RSS Feed

Monthly Archives: October 2012

The Kingston Courier

There are many things which I have to do for this course, but one that’s been at the forefront of my mind recently has been writing articles for my NCTJ portfolio. This must include 10 articles, one of which has to be a news feature (that’ll be written as part of the Public Affairs module), and although it isn’t due until May we’ve been assured that before long it’ll be April and we’ll be running around like headless chickens wondering why we only have one article worth submitting.

The easiest way to get cuttings is to write for the Kingston Courier, our very own hyperlocal news website (the efforts of last year’s students have led to them being shortlisted for an NCTJ award, so it’s faintly terrifying that it’s now been entrusted to us). Even this isn’t easy though, as alongside the obvious problem of fitting research and writing in around the rest of our work (and we have plenty), we’ve been confronted with an inconvenient truth: everyone hates journalists. Or at least distrusts them. As soon as you say you are one in researching a story you see the smiles start to slip, and hear the voices falter. Last week I was passed around multiple departments, kept on hold indefinitely, questioned as to how I had the audacity to call someone on their lunch break and hung up on, all in the same call. And this was in an attempt to write a good news story!

The fact that this treatment made me more determined to write the story in question is probably the biggest indicator I’ve yet had that I’ve chosen the right career path. Negative impact on my blood pressure aside, I’m definitely enjoying the experience.

(You can read my article on the business implications of the recent Oceana stabbing here and a more cheerful piece on the Richmond Park WomenOnly Run here.)

 

Learning to Blog

Imagine the scene.  A group of journalism students enter a classroom and are told that today they will be learning how to blog. This ought to be an easy task for one of them at least, who has been blogging for the past three years, albeit in a rather haphazard unfocused manner. And yet she sits in front of the screen, utterly unable to write.

In case you hadn’t realised, this is what’s happening to me at this very moment. Since 2010, I’ve blogged as regularly as essay deadlines and inspiration will allow, and yet when told to write a blog post today I found myself staring blankly at the screen with no idea what to do. It was the thinking that did it. I’ve always blogged for the love of it, with half an eye on my follower count and the idea of building an online portfolio admittedly, but mostly for the sheer love of writing. Suddenly, I had a whole host of things to consider, things that I perhaps ought to have been thinking about before, but which I had allowed myself to sweep under the carpet. What is my niche? Do I have a blogging “voice”? Why should anyone read the posts which I have chosen to put out into cyberspace?

Wannabe Hacks published a debate about blogging in 2010, with the idea that no-one can afford not to blog given the importance of an online presence weighed against the argument that blogging for blogging’s sake could do more harm than good. And thus we return to the idea of the niche. I do have one, not one which hasn’t been covered before, but how many truly original ideas are there in the world? As to the “voice”, I don’t know whether I have one yet, but there’s one thing I do know. Blogging and developing a voice are practical skills, which you can only learn by doing. And that, I think, is what today’s exercise was all about.

The Two Week Mark

It’s been three weeks since I started at Kingston, but two weeks of normal lectures, so I feel that an update is in order. I have classes Monday-Thursday, and with travelling time included I generally spend about ten hours every day out of the house. It’s a bit of a change from my lazy undergraduate life, that’s for sure!

This semester, I have six modules. After Journalism Practices, which I’ve already written about, there’s:

Law

This is a three hour block on Monday afternoon, in which we learn how not to get sued, what to do if we do get sued, and how many times our lecturer has been sued. There’s a lot of precise language, and it’s important that we get the definitions just right, so we have a lot to learn before our first exam in November.

Hands On Journalism

The most practical of the six modules, this takes place on Tuesday afternoons, and also in every moment of our free time as we have to run a hyper local website, the Kingston Courier. This semester I’m the Business Editor, so I’m spending a lot of time looking for local businesses stories, whilst also trying to write the court and council stories which the NCTJ wants in our portfolios.

Journalists and Government

Another module with lots of information and definitions to learn, although the scary thing about this is that my father, a local government accountant, now wants to talk to me about his job. We’re starting on local government, which is pretty dry (although exactly what we need to understand those aforementioned court and council stories), but things should get a little more exciting when we move onto central government next semester.

Multimedia News Writing

This another practical module, in which we learn to write.  So far, this has involved being handed a press release or some fake sources and then being told to turn them into a story. This has taught me that many of the writing habits I’ve picked up over the years are wrong, particularly some of the words I like to use (whilst is out for one). I’m enjoying it a lot though, because it’s a chance to write, but without the pressure that there is on the Kingston Courier.

Shorthand

My favourite module, because although a lot of people complain about it, I’m still finding it easy at this point. This is mostly because I spent a month before starting university learning it in preparation, but I like to think that all that time spent getting to grips with the Russian alphabet has helped too. Shorthand means a new alphabet, new words, and a new way of writing altogether. It’s still fun at the moment, but we haven’t properly started speed building at the moment, so we shall see what happens.

Journalism Practices (or how to do a module in a week)

Last week, I wrote about being thrown in at the deep end. The reason for this was Journalism Practices, a module which I’d finished after only four days at Kingston. Finished in terms of teaching anyway, I still have a case study to write and some on-line discussion to engage in before I can be properly assessed, but in terms of contact time, those four days were all we got.

It felt more like an induction week than a module too, consisting as they did of a series of taster sessions for the different modules which we will study for the rest of the year as well as giving us a brief introduction to the media industry and the problems which will face us when we come to enter it. We also spent a couple of hours each day preparing a presentation and seminar on a journalism-related topic, which we all delivered on Thursday. My group chose the Leveson Inquiry and its potential impact on regulation, and despite a minor technological hiccup (thank you YouTube, it’s not like we really wanted that video to load anyway) I think that it went well. The well-deserved class binding session in the pub afterwards certainly went well, somehow beer tastes better after a hard working week. And so the alcohol dependency begins…

One thing that did strike me about this module was how little reading I had to do for it. Having always measured my academic effort in the number of books and journalism articles which I managed to read, this was slightly disconcerting. This is a professional practices course though, and many of the assignments reflect that – though reading is definitely still required, as my unopened copy of McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists would no doubt like to remind me.

If we did all of our modules like this, our lecturer told us, our course would last only seven weeks. Wouldn’t that be an interesting experiment, she asked. But given that Journalism Practices is specifically designed to fit within a week, as well as the fact that we’ve already been told that this course will move at the speed of light and take over our entire lives, I fear that it would be an experiment doomed to failure.