Journo student: Thoughts and exploits

“Journalism is power-must be”
March 5, 2009, 12:26 pm
Filed under: journalism, journalism student
Flickr image courtesy of Johnthurm

Flickr image courtesy of Johnthurm

This Monday, our Roy Greenslade lecture dealt with the hefty issue of political journalism. More specifically, the media domination of politics and how the British political system is little more than a cowering victim under the thumb of the callous British media who are ‘ravenous for conflict.’

Of course, these weren’t Greenslade’s views but those of John Lloyd- contributing editor at the FT and author of ‘What the Media Are Doing to Our Politics.’ Lloyd thinks that the media completely dominates politics and is only interested in power and conflict-finding it and making it. If this is the case, he thinks, then our freedom  is severely compromised. If this is the case, then Lloyd might just be right.

But, is the public mistrust of government due mainly to the spin of hungry journalists? Can it really be said that British journalism, as an institution is primarily concerned with the destruction of polititians for the sake of sales? And, as one person commented in the lecture, why are politicians becoming so enraged and upset if it is so easy to see through the media anyway?

There is no denying the competitive drive of the British media but the salient question is- what should journalism be? Lloyd wrote an article in the Guardian a couple of weeks ago saying: “Journalism is power-must be, if it is to hold other powers to account.” Holding powers to account should surely not the aim of the media. As Greenslade noted, informing about all kinds of powers should be the aim, so that the public can hold them to account. 

Whether this is true of the British media today is an entirely different question.


Who’s got the best trauma?
February 26, 2009, 5:08 pm
Filed under: journalism, journalism student | Tags: ,

We all knew that we were going to have to sell our souls at one time or other on the road to becoming a journalist-but we didn’t realise it would be quite so soon.

A few weeks into our second term we were coached on ‘sensitive interviewing’ techniques and were then told to interview someone who had been through the ‘best of times’ or the ‘worst of times’. Predictably the majority of us chose to find someone who had been through the ‘worst of times’ although some sunnier souls went for something a bit lighter.

Trawling through organisations and charities, looking for the victims of trauma, the bereaved and the emotionally scarred became commonplace in the City university journalism department that week. For some, it became an arduous task and eventually the inevitable desensitisation set in and calls of , “I think I’ve got an ovarian cancer-what have you got?” or “I’ll swap you an HIV for child bereavment” could be heard over the computer screens.

OK, so it wasn’t quite that bad but we are all becoming aware of just how ruthless we were going to have to be to get a good story. We were beginning to think of these unfortunate people in terms of who would give the most sensational interview.Sitting in a class and discussing ‘sensitive interviewing’ is one thing but actually interviewing a trauma victim is entirely another.

I found someone relatively easily-a great subject who was easy to interview and seemed to be entirely open to all lines of questioning.However, I think some of us found it hard and an altogether unpleasant experience. Some, on the other hand, discovered a new passion and talent for interviewing ‘real’ people.  

I found that all feelings of guilt and apprehension about motives slipped away as soon as the interview began-I became involved in the story and realised that I would be able to write a truthful account about an interesting individual.

After initial uncertainty, I found that sensitive interviewing and writing real life stories is OK. Actually, I enjoy it. Spending your time interviewing extraordinary people and having the chance to tell their story in a truthful way can be pretty rewarding-and hell, it pays well.

Vlog it, pod it, sod it
February 15, 2009, 10:42 pm
Filed under: journalism, magazines | Tags: , ,

Will traditional reporting soon be obsolete? Image courtesy of CareersWiki

I came to my journalism course knowing very little about new media and frankly not caring a whole lot about it either. In the space of a few months I have gone from calm indifference to worry!Fear!Panic!

It is becoming glaringly apparant, as reiterated by every tutor and lecturer since September that my career in journalism will not be a career in journalism unless I welcome new media into my life as if it were the soulmate I never knew existed. My soulmate doesn’t like me, I can tell. The blogging is fine, it’s the other things that gets me down. The futility of Twitter bemuses me still and the podcasting and vlogging is obviously too complicated for my technophobic brain to deal with. Don’t even get me started on Quark.

So, PWR New Media (some American company, I’m struggling to work out what they actually do) released survey results last week saying that 60 per cent of the 215 journalists surveyed now contribute to a blog and other online media sites, 39 per cent of those only started this in the past year.

Clearly all journalists are starting to panic. Job cuts and fear are driving us all to the internet and there we shall stay until job security is resored. Maybe then we will be able to pick back up our notebook and pen and creep back into the arena of real life reporting. This feels unlikely however, new media is gaining momentum by the day. I mean, why go out on the street to look for stories when you can scroll through endless ‘tweets’. It’s not being lazy, it’s being media savvy don’t you know.

Interview with a nun

A group of cynical journalism students descended en masse upon the unsuspecting nuns of Tyburn Convent in Marble Arch. Actually, they were suspecting and pretty shrewd with it. They met our intrusive questions with dignity and rich tea fingers. The only way to meet intrusive questions I’ve come to realise.

Sister Mary Chanel was our kind interviewee who explained to us what it meant to be a benedictine comtemplative and how exactly she came to be one. Sister Mary seemed more inclined to talk about the general principles of being a contemplative,  but we later steered her around to discussing more personal issues.

The fundamental principle of the order is to become the ‘perfect Christian’- as was established by St Benedict, who is generally considered to be the founder of western monastisiam. The aim- union of the soul with God.

What seemed to be the most interesting part of the interview with Sister Mary was the description of all the things sacrificed to be there. Seemingly trivial things perhaps, like television, radio, internet. One visit a month from a family member, lasting only for an hour. No real contact with the outside world. Complete obedience.


The strangest thing of all was the absolute silence. Being one moment on a central London street, centre of touristy chaos and the next inside a contemplative convent was alarming.

Sister Mary just seemed to find our looks of apprehension amusing: “A little voice told me long ago that this is where i was supposed to be.”

Flickr image courtesy of Krissie P

Flickr image courtesy of Krissie P

Writing us into recession?
February 5, 2009, 11:27 pm
Filed under: journalism | Tags: , , ,

Robert Peston, BBC business editor, was yesterday facing the Treasury select committee to justify his reporting of the Northern Rock collapse and the HBOS and Lloyds merger.

When journalists are accused of contributing to a national crisis just by reporting it, you know the blame game has come full circle.

Surely the media did contribute to the run on Northen Rock to some extent but this cannot be cited as the reason for the collapse of the bank. It was all over for them anyway, with or without Peston’s help.

As Peston said: “Northen Rock, frankly, would have collapsed, it would be where it is today, irrespective of whether there had been that retail run.”

He was even questioned about his sources for the HBOS takeover, who he confirmed were, “lots and lots of people.”

Whether he contributed to a run on Northen Rock or rise in HBOS share price seems to be irrelevant- the financial market was not damaged by the journalists who reported it.Anyway, at least they still know what ‘public interest’ is.