Recently at City, we’ve been put through our paces during three intensive weeks of production working on two hyperlocal news sites, Islington Now and Hackney Post (and producing a 16 page not-for-publication copy).
The aim of the three weeks is to bring together all of the skills we’ve learnt over the past six months and put them to work in a working news room. Each week, our tutors chose an editor for each site, section editors (News, Features, Business, Arts, Sport, Online) and a Production editor to oversee process and layout. Apart from that, we were pretty much left to our own devices (save a bit of media law assistance..).
And (warning: this may sound cheesy) what a liberating experience. To work with talented and (mostly) hard-working people in a team, harvesting and chasing leads, competing with the local papers for stories, thinking creatively about layout and how to make a story more reader-friendly, enduring long hours – it was exactly what we’ve all been wanting to do since the start of the course.
That’s not to mention how revealing it was too – revealing about myself, about others, about what news is good news (normally animals stories). Here are five things I took from the weeks:
1) Different jobs for different journalists
The biggest lesson was that some people are more suited to roles than others. Now this may sounds obvious but, during hands-on weeks like this, you do really get to see who works well in the office, bouncing ideas off others and who is more suited working independently on features. You get an instant idea who is more suited to the man-management and deadlines of editing a section, whos skills lie in the unglamorous subbing and quite simply who has the best nose for news.
Now I’m not saying any is more important than the other (you need them all to have a successful newsroom) but working at close proximity with people and being made to try unfamiliar roles uncovers people’s qualities far quicker than any work experience or class exercise.
2) Quotes are king
In weeks 2 and 3, I was a reporter, mainly for news and business, and I was reminded of the importance of quotes in the fabric of a good story. It’s one thing thinking you have a good lead and some good background but if you can’t get that case story or the press office don’t get back to you before deadline, you’re stuffed. So put those calls in early and make sure you elicit the best quotes from Joe Public because they are what make the stories come alive.
3) Be open to new ideas
In week 1, I was production editor meaning I was responsible for setting up Google Spreadsheets and Documents to allow reporters to see deadlines and wordcounts and then drop copy into a central store, and also to design 16 pages from scratch. We went for a Times-esque design, mature but not too broadsheet, but by the time we got to week 3, the new production ed wanted a change and we switched to an unashamed-Sun red top. The different content (crime, sex, gossip) and the different way of laying stories on a page (more, bigger pictures, bolder typefaces, crazier colours) was completely different to what I was used to on the uni paper and therefore a real learning curve in terms of the way a tabloid is produced.
4) The looming shadow of media law
One week, I got a nice page 3 full page about some burlesque club directors that owed former artists some money and had left the company – I spoke to an employee who was owed some cash and even the owner who had been forced to step in to stop the business going bust. I therefore had the names of the two men but because I couldn’t get through to them to speak to them, there was a risk of defamation, seeing as the story could prejudice a reader’s opinion unnecessarily. I worked with my tutor to make the story less accusatory and more based on the facts and it went in.
5) Be explicit with deadlines
It’s something we could all be better at I think – being explicit and realistic about when we can get copy sent through. I was overly ambitious on numerous occasions so when said time came to produce my article, my news editor was pulling his hair out. So in the future, I plan to be more clear with deadlines and not take on too many stories.
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After finishing my stint in student media, I couldn’t help but look