Category Archives: Journalism

General election fever 

Have you recovered from all the election coverage yet? For journalists, snap election is something we weren’t planning and had no control over but it was actually a fabulous showcase for our work, across all platforms.

I’ve now voted in three general elections but have also covered them for three separate radio stations. All different formats and I’ve had a range of roles each time.

2010 – I was a first time voter and also in the final year of my undergrad degree at the University of Manchester. I was heavily involved in our student radio station Fuse FM as part of the committee who ran the station. Although I presented programmes and had read a few bulletins, news wasn’t really my area at the time. As ironic as that sounds, considering I now live and breathe news! I was Head of Marketing and had responsibility for the ‘Street Team’.  We were heavily involved in generating content and vox pops from voters. We were also really excited that BBC 5Live had decided to broadcast from the students’ union during the night.

I’d been invited to take part in local community radio station, North Manchester FM‘s, election coverage as a studio guest.  Charlie Walduck was roving reporter at the count at Manchester Town Hall, providing inserts and interviews with candidates. It was an ambitious project for a community station on limited resources. It was the forerunner broadcast for me to apply for my own show and then becoming a presenter on the station.

NMFM

North Manchester FM studio

2015 – Five years later, I was working in radio professionally for commercial radio group UKRD’s stations The Bee and 2BR. Lancashire Election Night Live was another big broadcast; the first time the two stations had simulcast together. I was reporting from the town hall on the night. Blackburn is a safe seat with a long Labour legacy. However, this particular year was interesting because, the town was getting a new MP with the retirement of former cabinet minister, Jack Straw. I provided live inserts to the all-night broadcast including scene sets, interviews with candidates and conducted the live victory interview with Kate Hollern MP.

blackburn

Blackburn Town Hall count

2017 – We were doing it all over again, sooner than anyone thought! This time I’d moved stations a couple of junctions westbound on the M65 for BBC Radio Lancashire. Yet another ambitious project! In the lead up to the election, I was one of the breakfast producers who sourced content for the OB’s on Graham Liver’s ‘Big Election Breakfast Tour’ coming live from constituencies all around the county. Along with the Lancashire pop up living room “double-gussetted long-handled Graham Liver at breakfast” bags were handed out to listeners in every corner of the county.

On results day itself, I felt like I’d drawn a particularly long straw, reading our afternoon news bulletins. I love being part of big news days when listeners have a real thirst for developing information. It’s always a privilege to be able to deliver it to them, I’d broadcast previously the day after the EU referendum and when Theresa May was originally announced as Prime Minister, so was well up for whatever the day would bring…

I compiled and read our two extended 10-minute-long bulletins at 13:00 and 17:00. Keeping us journos on our toes, Theresa May began speaking on the steps of Downing Street at around 12:55! We got a clip of her saying she would form a government in the top story. That’s what I love about bulletin reading; the adrenaline rush you get when news is just coming in or changing. On results day, the breaking news buzz didn’t waiver all day long, with new lines coming in all the time.

Depending on your political views, general elections can mean a lot of different things for different people. There’s just some of my memorable moments. We might be making some more soon. Who knows? As we’ve seen over the last seven years – anything can happen in politics!

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BBC Lancashire breakfast OB team

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Nations and Regions Media Conference 2017 review: Long live local radio

lowry

This week I went to the Nations and Regions Media Conference at The Lowry in Salford. Since the Radio Festival changed venue and moved down south, I was looking forward to a conference of a similar vein in the old stomping ground.

I should have known from the ticket price (£90 early-bird rate) that this was aimed more at executive level, rather than for those of us who work in production. It would take a journalist working at some commercial stations around two days salary to pay to go to all events, adding travel and parking costs etc. The redeeming feature was the price did include lunch though – bonus!

One of the early sessions about investigative journalism was insightful; there was a lot of wistful reminiscing to the past about the likes of ITV’s long-gone ‘World in Action’. It was a treat to hear from director Paul Greengrass, who used to work on the programme before heading off to Hollywood. What I took from this session was journalists are more than ever required to “show their workings” in this era of “Fake News”, as President Trump coined it. It means, due to this vigour, the quality of work broadcasters are producing is actually more reliable. Maybe not all of Trump’s media criticisms are so damming for the industry, after all?

The second day got underway and I was enjoying debates on various issues. MP for Wigan, Lisa Nandy, shared her view that – because MediaCity now exists – that doesn’t automatically mean northern views are catered for. “The North” doesn’t stop at Salford and start again in Scotland. There’s a whole wealth of audience members, stories and talent that’ll be missed, if that’s a widely-held belief.

I hope it isn’t, but have taken calls from people in the past who have made humorous misconceptions. While I can forgive statements like: “Is Bolton in Lancashire?”, because it’s on the border. It only takes a quick glance at a map to know the answer to: “Is Blackburn in Manchester?”

Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Karen Bradley, announced there will be a consultation to move some of Channel 4’s staff out of London to “wherever it can be found” in the UK. As someone who grew up in Greater Manchester, I know how amazing the opportunities at MediaCityUK are: the area’s been completely regenerated and is buzzing. However, if every major media outlet sets up there, Salford will become as much of an isolated bubble as London is perceived to be.

As a regional staple, I was disappointed with the lack of mentions local radio got at the conference. People who work in that area make a limited amount of resources spread far and wide in order to create content. Talented staff are serving parts of the audience that other platforms may not reach. At times, providing vital information –  the recent Lancashire floods are a prime example. I would urge any sceptic to spend a day in a local radio newsroom – either commercial or BBC – and see for themselves. Yet newsrooms in local stations are constantly under threat from cuts.

BBC local radio as an example; there are stations all across the country. Audience reach of all of them combined must be enough to match a national network station. Surely that makes it eligible to warrant a discussion? The audience is more concentrated in each TSA and the issues differ from place to place, but that makes what’s on offer so unique.

It was infectious hearing Head of BBC Radio, Bob Shennan’s, positivity for the medium and his enthusiasm that another golden age of radio is “still to come”, even if it may be different from what has gone before. Due to the way the discussion went though, ill-fated Channel 4 Radio got more of a mention than local radio, which is still very much thriving on the dials.

At the end of a thought-provoking conference, I was driving home listening to a network station when the news came on. There was a Lancashire story in the bulletin and my ears pricked up, because that’s where I live and work. The reader made the easy mistake of pronouncing Barrowford, in Pendle, as: “BARROW-F’D”. You need local knowledge to know it’s actually pronounced: ‘BARROW-FORD’. There’s no way of knowing this by reading off a script alone. I carried on my journey explicitly aware that local radio is still as important as ever.

How Trump hit the top spot building on a foundation of fame

trumpA day after the result of the US Election between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hilary Clinton, you’ll be hard pushed to find someone who hasn’t heard the news both in the US and here across the pond.

Any new leader of the free world is bound to be a big headline grabber, particularly in our 24-hour ‘breaking news’ culture. But with Trump it is more so due to the unexpected nature of his victory and the publicity he has generated throughout his campaign.

Donald Trump’s rise to power is the epitome of celebrity culture and where it can get people. I know he’s a billionaire businessman and, in spite of any inheritance, to maintain and build upon a fortune does take skill. But would that alone have been enough to get Trump into the White House?

It’s hypothetical now of course, but I don’t think Trump would have won without the celebrity brand he’d built up. This is a man so famous The Simpson’s even made a satirical joke about him becoming president, 16 years earlier! You don’t have to live in America to be aware of the media mogul either; he had cameos in Home Alone 2, Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Sex and the City.

I became aware of this stratospheric celebrity status when on holiday in Tenerife in January. It was the last night of our trip and must have been around 03:00 in the morning when I got back to my hotel room. Still buzzing from what had good night out in the resort, I turned on the TV to try to relax. I wasn’t expecting much; mostly everything was broadcast in Spanish. I did channel-hop to a programme with spoken English though, it was The Apprentice. Not Lord Sugar’s UK version, but Donald Trump’s US hit- which indicates just how far his brand was reaching.

I’m wrestling fan, not as avid as I once was, but I find it great escapism from ‘reality’! You may have seen a video circulating around social media about his appearances with the WWE. This sticks in my mind particularly because I think I can attribute this particular angle as the cause of me falling out of love a little with “sports entertainment”.

WWE chairman Vince McMahon (who also plays an alter-ego character ‘Mr McMahon’ in the ring) must’ve fancied a new hair cut because this was woven into a storyline. A stipulation was that the billionaire loser out of him and Trump would also lose their locks. I was originally a fan of the WWF ‘Attitude Era’ (Hell Yeah!!) and this just became too far-fetched, even for me. It’s surreal now Donald Trump is President-Elect, watching clips of him taking Vince down and shaving his hair off!

I’m not saying people who’ve achieved fame shouldn’t go for a political position. We live in a democracy and if a candidate meets the criteria to stand then they should. Look at the likes of Ronald Regan and Arnold Schwarzenegger, for example – Hollywood actors who have since branched out into politics. I’m sure there will be many more instances of crossovers too.

I can’t help but think though, amid all the controversy, would Trump have made it to the White House without his celebrity status? The exit polls showed Hilary Clinton was the more poplar candidate yet, when it mattered, the result wasn’t as close as some pundits first thought. Maybe a familiar name on a ballot paper does help put a tick in a box, particularly when voters are apathetic or unsure.

Lancashire County Council slash services in budget

Lancashire County Councillors voted through all proposed cuts at their annual budget meeting.

It sees £65 million slashed from services, including funding for five museums across the county, some bus routes in rural areas and other services, such as libraries.

All elected members were present in what would arguably be one of the most important meetings of the year. Labour councillor, David Borrow, began proceedings saying the budget outlined had been some of the “most difficult decisions” they have ever had to make.

Cllr Borrow said, if current spending continued, there would be no reserves left to be used in emergency situations, by the 2018/2019 budget. The Preston North West councillor said in May the cabinet had to make the decisions from working with multi-agencies. He commented that other Conservative controlled councils, such as Surrey, are not facing such financial difficulties: “Lancashire has been one of the hardest hit.”

The government’s ‘transitional fund’ has given the county £2.3 million. In comparison, Surrey has received £24 million. Hampshire gets £18 million and the Prime Minister’s home county of Oxfordshire will receive £9 million.

“There will be cuts for years to come”, Councillor Borrow said. “I know how important it is for all museums to continue.” Views and expressions of int
interest in running the facilities are being sought up until March.

It was noted that the highways budget is being looked at “whichLCC should reassure those who are the victims of the floods.” Cllr Borrow went on to say that, at the beginning of the coalition government (in 2010) spending was cut for flood defences.

Continuing to criticise the conservative government, Cllr Borrow said “the public health grant has now been cut by 1.7 million.”

[PHOTO: Councillor David Borrow addresses the chamber from the Cabinet.]

Former leader of the county councillor, Geoff Driver, was next to stand. The Preston North member was presenting an amendment of from the Conservatives to Labour’s budget plans. Cllr Driver said that, when he was in charge, the Tories left more money in the reserves than they inherited. “This administration has not helped itself”, he said. “There is a corporate strategy but no plan.”

Cllr Driver then criticised the council’s handling of turning the listed building of Preston Bus Station into a Youth Zone. Speaking of the competition to fund a new design he said: “there will be insufficient funds… It’s absolute madness!

“It’s alright saving money for a rainy day, but it’s raining now.” The Conservative budget amendment to the proposed budget mainly looked at financing services by borrowing money to fund them, rather than cutting. Councillor Graham Gooch was one of a series of members who spoke in the debate that followed. The South Ribble West representative said: “No consultations had been done before these budget decisions were made. The decisions have not been made properly.”

A lively discussion broke out with councillor John Fillis, from Skelmersdale East. It left Burnley chairperson Margaret Brindle reminding members to show respect: “This is not a bear pit”, she said.

Sitting near the back of the chamber, alongside Independent members, Lancashire’s only Green Party councillor, Gina Dowding from Lancaster, said: “The government’s financial settlement did not give us any more money.” Cllr Dowding gave an example of the Public Health cuts earlier announced. “[Chancellor] George Osbourne plans for a ‘Northern Powerhouse’. Here in Lancashire, he’s only focusing on Northern workhouses.”

Liberal Democrat, David Whipp, of West Craven spoke next. He said his party propose a “cushion” to allow the “cuts to library services to evolve.” He said he has “issues with axing the parish bus initiative” and the Lib Dems approach the budget with ‘compassion and compromise’.”

“I haven’t met with any conservatives [about the budget] then they trot this out at the last minute. Well, we won’t be supporting it”, Cllr Whipp said. The chamber voted on the Conservative amendment and the motion was lost on an eight vote margin.

The Liberal Democrats then proposed their amendment and councillors voted against that also. However, all Conservative councillors abstained. Tory Councillor Paul White, of Pendle East, commented on how his party should “commend [the Lib Dems] for having the same aims [as them]”, even though they chose to propose it differently.”

Independents and the one Green member were next to propose their amendment. They suggested a further £3 million contingency to be made available from the reserves to facilitate the transition of services. As well as cross party cabinet groups be set up to explore and support the transition of services and arrangements. This motion was passed, despite 34 members abstaining.

Next up was a proposal on bus subsidies by the Conservatives, focusing on reinstating transport to day-centres. They planned to do this again by borrowing, rather than using budget reserves or charging. Their proposals included green energy plans and under-spending on concessionary travel. This was the motion that had the most support from the public gallery, with protesters from Chipping and Ribchester staying on to find out the result.

Tory councillor, Michael Green, representing Leyland, said: “Cutting bus services attack the most vulnerable people in society; those who can’t afford to run a car, unlike most of us who will drive our cars home tonight. It is an attack on the elderly, who can no longer drive. It’s an attack on young people, who catch the bus to get to college or an apprenticeship. It’s also an attack on town centres that will lose out on business because of these cuts.”

Labour’s David Borrow said: “We have barely enough funds to deliver statutory services. Can we afford the 4.5 million of this service? We are pretending to ourselves and those in the public gallery. Some of things we have to cut [in this budget] are horrendous. We need to give the council a fighting chance.”

A tight vote buseson bus subsidies followed. 40 councillors voted for the motion, 42 were against and one person abstained. Therefore, the motion was lost on a slim margin of two votes. That means some bus routes will now no longer operate. Residents of the Ribble Valley, could see a reduction in services by next week.

[PHOTO: Bus campaigners protest before the meeting.]

 

Councillor Michael Green gave the next Conservative amendment. He mentioned he thought the previous bus subsidy would be passed, which explains the focus of their next proposal. He wanted to see £500,000 for waste services that are not needed in East Lancashire be invested back into highways. Cllr Green said: “in the grand scheme of the budget, £500,000 is not actually a lot of money.”

Labour’s Councillor Borrow said he: “can’t see any reason to oppose this amendment.” He spoke about when he goes back home in Yorkshire he can see the roads get worse and that Lancashire should be proud of the state of the highways. The motion was voted for unanimously, although Labour’s Cllr John Filis did shout: “Why not give it to the bus people?” during the discussion.

Entering the seventh hour of the meeting, the last vote of the night was whether the budget cuts would happen. The chamber broke out into passionate debate from members. Leader of Lancashire County Council, Jennifer Mein of Preston, stood to tell members she understands it’s late in the day but she was “ashamed and appalled” by members’ behaviour when discussions got heated.

The budget was agreed and passed by councillors, meaning all proposed cuts to services now intend to be carried out.

(My article was first published on The Bee and 2BR‘s websites and is kindly re-blogged here with permission.)

Journalism – a class of its own?

The essence of a journalist in a nutshell is to report news. Think of where news is generated; the possibilities are endless. News – whether it’s good or bad – can spring up from any situation. Granted, the chance of a newsworthy story increases for people in the public eye but a bulletin doesn’t have to resemble who’s on Jonathan Ross’ chat show sofa because it’s important that ordinary voices are heard and their stories are told too. In fact, those are often the most interesting.

In order to tell these stories appropriately, we need a diverse range of journalists who hail from a variety of backgrounds. This is so important for many reasons, including empathy with a interviewee, a range of contacts and  knowing where to look – having a good nose for a story.

The problem with the industry at the moment is that the amount of diversity on offer is grately restricted and that’s  because the most tried and tested way in is through the education system. It doesn’t matter about student loans because, at the end of the day, an undergraduate degree still costs £9,000 a year and for post-grads, the cost varies uni to uni, but it’ll be around the £5,000 mark for a year, without the same amount of student loan support available.

It’s a massive commitment to make when you decide you want to be a journo but it sorts out the wheat from the chaff because it’s a lot of time and money to spend pursuing a dream career. Which is why I would always recommend a budding journalist do what I did and get as much hands-on experience as possible before deciding which direction to take.

I stand by the comment I made on Twitter earlier this month…

Citizen journalism has it’s place but, if you want to make this a profession rather than a hobby,  you need to be an accredited journalist before you can even think about applying for certain jobs. That’s for a reason because media law knowledge is vital in keeping any work accurate and trustworthy – two key qualities of a good journalist. You wouldn’t call someone a Doctor because they can open a bottle of Calpol and it shouldn’t be a parallel in journalism.

However, I appreciate the price tag of the education system can be very elitist. This is on top of needing to do a lot of unpaid work-experience to learn your craft, so you need to be able to support yourself somehow. As well as knowing how to drive and having your own car available, which is all very desirable, on top of enthusiasm and dedication to the craft.

I’m not saying it’s right or  wrong – it’s just how the industry is. In order to become a journalist, education and subject knowledge is important because you need to be able to write well. Even if you’re a broadcast journalist, phonetic spellings akin to that of text talk belong in pronunciation brackets, not your script. You will also have to write web stories online increasingly as the digital world around us continues to evolve too. That’s all on top of probably the most essential skill – you need to be a good communicator.

There is a light at the end of this academic tunnel though and on-the-job training seems to be on the rise. As I’ve written in previous blog posts, I wouldn’t change my journalism training at UCLan for the world; I learnt so much there, made great friends and found myself as a person. Although, I’m like the idea of work while you learn schemes increasing because they aim to attract a diverse range of people to the journalism profession vocationally and that therefore allows more stories to be heard.

The BBC run the Journalism Trainee Scheme and ITV have announced their Break into News initiative. Student, community and hospital radio also rightly deserve their place as excellent training grounds and I’m one of many journalists who cut their teeth that way. The Journalism  Diversity Fund is also available to help with fees for those who want to access the academic route.

Let’s focus on attracting diverse journalists into the profession with a wide range of life experiences that reflect the stories we want to tell because the audience want to hear them – in an engaging and trustworthy way. That’s how we become top of the class.

Results day – the end of academia and onto a new start

Today students across the country got their A Level results but it’s been 6 years since I opened my sealed envelope from Parrs Wood Sixth Form college in Didsbury. It meant I was off to study a combined studies degree of English Language, Linguistics and Film Studies at The University of Manchester. From that moment, my life’s direction had been decided… I just didn’t realise it back then.

I’m writing this to say whatever academic results you achieve, whether they’re good or not quite what you hoped, it should not stop you from achieving your dreams. My graduation was bittersweet; I was the first person in my family to go to university, so my parents were thrilled, but I wished I had done better. I was disappointed because I achieved excellent A Level and GCSEs results but didn’t feel I was leaving university with a grade that reflected my true ability.

GraduationThe reason I didn’t do as well as I hoped was actually because I was spending too much time in radio studios! Ironically, this would eventually work out to my advantage. I didn’t enjoy the subject I was studying and couldn’t see the point if it wasn’t going to correlate with my career ambitions of working in media.

A university tutor told me that I would never be able to go on to study a masters… how wrong she was! This comment initially put me off applying for postgraduate study at UCLan but course leader, Caroline Hawtin, saw I had potential with my range of experience. (Spending all that time in radio studios WAS worth it after all!) Hopefully, anyone who knows me will know I’m completely dedicated to my career and was delighted to be offered a place on the broadcast journalism MA.

I took a chance coming out of working in the media industry to go back into further study, but enrolling was one of the best decisions I have ever made! I achieved distinctions for all my TV and radio practical work and digital modules, with merits for everything else. This shows that anyone can do well when you get the opportunity to study subjects you enjoy. That’s what made the difference to me and I appreciated my time at UCLan all the more because of it.

I still look back at my undergraduate degree at Manchester with fondness though. Academically, the course wasn’t right for me but without being there I would never have been bitten by the radio bug, by getting involved with student radio. This therefore wouldn’t have led me to qualifying as an accredited broadcast journalist. Maybe things do happen for reason?

Academic results, whether they’re good or bad, are only black ink on white paper – they can’t convey the true colour of what someone is like. Ultimately, they can only take you so far; it’s what you do after you open the envelope that really counts…

Are journalists public enemy number one?

Interview

There are some professions that set eyes rolling when you mention them: traffic wardens, tax inspectors… journalists?? Yes, in my experience, all of the above apply.When people ask me what my job is – I’m proud to say I’m a journalist! Now I’ve finished  my training, I’ve been working in broadcast newsrooms across the North West. It’s been a learning curve to see the general reactions when I’m out on the road roving reporting.

I love the variety of my job – everyday is different! However, I’ve noticed a pattern that often emerges; I could be chatting to an interviewee as normal, but as soon as my recording equipment is switched on their whole demeanor changes. Some will become tense, sweat beads start forming on their brow and they become fidgety. Now, to a journalist, this gives off non-verbal signals that something’s not right.

When this sort of anxious reaction happens, I get the feeling a lot of people think I’m there to catch them out – but there’s no trick questions on my list. ‘Reporter’, does what it says on the tin; we want to report on what is happening for the story we are covering. Of course, I will ask interviewees challenging questions, when necessary – but if interviewees have nothing to hide then they have nothing to worry about, surely?

Maybe I’m over analysing, because I’m so comfortable in front of microphones and cameras. Sometimes, I need to take a reality check and realise that not everybody is like me. These could be nervous reactions from people who are not used to media attention. It doesn’t explain press officers who become incredibly controlling though. In fact, that just makes me want to find out even more what they might be trying to hide…

It would seem some people are sceptical of us, rather than the other way around. Recently, I had been questioning someone about facts and figures – quite a routine interview. This was a very hot day and I hadn’t been drinking enough water. Sod’s law being what it is, I started having a coughing fit during the interview. I was behind the camera and managed to muffle any kind of noise; no one watching would have known any different – but I must have been pulling some funny faces! The guy accused me of “trying to put him off”. I would never knowingly do that. It just shows how defensive some people can be.

I think events leading to the Leveson inquiry hasn’t helped the image of journalism – but it’s important to remember that inquiry was about print journalism NOT broadcast. The mediums are different; firstly, we are regulated by the Ofcom code. Secondly, there is no agenda; there’s not a weighted political bias in broadcast journalism. We have to report stories objectively, fully attributing quotes.

Attribution is easy to do on radio and TV because you will see or hear the person saying it or it will be quoted directly. Misrepresentation is unethical and it’s hard for broadcast journalists to misrepresent someone – because proof of what was said will be on a recording.

Journalists are searching for the truth, by asking the questions that the public want – and deserve – to know the answers to. We investigate and we we hold people in positions of authority to account. Just think what might be going on in the world without journalists? Having said that, not every interview I do needs to be an interrogation… if the interviewee has nothing to hide.

Broadcast journalists are not to the enemy. In fact, maybe any interviewee who thinks we are should try looking in the mirror?

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.

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.