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Author Archives: julieffisher

Top Tips to Pass the Production Exam

It may not surprise you to know that I have an exam coming up. My blog posts always seem to coincide with impending exams, as blogging is one of my favourite methods of procrastination (along with tidying my room,  plucking my eyebrows, and doing just about anything that isn’t revision), but as always I’m attempting to justify it by making my exam the subject of this blog post.

Today, I’m sitting the NCTJ production exam. It’s an optional part of the NCTJ diploma, but with newsrooms cutting down on staff and expecting reporters to write, sub and lay up their own copy while simultaneously singing and juggling knives, it’s arguably one of the most important skills a trainee journalist can learn. It’s also one of the hardest exams to prepare for and pass.

So other than developing flawless spelling, punctuation and grammar (which, with less than an hour to go, may be an unattainable goal for me), what can you do to prepare for the production exam?

  1. Use an active verb in every headline. Errors in headlines are unforgivable, that goes without saying, but writing a headline without a verb is an error that many people make without thinking. If you really can’t get an active verb to fit a passive one will do, but the verb is vital.
  2. Headline content is more important than fitting. Ideally, you’ll have a headline that both  fits and sums up the story perfectly, but if that isn’t achievable then white space will lose you less marks than a headline that doesn’t capture the essence of the story. Never split a word over two lines though.
  3. Be consistent. If you use use single quotation marks for quotes in the middle of sentences, be consistent. If you refer to the people you’re quoting as Mr/Mrs/Miss Jones on the second mention, be consistent. If your listings headlines have the age rating in brackets, be consistent. Just be consistent.
  4. Look for mistakes everywhere. This applies to the proof-reading exercise. There will be mistakes in the headline, sub-headline, body copy, panels, pull quotes and captions. If a picture doesn’t have a caption, that’s an error.
  5. Watch your time. There’s no point in doing three sections of the exam perfectly, but missing out the final two. I was told to allocate 37 minutes to Section A, 15 minutes to Section B, 30 minutes to Section C, 15 minutes to Section D and 22 minutes to Section E, but you can make your own decisions based on how difficult you find each part.

 

The Great Job Hunt

With around two months to go until all teaching is finished, all exams are over and all assignments (bar the dreaded final project) are handed in, my thoughts have turned firmly to finding a job. This is for several reasons: I would like some money, I would like to move out of my childhood home and into a houseshare with my lovely friend who is getting rather tired of waiting for me to join her in London, and (perhaps most importantly of all) I do not want to write another dissertation.

At Kingston, we have two options for the final three months of our degree. We can write hefty 12,000 word dissertations, or we can get jobs and spread those 12,000 words between 4 smaller assignments, including a portfolio of published work. I wrote a dissertation during my final year at Durham. I chose my topic with care, loved reading about it and thinking about it, but then came the moment when I had to write it. I screamed, I cried, I bit my nails until I had no nails left, and I nearly had a nervous breakdown when my well-meaning friend asked to see the finished product the night before it was due. I’m not sure that I’d survive writing a second, even longer dissertation in a shorter period of time.

So that means the pressure is on to find a job, and fast. I’m in the middle of a three-week Easter break, but I’ve spent most of that trawling through various websites, tweaking and re-tweaking my CV and trying to write original cover letters (and I hate writing cover letters almost as much as I hated writing my dissertation). It’s hard work, but it’ll all be worth it when I get that letter from The Times demanding that I write for them (I sent my application at least three days ago, it must be due any day now).

For those of you in the same position as me, here are some of my favourite websites for finding journalism job opportunities. But be warned, if you get any of the jobs that I’m going for, I will find you and I will hurt you!

Gorkana: http://www.gorkanajobs.co.uk/

Journalism.co.uk: http://www.journalism.co.uk/media-reporter-jobs/s64/

Internwise: http://www.internwise.co.uk/

Media Muppet: http://mediamuppet.com/

Media Nation: http://www.medianation.co.uk/content/indiesdetail/Broadcast/Indies/362

Hold the Front Page: http://www.holdthefrontpage.co.uk/

Think I’ve left a site out? Want to share your experience of job hunting? Please leave a comment below or contact me on julie.fisher@hotmail.co.uk.

 

Work Experience Update 2

After six weeks of ‘Christmas holidays’, I am now preparing to go back to university. It would be nice to say that I’ve had a relaxing break, but in truth after almost five weeks of work experience I’m just as tired now as when I left uni in December (or perhaps that’s the after-effects of my friend’s Australia Day party last night). It’s definitely been a worthwhile experience though.

Firstly, I’ve conquered my fear of picking up the phone. Relying on e-mail alone as a journalist is dangerous, it’s a lot easier for people to ignore your e-mails than it is for them to hang up on you (although I have had this happen to me in the past). So coming into work in the morning and being told that my job is to phone seven different press offices and get statements on everything from the M&S financial results to Tesco’s response to the horsemeat scandal, while terrifying, has been hugely helpful for me in the long run. Now to get over my fear of listening to recordings of my voice.

I’ve also learned the importance of checking that my dictaphone is switched on. And of taking notes while recording so that I have a back-up if the recording comes out as white noise. I was taking notes while I recorded purely because the publication’s editor was watching me, but I’m very glad that I was on the day that my trusty dictaphone failed me. On a more positive note, I have learned that using a dictaphone is vastly preferable to getting ‘shorthand claw’ (although obviously not if you’re in court).

Finally, I’ve become more confident in my abilities as a journalist. If I can run an unfamiliar news website single-handedly for a week then I can do anything! Or anything journalistic anyway, running a news website probably doesn’t qualify you for winning an Olympic gold medal or becoming Prime Minister…

Five Tips for Securing Work Experience

As I mentioned in this post, I’m on work experience at the moment. In light of this, and not wanting to write too many identical blog posts on what I’ve been doing, I’ve gone for another set of tips for today’s post – how to secure work experience. Wannabe Hacks gave some good advice here, but I wanted to add my fifty cents:

1) Be early. If you’re a student, the chances are you’ll be looking for work experience in academic holidays, and the chances are so will everyone else. Some nationals, such as the Guardian, also stress that they give priority to candidates on bursary schemes and competition winners at these times, so if you want to get in, you should get in early. Don’t send out e-mails a week before term ends and expect a response.

2) Be persistent. Editors receive hundreds of e-mails every week (sometimes hundreds every day), so unless they happen to have been looking when your message came in, it may get lost in their inbox. Phone first before sending your CV so that they’re expecting it, or try something more unusual like sending a letter so that your application stands out from the crowd. Following up when someone has said that they’ll look at your CV is also worth doing, but not so much that you cross the line into harassment.

3) Be open-minded. We all dream of working on a national newspaper or big glossy magazine, so its unsurprising that these publications get hundreds of work experience applications. It’s always worth applying to these places, but keeping an open mind and trying smaller publications can get you further. And small publications with small staff bodies will often give you more actual writing to do than nationals, where you can end up doing mostly research and fact checking.

4) Be informed. In a tidal wave of applications, the round robin will be the first to be deleted. Find out about each publication you apply to and explain why you want to work there and why they should want you to work there.A quick phone call to find out exactly who deals with work experience will also avoid your message landing in the wrong inbox.

5) Be accurate. There’s no point in writing the perfect cover letter and having it ruined by a glaring error in the first line. Check, double check, and have someone else check what you’ve checkd before you send anything. Apostrophes and the spelling of names are the most common errors.

If you have any tips of your own, please share them in the comments!

Work Experience – Update 1

When I was doing my undergraduate degree, a holiday meant exactly that. A chance to relax, catch up with friends and ignore the large pile of holiday reading which I’d pretended was going to get done at the beginning of the previous term.

On this course, a holiday actually means an opportunity to do work experience. Not only is work experience essential if I want to get a job at the end of this (and I do, I really do), but it’s also compulsory for one of my modules. So although I did get a week off for Christmas, I’m spending the five remaining weeks of my Christmas break interning at Retail Gazette.

So far, it’s been good. I was thrown in at the deep end when the editor went on annual leave, putting me in charge of the site with two days of training under my belt. I had to prepare a news list every morning, and then write as many stories as I could manage in a day. It was stressful to say the least. But after a week and a half the site is still there, I haven’t been sued and other than the day when the biggest piece of news was the new Sainsbury’s back fat-smoothing bra, I managed to get the requisite four stories up every day.

As of today, the editor is back and it’s all change for me. I’m still writing news stories and suggesting stories for the news list, but I also have time to work on bigger things. At the moment, I’m planning a feature and have already had the proposal approved. I feel like a real journalist, and it feels great.

Kate Middleton’s pregnancy: a liveblog too far?

Photo by Beretta/Sims / Rex Features (2015386l)

Photo by Beretta/Sims / Rex Features (2015386l)

Ten days ago the news of Kate Middleton’s pregnancy broke. Cue outpouring of joy across the nation, the creation of the #royalbaby hash tag on Twitter and…a liveblog by the Guardian?

Liveblogging is the newest craze in the newsroom, and is used to report breaking news and collect views on current events from social media. And they’re popular. Research by Neil Thurman shows that the Guardian’s liveblogs attract 300% more views than their conventional news articles. Perhaps that’s why they do so many of them.

Whatever the reason for its popularity, it now seems to be widely accepted that liveblogging is here to stay. Writing for Wannabe Hacks, George Berridge argues that student media should cover breaking news in this way because it’s a skill which will be needed in the newsroom. Yet another piece of technology which I need to get to grips with.

I’m not the most technologically incompetent person out there (that would be my father) but computers do tend to run screaming in the other direction when I approach them. So when we experiemnted with liveblogging a few weeks back it’s safe to say that it was not my favourite lesson. We used a website called Storify, and it hated me. It kept refusing to let me pull in links from Twitter, and given that this was a large part of what we were doing, this was something of a problem. But fellow MA journalist Alice and I did manage to create this liveblog on Athena, the winter storm which hit New York in the wake of Sandy. It’s not quite Guardian quality, but it’s not bad for a first attempt.

The next logical step is to pick up where the Guardian left off and liveblog Kate Middleton’s pregnancy. All nine months of it (or however many months we have left). Every hard-earned update from St. James’ Palace, every outburst of Twitter hysteria, perhaps some creepy photos created by mixing their faces and updates on how large their baby should be by now. If I were to go ahead with it, it might end with me being labelled a stalker, but it would be sure to be an Internet sensation.

Leveson and the Internet

Photo by Julian Simmonds / Rex Features

Photo by Julian Simmonds / Rex Features

Last Thursday, my fellow journalism students and I gathered around our computers to watch Lord Justice Leveson announce the results of his inquiry into the press. OK, we were actually in a lecture and had been told that we had to watch the announcement, but we were still interested.

I’m waiting to see what actually comes out of the report before I pass judgement on the majority of it (as what Leveson wants and what Cameron is prepared to give seem to be two very different things). But, as George Berridge wrote for Wannabe Hacks, the section on the internet is shocking in its brevity.

The total length of the Leveson report: 1000 pages. The proportion of that devoted to the internet: one page. Given that recently the internet community in general has been as badly behaved as the press, this seems nonsensical.

Ethics in newsrooms often leave much to be desired, that much is true. But were the Twitter users who wrongly named Lord McAlpine recently acting any more ethically? And should they be allowed to continue in the same vein while the mainstream press is regulated?

As a blogger, perhaps I should be pleased that my domain is being left well alone. But as a journalist-in-training, I’m not happy. Giving the internet free rein while constricting press freedom will only contribute to the decline of the print media. I’m not convinced that most of Leveson’s proposals should be implemented, but if they are they should apply to all, not just the newspapers.