Margaret Mond, played with cold indifference by Sophie Ward.
There were issues – particularly with the pacing and delivery in the first half when the necessary set-up of the story meant the audience was starting to lull into a Soma-like stupor. It just needed to be faster, more dynamic and daring, to match the visual staging. There were a few fluffed lines in the second half, but nothing too distracting and I’m sure this is a production that will gain momentum and develop as the run continues.
It is a definite go see; an excellent story and a timely reflection, albeit written in the past about the distant future, on our own present. It’s no wonder Spielberg is planning a film version.
For tickets, visit royalandderngate.co.uk or call the box office on 01604 624811
Brave New World - Gruffudd Glyn and William Postlethwaite c Manuel Harlan-123[1]

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Why is David Cameron treating the local press with contempt?

David Higgerson

examiner

“Local newspapers hold public authorities to account. They report on council meetings – and taxpayers know if their money is being spent wisely. They publish police appeals – and witnesses come forward.

“They cover court cases – and communities know when justice has been done. And they scrutinise local politicians – so voters know if their MP is working in their interests.

“Second, local papers continually fight for their communities, agitating for change, and, very often, succeeding. With their commitment to campaigning on local issues, local newspapers aren’t just breaking the news, they’re making it.”

The gushing words of praise prime minister David Cameron lavished on the regional press when he agreed to support the Newspaper Society’s Local Newspaper Week during 2014.

Sadly, he seems to have forgotten just how much he values the regional press, if actions of his party’s spin doctors in recent weeks are anything to go…

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Watch Northampton Greyfriars Bus Station demolition

Here’s a video showing the former bus station Greyfriars demolition in  Northampton disappear in less than 60 seconds : http://youtu.be/D9O8RgI3S7E

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Storm central: Front pages from when the rain came down and the floods…

David Higgerson

Today, the newspaper news stands were all about the death of Nelson Mandela, at least on all of the national newspapers.

But for regional newspapers, particularly those in in the Midlands, north east and north west, it was the weather which took centre stage.

For some titles, this may be because overnight deadlines are in the early evening, meaning that Mandela’s death, announced as it was after 9pm, was too late for the print edition.

Many others, however, will have had a choice – go with the late-breaking international news story which will have developed significantly online and through the broadcast media by the time the paper hits the stands and which probably can’t compete with the pre-planned coverage national newspapers may well have had to hand, or stand out with local coverage of the story no-one else will be covering.

For me, that choice became a no-brainer – apart…

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