Monthly Archives: May 2013

Emotion in journalism

I won’t apologise for feeling emotions about particularly moving news stories. I couldn’t change the way I am anyway, nor would I want to. I’ve met journalists who feel differently about this; some think if you’re covering a story then you should detach from the emotion involved. My own view is that I think it makes me a better reporter, giving me a better understanding of events if connect with stories on an emotional level. The audience are going to have these empathetic feelings too, so it makes sense that a journalist should be in tune with this – the audience are the people we are creating the news output for.

Lee RigbyEach day there are stories in the news that can affect us in this way but the murder of soldier Lee Rigby in Woolwich is one that has flared up public opinions across the country, from the London borough where it happened to his hometown of Middleton in the North-West. A man who had survived the warzone in Afghanistan was murdered on a British street.

Part of the reason why this gained so much prevalence is because the media broadcast or print it. There are no right or wrong answers to the argument as to whether images of terrorism like this should be reported. On one hand, people want to know what’s going on in the world and censorship would water down the, sometimes unpalatable, realism that goes on.

The other side is that it can be seen as gratuitous, just because it’s a big story doesn’t mean we lose taste and decency. This isn’t a film that’s being shown – it’s real life. It’s hard for parents to keep track of too; children may access the images easily in newsagents, on TV channels and the internet, particularly social media and the backlash the news coverage has caused for Muslim communities is a negative example of this.

In terrorism cases, the media gives attackers a mouthpiece for their message to reach (and frighten) more people than it ever could have otherwise, which is essentially giving them what they want. The Woolwich attack suspects were heard asking for onlookers to film them after the attack, proving that point entirely.

My view is that these events need to be reported – the whole point of news is that we cover current events – we don’t want to wrap society in cotton wool either. However, I do feel there needs to be a line on how graphic this coverage needs to be. I know I’ve written about this before in my post about the Boston marathon bomb coverage, but I don’t mind saying it again. Unless we speak openly about this nothing will change. It is important to identify the people who did this, there’s no reason why they deserve anonymity after such acts of violence other than to prevent false accusations on who the attackers are. (This is not an issue in the Woolwich case.) But do we really need to see their bloodied hands? Even a description of that is graphic enough.

Personally, I feel it is disrespectful to to show images of a dead body to the victim’s memory, as well as their loved ones to have to see. It is poignant enough just seeing the photos of him in his soldier drummer uniform, anything else seems unnecessary to me.

It goes without saying that any news coverage should be reported objectively but human interest elements are what make the public want to hear news. I’m not a fan of sensationalism either – so emotion should be kept out of news reports as much as possible too – particularly in broadcast media. That’s not to say that journalists can’t have feelings when the cameras and microphones are switched off; we are all human after all.

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Top of the Vox Pops

Definition: VOX POP (Vox Populi) –“Voice of the people”

A vox pop is an interview with members of the public; their answers about a particular topic are usually edited to give snippets in succession. I’ve learnt lots by doing this over the years, so thought I would share what works best for me…

  • Ask open questions!!

If you only remember one thing from this post then let it be this: Asking open questions is the most important thing you more do when you vox pop. Here’s an example:

CLOSED QUESTION: Do you agree with XXX?

OPEN QUESTION: What’s your opinions on XXX?

Open questions elicit expansive answers from people. There’s nothing more boring to listen to than a series of yes and no answers – we’re not playing Take Your Pick!

  • Use station branding wherever possible.

This is almost like a form of ID and people will be comfortable speaking to you if they are familiar with the station you are doing the vox pops for.

  • Approach people within the station’s demographic or target audience.

…But make sure the selection of people you speak to are diverse enough to give a  true wide reflection of society’s opinions on a given topic.

  • Target areas with a high amount of footfall.

You will get your work done quicker if you does this; more people around means you’re more likely to get a response. However, avoid places where there is a lot of flyering because people will have become used to saying no in these areas.

  • Keep off private property.

Some areas, like shopping centres and train stations, are privately owned and you will need permission to vox pop here.

  • When speaking to members of the public, who may be in a rush, walk alongside them. 

This way they won’t have to stop and take time out of their day to talk to you, so you’re more likely to get a response.

  • If someone says no then leave them.

Do not harass or beg someone to speak to you – someone else will come along who will. The same applies if someone ignores you; they’re doing this on purpose.

  • Press record BEFORE you ask the question. 

That way their response will be genuine. People are naturally curious and will often ask what you are going to ask them before they agree to speak to you. Avoid doing this as it ruins spontaneity, if they are not happy with anything then you don’t have to broadcast it and can always delete it.

  • Always wear earphones (or headphones) to monitor the sound.

You will pick up noises or interference through earphones that your ears would not.  Earphones are usually better when vox popping, as they are more portable.

  • Keep an eye on the level monitor.

That’s  a better indication of volume than what you can hear.

  • Always use a pop screen or windshield on the microphone.

Do this even when indoors as a force of habit. Plosive consonants – particularly P, T and K – can produce irritating popping sounds, so a foam layer on the microphone reduces that risk. On windy days even a windshield won’t save you. In this case you’ll have to be creative with scarfs, coats, gloves – anything that will deaden the sound of wind hitting the mic.

  • Keep safe!

Last but certainly not least! When you are immersed in your work it can be easy to take your eye off the ball. The equipment you’re carrying automatically makes you a target of unwanted attention in public places, so keep alert and an awareness of your surroundings at all times.

Keeping it Real

katy realMy radio placement was over the other side of MediaCity with the Real and Smooth network. For a radio fan like me this was a great to work in a news hub that served a network of three stations, Smooth Radio (national), Real Radio (North West) and Real XS (Manchester). As is the unpredictable nature of news, during my time on placement a lot stories that got massive national media coverage broke on our North West patch.

As you’ll know from my post about my placement with BBC North West Tonight, this is a reflection of the work I did on placement rather than a recount of the news – you can access that in many places on the web, I’ll link to the stories. In these posts, I want to offer a different perspective through my eyes as a reporter…

MICHAEL AND HILLARY BREWER SENTENCED FOR SEXUAL ABUSE AT CHEETHAM’S SCHOOL OF MUSIC 

I got my first taste of a media frenzy outside court after the sentencing of Michael and Hillary Brewer, who were charged with sex offences, mostly occurring while he was a teacher at Cheetham’s School of Music in Manchester. This case had got attention because of of the victims, Frances Andrade, took her life during the trial. Atmosphere outside of court was tense as the media eagerly awaited the statement from the Crown Prosecution Service.

The cameras were in place well before but radio reporters have to think quickly to get in a good position when speakers come out so that they can be in range to get good quality audio on the microphones. I did well to get right at the front, which not only meant that Real Radio got good brand placement for the cameras but also that my hand was seen on all the TV news channels that day. I’m now in a strange situation where my purple coat is more famous than I am!

DOG ATTACK THAT KILLED JADE ANDERSON IN ATHERTON

IMAG1080No matter how much training you have beforehand, nothing can prepare you emotionally for some of the stories that you will have to cover as a journalist. The day started out like any other, I was out vox popping a light story in the morning but then I got the call to go on to Atherton, near Wigan, to cover the story on Jade Anderson – a 14 year old girl who had been mauled to death by pitbull type dogs. Like the flick of a light switch, the tone of the work had changed and  was now incredibly sombre.

When I got to the crime scene I had never heard a silence like it; despite there being so much activity from media attention to people coming to pay their respects – there was no noise to be heard on the estatem other than a lone dog barking in the distance. Very haunting.

STEPHEN SEDDON GIVEN A LIFE SENTENCE FOR MURDERING HIS PARENTS

I had been following the Stephen Seddon trial while working with BBC North West Tonight and was in court reporting on his sentencing. Sedddon was  found guilty for murdering both his parents. The  judge, Mr Justice Hemblem, said the motive was for their inheritance money. Seddon’s sentence also included attempting to murder his parents earlier in the year by driving them into a canal.

Courtrooms feel very theatrical, maybe I have been watching too many legal dramas, but the atmosphere really was intense. To look directly at a man who has been sentenced to life imprisonment from the press box is a rare opportunity to have. It’s dramatic enough hearing about such cases on the news, but to actually be there to hear him sent down in person is something else. I was absorbing the atmosphere of the court proceedings happening around me while scribbling down notes as fast as I could – no recording devices are allowed in court. However, the judge’s words were so powerful, alongside Seddon’s own outbursts and last pleas of innocence, that I can still remember much of what was said in there verbatim, even now.

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I covered lots of stories during my time on placement with Real, from the abolition of Legal Aid in some situations to Stockport being voted the second happiest place to live in Britain. (Yes, really!!) By far those that I’ve mentioned in this post are the news stories that stick in my mind most potently though. It was a joy to work with the team whose bulletins I’ve listened to for many years on a network of stations that I am a fan of. Not only was that an amazing experience in itself but I learnt so much while I was there too and my copy writing skills are well up to broadcast standard. Hearing scripts I had written be read in bulletins was amazing  – I loved working in such a buzzing newsroom! My placements have given me the taste of what working life will be like when I graduate from my masters and I take all those valuable experiences forward with me now I’m applying for freelance work.