Category: Journalism

Hello. Is there anybody there?

If you can see through the layers of dust that have gathered here since I last wrote something on this blog, then well done.

A lot has changed since I last wrote on these pages. I’ve now graduated with a 2:1 from my Journalism degree at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), and have been elected as Media Officer at UCLan’s Students’ Union (SU). And it is my first few months in the job which I’ve decided to talk about.

I’m now, worryingly, nearly a third of the way into my term of office. I say worryingly because the time is rapidly flying by and from time to time thoughts are turning to next year’s elections and who my successor may be and what they will do.

A lot of people, who don’t go to UCLan, ask me what I do in my role and I often say: “I’m the editor of our student newspaper, Pluto, and PR1, our magazine. I am also chief executive of Frequency radio and PSTV television station, as well as a student representative and trustee of the Students’ Union.”

But there is so much more to my job, and I thought this post could give you an idea of some of the things I’ve done since I started on July 1, why I did them and what I’ve learned in that time.

Preparation over the summer means a smooth start to the year

Between starting the job and Freshers’ week, there are two months where campus is quiet and it’s tempting to be lulled into a false sense of security. However, there are often many things that need doing during the summer in terms of preparation for the new academic year.

A few of the things I did this summer include: look for new printers for Pluto and PR1, repair much of the equipment n the Frequency studio, build new website for PR1 and order a new website for PSTV, order a new printer and upgrade the computers in all of the offices.

It may not look exciting, but this printer's already made a big difference to student media this year

A lot of these changes are not seen and probably not noticed by the people who read or listen to the student media here at UCLan, but they are all vital to making everything work. Last year the computers in the offices slowed right down and one by one stopped working which led to a decline in quality of media and volunteer satisfaction. Therefore, with the help of the university’s IT department, a lot of the computers were upgraded with new memory and bigger monitors and a new machine was installed in the radio studio.

This has helped fine tune the student media and allowed the volunteers to do a lot of the work while I go to meetings and fulfil my role as a student representative and also makes the office a much happier place to be. The quality has improved in Pluto, PR1 and Frequency since the start of term.

Go the extra mile for the volunteers

It’s easy to take the attitude of ‘I’m the paid Media Officer, I know best’ and work on a Monday to Friday, 9-5 attitude. However, with the students working in the evenings and at weekends (Frequency schedules go up to the small hours on some days) I have had to be on hand help people at all hours.

For instance, just tonight (Sunday) I received a call to say Frequency wasn’t broadcasting, so off I went to the studio at 7pm to fix the problems. It’s a bit of a cliché but it’s impossible for me to produce student media without the volunteers so I am obliged to help them whenever it is needed.

But going the extra mile also means listening to their suggestions and requests and offering constructive criticism. Over the summer, I redesigned PR1 with a glossy cover. However, at one stage, due to financial restrictions, I considered dropping the glossy cover but was persuaded otherwise by volunteers who wanted it. After all decisions I make this year affect other people’s portfolios so they should have input on what goes on.

Lots still to do

Two weeks ago I organised a concert for the launch of Frequency Radio in our SU bar, Source, which went down really well. There will be more gigs as the year go on under the Frequency banner which will help promote the awareness of the station.

Mike Dignam was a big draw at the Frequency Radio launch party. Photo by Grace Cappy

The PSTV website will be arriving very soon, and will finally give the station the platform it needs to show off the talents of students at UCLan, both behind and in front of the camera. It is also the first step of my aim to get PSTV affiliated with the National Student Television Association (and I will put updates about my progress on that here).

And the Pluto/PR1 juggernaut just keeps on rolling along with another 10 Plutos and five PR1s to be made this year. So if you’re on campus do remember to look out for them and pick them up.

There is still a long way to go this year and it’s exciting to be head of it all.


Shorthand: A first attempt

About five years ago a friend of mine gave me a book which I knew one  day would be very important to me in my journalism training.

Well today was the day I finally used it for the first time as I embarked on learning shorthand. It’s called ‘Teeline Gold: The Course Book. This particular edition was printed in 1991 but the principles and techniques involved in shorthand have not changed in the 19 years since its publication.

Shorthand is an important tool in journalism and one which, although may not be used as much today thanks to dicta-phones and other recording equipment, I still believe it’s an important tool to have. But anyway, today was the first time I tried my hand at shorthand and I thought I’d share my efforts with you and the way I went about it.

The easiest way to start off with was to have a go at writing the alphabet in an attempt to get to grips with basic shorthand. With the shorthand alphabet being very different to the traditional alphabet, copying each letter out five or six teams was the best way to develop my technique and get the letters correct in terms of shape and positioning on the lines.

After this an attempt at basic words which the book suggested was in order.

Something shorthand does is removes unnecessary and silent letters from words. Thus, the word light is just spelt ‘lt’ and cough becomes ‘cf’. When writing down what someone is saying, why bother with extra letters?

Most of the letters are fairly easy to write however there are one or two which I found harder to keep tidy, with ‘f’ in particular proving difficult to get correct, especially when I tried upping the pace.

However at this stage, technique is far more important than speed and I’ll continue to work at getting that right before attempting sentences and longer words. To pass the shorthand course at UCLan, I have to achieve 80 words a minute. However that test is a long way off yet so for now technique and ensuring what I write makes sense takes priority.

It’s going to be hard but it should be worthwhile and hopefully prove invaluable. Over the next few days I plan to repeat the alphabet and these simple words again and again before moving on to longer words and my first sentences.

Today’s first practise has been quite encouraging.

These may look like squiggles, but they are the first steps towards learning an important skill

One thing I got to include yesterday. We became aware of this video during the day and I thought I’d share it as it definitely needs publicity…Enjoy.

First of all my I point out that there will be no pictures of women in swimming outfits today, sadly.

So what happened today?

Well to be honest there wasn’t anything which happened that required a trip out of the office, except for lunch. And I’m pretty sure that nobody is interested in a picture of Burger King or of me with my lunch. So instead here’s a clue as to what my main story of the day has been about.

Yep, everybody’s favourite people.

To put it in context, late morning I was sitting around having just checked up on the grandparents (Grandma had a fall last night). One of my colleagues then said he had a story for me. A member of the BNP who was quite prominent in the region within the party rang up to say he’d been suspended.

Needless to say he wasn’t happy.

Now I shouldn’t say too much otherwise I’ll be breaking the story before it’s appeared in the newspaper I’m writing for. Suffice to say that there are rumblings going on within its membership, particularly down here in the West Country. Several other members have also been expelled recently for ‘speaking out of turn’ and they’re not happy about it. There’s a feeling within members of the BNP in Cornwall that they’ve been cut off by the rest of the party and in particular the hierarchy.

One source told me: “There’s a pyramind structure within the party and at the apex of this pyramid is Nick Griffin. What he says happens.”

Pretty interesting I thought. This train of thought was repeated in the other people I spoke to who criticised his leadership style and gave their thoughts on what is best for the party and the number seems to be growing from what I understand. Tomorrow I hope to find out more about what’s going on and get a party line about the rumblings down in the West Country so I’ll keep you posted.

I know many of you reading this will probably have no time for the BNP but it’s an interesting development which could go somewhere and something I will try to monitor beyond my stay in Cornwall. I could be hideously wrong though, so I’ll have to play it by ear. If not though I’ll keep you posted.

Certainly this is more exciting than writing about more charity fundraisers which is how the day started out.

I would like to explain the story further however my own article for the paper is not yet complete, and it would be unfair to write it for them then just come on here and blab it all. If you are interested check out the Cornish Guardian’s website next Wednesday and hopefully it will appear online. If not I’ll post it here too.

And finally…

On the way home I nipped in to see if there was any progress with the derailment I photographed yesterday. There was! Some men in orange jackets and orange trousers had turned up. How exciting!

They’ve  brought something pracitcal with them too, mainly this big crane  to help rerail the stricken wagon.

Apart from that there’s nothing else to say really. Tomorrow is my last day down here. Hopefully something will come up but if not there’s always the BNP to fall back on…

Picture courtesy of Leo Reynolds

Well at least it wasn’t raining this morning. But it was still 7am when I woke up which for a student is a big, big effort. However needs must and I agreed to do this work experience so it’s about time I joined the real world.

Anyway, today was spent mostly in the office. There were several stories which involved more phonecalls including one to the widow of an RAF pilot who received an Elizabeth Cross at RAF St Mawgan recently. Having not been in the situation of talking to a widow and having to talk to them about something which involved her late husband it was a weird and awkward moment but a moment that I shall no doubt get used to and one that must be done, however hard it may be.

The seventies inspired swimming costume made by a student at University College Falmouth

Other articles I wrote on were not so tough at that one and included a charity race across Newquay Harbour for a children’s hospice charity, completing the story about a new local One Stop and students using an aquarium for a photo shoot. Although these aren’t really exciting stories they’re all part of local, regional journalism. And when you get photos like this, it’s not all that bad! This was a photo sent to the office in a press release from the aquarium.

This is in stark contrast to the last thing I did today which was go to Newquay Town Hall for a meeting othe Chamber of Commerce, of which five out of 17 members turned up. And I nearly fell asleep. Nothing happened as you can probably imagine.

After everything I wrote yesterday and photographed, today probably comes across as a bit of a disappointment and a bore.

I still had things to do, it’s just taking a photo of a phone and a computer isn’t that interesting. In a place where many people know each other and the local reporters mainly have stories told to them by various sources  rather than rely in press releases it can be slightly limiting for someone who doesn’t know the area or the people and is only around for one week.

However there was one last little thing I’ve done today.

On the way to the office this morning the local radio reported that a derailed train had meant all trains to Newquay were cancelled. After finishing today I thought I’d check it out to see if it was still there. It was, at right angles to all the lines. How it got like that I don’t know, but here are a couple of snaps of the incident.

It made a standard drive home a bit more interesting…if you’re interested in that sort of thing! What I want to know is, how the hell did it get like that?!

Photograph at Blue Reef Acquarium taken by Kirsty Macdonald.

This week I’m down in Cornwall doing work experience at the Cornish Guardian. So what I thought I’d do is to blog about my week and what I’ve been doing during my time down here.

Now you may notice that this first blog is appearing on a Tuesday rather than a Monday. Very good reason for that. Yesterday the weather was so awful I didn’t want to use my camera for fear of it breaking (after a recent repair I’m quite paranoid about it!) so the photos here are from Tuesday when the weather improved. Secondly, the Cornish Guardian is a weekly paper and goes to print on a Monday evening so the reporter for the area, Stuart Radnedge, takes Tuesday afternoons off to make up for his long 12 hour day on the Monday. So I didn’t really have much choice!

So where is this office?

Well it’s in Newquay and you may notice it doesn’t look too big. It isn’t. Only two people work here during the week, covering the local area for the Cornish Guardian who have their main offices in Truro.

From the outside it’s not readily noticable and is discreetly tucked away next to a nightclub looking more like an estate agents than a newspaper office. I don’t mind this though as it’s a different way of working and a different atmosphere to what I’m used to. Rather than being one of many in a big open plan office in a city centre, here it’s down to one or two people to cover a mainly rural area for the local paper.And just because it’s small and away from the city doesn’t mean that there’s any less swearing or urgency to prepare for deadlines!

And as you can see, when you get views like this on your way to work, who cares?!

First thing upon arrival on Monday was go straight back out again with the local reporter to RAF St Mawgan to interview the station’s Wing Commander about his failed medical and imminent discharge from the air force. For security reasons we had to hop into an RAF police car from the main gate to the Wing Commander’s house which is on the base. In this instance Land Rover Defender, man those cars are an effort to get into!

Anyway after that was over, a trip back in the Defender and another car trip took us back to the office for work to be done. I was going to take a photo of the the entrance to the base but, again, for security reasons thought best not to. So here’s a still from Google Street View…

During the day a few stories came in for me to work on. My main article was about an ambulance which had its windscreen wipers nicked the day before. During a visit to Newquay Police Station I asked the Inspector if he knew if there had been any progress. After me explaining the crime to him I quickly realised that he didn’t know which was strange as although I was disappointed not to get any more information on the crime, filling in an Inspector about a crime was quite fun!

The rest of the day was spent mainly finishing off copy in the office, making phonecalls and fielding more calls for my temporary colleague who was busy chasing up leads to other stories. A late trip up to Newquay Ambulance Station, to get a picture of an Ambulance with windscreen wipers held on by cable ties after the originals were stolen the day before, was my only time away from the desk during the afternoon which rounded off Monday.

Tuesday broke to more grey skies. After fighting through the traffic in St Austell I made it to the office at 9am. There wasn’t too much to do except chase up quotes and information for a few articles for next week’s paper. Although it isn’t out for another eight days, the work starts here and already a quote which I thought was going one way suddenly went another when new information came to light during the conversation. The joys of journalism!

In the foreground you can see the desk I’ve used for the past couple of days to chase up stories such as builders helping schools, ambulance wiper blades being stolen and plans for a new One Stop. OK they may be standard run of the mill stories (Stuart in the corner has been working on slightly more exciting things) they’re still important must be covered by someone.

A lunchtime finish allowed us to enjoy a try up before heading off for the day. With the weather being so good in Newquay I took the opportunity to take a couple of shots before the cloud came and it duly arrived the minute I left the town. Now I’m back at home in Lostwithiel with the rain bucketing down outside. So to cheer myself up here are some photos of Newquay in the sunshine from earlier on today.