As part of my degree, my class is expected to work as if we’re part of a real life newsteam. Each week two people are given roles as online editors, the rest of the class work as reporters for the week, finding stories and writing them up, then on a Friday we spend the whole day producing copy for our online news website (StaffsLive). The Friday is a chance for us to react to breaking news, as well as continuing with work we’ve been doing during the week.
Last Friday was one of the best examples we’ve had of reacting to breaking news. I was online editor for the week and when I got into uni at 8.45am on the Friday, there was a press release waiting for me from Staffordshire Police. It told us that there had been a car crash, a 19-year-old man had died and his 19-year-old friend who had been driving was in hospital with serious injuries.
Within minutes, we got a piece online outlining what the press release had told us, it was short but gave the basic details of what we knew at that time. We then sent a reporter and photographer down to the scene of the accident and had two reporters searching Twitter and Facebook to see if we could identify the deceased.
This was a more challenging task and had to be done with a lot of care. We noticed a few tweets from the area with RIP messages in them, but we couldn’t make any assumptions so one of our reporters had to reply to them and ask if it was regarding the crash. Obviously she had to do this in a very sensitive manner as she was dealing with someone who had very recently found out their friend had died. I’m really pleased to say she did this amazingly, and even joined some of the groups set up on Facebook in memory of the guy who died. This meant she was able firstly to identify the guy who was killed and also to speak to a number of people who were friends with both of the men involved in the accident and got some great tributes for the next piece we put online.
Shortly after this piece had gone online, the reporter we had sent out came back with some exclusive quotes from the friend that the men had been driving to see when they crashed. And the photographer brought some pictures of tributes that had been left at the scene. Although our reporter admitted that not everyone at the scene was happy that he was there, he got some great quotes from some of the people who had turned up. That made another brilliant online piece and we put some of the pictures from the photographer into a slideshow.
Meanwhile, our local paper were obviously covering the same story. We spotted on their website that they had put a piece up about the accident and I kept an eye on their coverage all day to see if they had any information that we didn’t.
Interestingly, the piece on their website didn’t change all day. They reported the crash but didn’t seem to be doing any work towards identifying the victim. A very interesting tactic when they knew that we’d be reporting it as we went along. Of course, details of the crash did appear in their weekend edition, with use of quotes lifted directly from our articles, I hasten to add. But they had nothing extra to add on what we had already reported.
This got me thinking. What is the future of local newspapers in areas where student journalists are reporting the news before them? Please let me know your thoughts, comment here or send us a tweet @wannabehacks
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After finishing my stint in student media, I couldn’t help but look