Category Archives: Becoming a journalist

Why is my bathroom so filthy?

So the blog posts have fallen by the wayside of late, and it’s definitely not because I’ve been cleaning my bathroom. Here is what has been keeping me away from WordPress and the Cif…

  1. The Wedding is officially Less Than A Month away. Somehow we’ve gone from the comfortable safety cushion of  Plenty Of Time to the final countdown, complete with increasingly wild-eyed and short-tempered replies to the simplest of questions (“How’s the wedding planning going?” “Are you all organised?” and “What do you want for lunch?”). Every day has begun to herald new and surprising bills and every intake of breath has a tremulous quiver of panic at the bottom of it. There is just so much to remember, so many lists which have gone missing, so many details that rely on my ability to remember them…

    I even fell a tiny bit out of love with my beloved the other week. No, I’m not talking about Gary. Turns out a lovely, multiple-layer wedding dress, 30C heat and my thighs unfairly resorting to two large legs of ham that’ve been left out in the sun until they take on an unhealthy, perspiring stickiness do not mix well. Let’s just say the dress and I parted ways with a distinct air of resentment between us – I weak-kneed with dehydration, she needing to be “aired out” as the seamstress solicitously put it. But it’s not all been a mad stress; I get to strap on my crafty pants and inflict the (poor) fruits of my AS-Level B-grade art skills on my wedding stationery, and I went on the hen do of my dreams last weekend, complete with laser tag, an Ice Bar, penis straws, games and a LOT of mummy dancing…

    10 points for spotting the penis straw

    10 points for spotting the penis straw

  1. The Move. Let’s move next year, we said. We need more space, we said. But don’t worry, we said, we’ll time it really well so it’s after the wedding. Whatever we do and wherever we go, it MOST CERTAINLY WILL BE AFTER THE WEDDING. So, naturally, our completion date is a slim three weeks before. But, you know, last time we did a House Move it was in the weeks before, during and after the birth of our first child so really if it didn’t happen at a time fraught with ground-breaking life-changes, we probably wouldn’t know how to do it. That’s what I tell people, anyway, when they ask me if we really understand the mountain of stress we’ve put upon ourselves. There’s nothing like a bit of humour to cover up the rising impulse to punch a person in the throat.

    It's happening...

    It’s happening…

  1. I’m officially a full-time WAHM (work at home mum). That’s right, I’m working the most I have done since the days of my waddling commutes back in 2013, and I’ve managed to somehow get an editor’s role behind my name. True, it’s by default due to a close colleague’s illness and I’m not making a big deal of it or presuming for one moment that the position will continue once my contract runs out, but ironically enough my career has never flown higher. And, one of the best things about it is that I get to work from home. I knew writing those novels over my maternity leave would be useful for something – it might not have landed the publishing contract I was looking for, but it’s certainly given me a hard dose of the discipline I need to knuckle down and churn out trade news, features and interviews while everyone else frolics in their paddling pools. And sometimes, on a quiet day, I can take a little break and frolic too. Because perks.

    Perks :)

    Perks 🙂

  1. I’m still a mummy first and foremost. Yes, I’ve had to rely on help with childcare a lot more recently, but that’s ok. Maybe it’s even a good thing. Lara loves spending time with her grandparents, great-grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, etc. She loves going to pre-school two mornings a week during term-time. The days when we can go for a walk and feed the ducks or head to the park are all the more precious. But, schmaltz aside, I do feel guilty for not having her as my sole focus anymore. And I do miss those carefree days when my only responsibility was entertaining my little girl. I know one thing for sure – if and when I have another one I certainly won’t take one moment of my maternity leave for granted.

So there you go – we’re currently living in that limbo between exchange and completion on a house move; those uncomfortable few days where the bathroom is steadily becoming more and more filthy but there’s no point cleaning it until the Big Clean of next week. Wedding prep happens in the scrambled moments when work is quiet and Lara is not paying attention (she loves her some lace and craft paper). Somehow I’m managing to edit the entire editorial contents of a fortnightly trades magazine in between all of the above… And Lara is still alive, thriving (albeit on slightly more screen time than she probably should be) and hasn’t yet climbed out of a window or stuck any of my centre-pieces to her head. But, you know, there’s still time…

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What do you mean ‘no wine for me thank you’ ???

I wonder if there comes a time in every journalist’s career when they are hit by the crashing realisation that they’re about to vomit on an interviewee’s head.

Perhaps it comes to them the morning after a particularly heavy night of alcohol-fuelled lamentation that they didn’t become a doctor or a plumber or professional dog walker. Perhaps it’s after a spot of dodgy egg mayo at another barely relevant event minuted in hastily scrawled notes that they will only realise, some weeks later, are in a shorthand with logic unique to the ‘of course I’ll know what I mean’ moment. Or perhaps, like me, they will have recently discovered themselves inexplicably with child in the wrong place and at the wrong time.*

It was February 10th. I had woken up at the crack of a sparrow’s fart to drive from Guildford to Coventry via my broken-legged-editor’s house (she happily oblivious, at that point, to the hormones scrambling my brain into a squashy mess of questionable driving ability). The night previously I had returned home from a week-long skiing holiday, which had mainly consisted of me channelling my lower limbs into the most controlled parallels turns in the history of conscientious skiing, my mind torn between inanely repeating the chorus of Homer Simpson’s Baby on Board and sending subconscious fuck-off vibes to all beginner skiers and boarders within a 10 feet radius. Bean-sized baby intact, my sister and I had returned to the UK, freshly grey with what was to be the first of many sneezes of snow, and here I was, for the second time, covering the industry’s biggest trade show of the year. I had been pregnant for just under nine weeks.

For the most part, I hadn’t been feeling too bad. Sure, there had been a wobbly moment on a train a few weeks earlier when I very nearly did faint on some hapless commuter’s shoes, but otherwise it was mainly an ever-present lurk of nausea. A bit like the sound of cheerful relatives on a hungover Christmas morning, or the pink stuff you keep spitting out whenever you brush your teeth. More irritating than inconvenient, really, particularly as munching on plain cream crackers seemed to knock it on the head quite nicely. But I was beginning to realise, that day in Coventry, that sitting at one’s desk nibbling a cracker whilst surreptitiously congratulating oneself at being the master of deception among one’s unaware colleagues was not quite the same as wincing about on decent-work-shoe heels, trying to keep up a coherent conversation about the state of the garden market while the swimming white noise surged ever closer round the corners of one’s ears.

Luckily, I didn’t actually vomit on anyone’s head. I wrapped up the interview pretty quickly, hoping my face wasn’t going quite so milky on the outside as it was on the inside, and made my way back to our exhibition stand. A few crisps and a chug of orange juice later and I was ready for round two.

I hadn’t really thought at any point in the lead up to the show that I wouldn’t be able to do it. I was nine weeks pregnant, for goodness’ sake, not 39! But I did have my concerns that my colleagues might realise that something was going on when I didn’t accept my usual bucket of wine as soon as the earliest decent drinking opportunity rolled around. That evening, as we regrouped in the Premier Inn bar, and I opted for orange juice for the second round of drinks in a row, my editor raised her eyebrows at me and asked if I was on some sort of detox health kick. “Just trying to cut back,” I mumbled in reply.

“Yeah, either that or you’re pregnant!”

Well, it was nice being a master of deception for those nine short weeks.**

 

 

*I don’t mean to imply this pregnancy was unwanted – spectacularly unplanned and ill-timed in terms of life/career plans, yes, but never for one second unwanted.

**Technically only three if you don’t count the first six when I too, was counted among the happily oblivious and therefore perfectly eligible to drink half a bottle of wine while blearily deciding that Tyrion the Imp from Game of Thrones was quite hot actually.


One f*ck up after the next

I f*cked up at work. Not devastatingly. Not enough to have serious repercussions on my life or my job (I hope!) I’m not going to share what I did, not because I’m ashamed, but because this is the internet and I don’t want to make a bad situation worse. But needless to say, I wrote something which royally pissed off a very respected client and source.

I think it’s great that at journalism school we’re taught about what we can’t broadcast, what we shouldn’t write, who we shouldn’t quote. It’s great that we graduate knowing exactly what happened in the case studies that make up our legal yesses and epic nos. But it doesn’t change the fact that when you’re working, there will come a time when you will read what you have written and either say “NO” and hit that delete button, or say “F*CK IT” and hit send/press print/open your mouth and start reading. Sometimes it pays off to take a gamble, and sometimes it doesn’t.

I felt terrible about the mistake I made this week, until I talked to some of my colleagues, and remembered stories I had been told by past colleagues and journalist friends. Then it got me thinking… A true, respectable career in journalism seems not so much pitted by these f*ck ups as paved by them. I’m not saying it’s good to repeatedly piss people off and alienate important clients, listeners, viewers, readers; but there’s an undeniable glint of pride which creeps into a seasoned journalist’s eye when they tell you about the time they had to take out an affidavit to ensure their back was covered with a slightly dubious source, or how relieved they subsequently were when their byline was dropped from the finished article.

I may not be willing to share the latest f*ck up of my progressing career as a journalist, but there are other stories. Seasoned readers of this blog will know of postal-worker-gate. That was probably the earliest… Then there was the time I wrote about a drugs bust, quoting (rather too heavily as it turned out) from the objecting onlookers rather than the police presence. A week later I was summoned up to the station for a ‘friendly chat’ with the chief inspector and sergeant. Terrifying. There were countless misquotes surrounding village shops and local committees. I recall popping into a farmers’ market, introducing myself to one of the stall-holders and then getting a rather stern telling-off from a member of the WI for some long-published discrepancy about coffee mornings or jam jars or something.

Then there were the emails. The lovely, sterile typefaces forming caustic judgements on your ability to listen, to recount, to talk, to tell… to write. I was told I ‘lowered the tone of the Gazette’ because in a reply email – yes, EMAIL, not published article – I used the word gotten. (I resisted the urge to point out my occasional lapse into this so-called ‘abhorrent Americanism’ was not in fact due to the influence of modern television on my language choices but the fact I’d had, until very recently, an American father) I’ve been told – sometimes nicely and sometimes not so – I’m not very bright. I’ve been told I’m a horrible writer.

There are other stories. The worst stories – the ones where there is no gleam in your eye or belly-rippling giggle under your words – are those mistakes that hit you like a punch in the gut. The blade gripped in your hand, cleaving an insouciant tattoo into your own back as you press send.

In July 2009 two teenagers and a nine-year-old boy died in a car crash in my reporting patch. I covered the story for the paper.A week later one of the victim’s family members came to see me in tears because of an implication taken from my recounting of the events. An implication that their boy had not been acting responsibly. When I realised what I’d done to them, the bottom dropped out of my world. It was a level of shitty feeling equal to finding out my dad had cancer. You don’t hear so many of those stories, but they are there, behind the tobacco stains and the fatty livers, lying at the root of what makes journalism a crappy job.

But, on balance, it’s those gleams and those stories – those indignant phone calls, impossibly stupid decisions made in those squeezingly-urgent moments of deadline – that makes the job balance out. Because, when it pays off, those f*ck ups can make you.


Hey world, why all the tradge?

“Adele wrote 21 when she was in the depths of break-up despair and a little bit fat. She’s now happy, in love and getting fit… Her next album won’t be half as good.”

If I’ve overheard it once, I’ve overheard it a million times. And not just about Adele and the beautifully melancholic whine-fest which I can only listen to if I reeeeeeeeally want to that is 21. I don’t remember a time I didn’t know because it was constantly drummed into me that tragedy is easier to write than comedy. Is it because the world is sick with cynicism? I learned at the age of 15 in a very poorly-executed GCSE Speaking and Listening presentation that you can’t, for love, money, or the desperate pitch of an eraser at an over-achiever’s head, MAKE an audience laugh. So why is it so easy to make them cry? Or, should I be asking, why is it so easy to make them want to cry?

As a journalist I have always found the most popular stories – whether that’s measured by website hits, comment, or even ye olde letters to the editor – are negative. Always. And I don’t have to link to a pyscho-babble article in the Guardian to say why: People love tragedy because it makes them feel better about their own lives. It’s why EastEnders is still going after nearly 30 years, it’s why the glossies and the red tops are always searching for that one in 10 billion shot which’ll make Cheryl Cole look fat and why that story probably got more hits than any government budget updates over the past 5 years combined. And it’s probably the reason why Someone Like You, in all its wailing glory, was the best-selling UK single of 2011.

Today I found out that my last post, that heartfelt, yowling whine from one of the most teeth-pullingly frustrating times of my life was one of the deciding factors in my current employers offering me a job. A job which I love and which has given me everything I so wanted for so long. There’s a lot to be said for tragedy.


The Five Stages of UNEMPLOYdenialMENT

So forget grief a second. (And the running… my legs are on hiatus) Here I am, four months post last exam, every day I basically do the job of a broadcast journalist at a very nice, local radio station. But I’m not paid, I have no written agreements and I can’t afford to move out of my mum’s house. It’s a strange and unnatural state, this unemployment. And I’ve come to view my own experiences in five phases – not so much the stepping-stone progression stages like the Grief journey, more like a haphazard cycling of which lottery ball is going to spurt out of Lancelot today…

1. Determinedly Blind Optimism.

Symptoms:

  • Innocuous thrill at the send of CV, Cover Letter and demo to job adverts
  • Belief of Smug Employed (S.E.) words of encouragement (incl: ‘The right job is out there, I KNOW IT’  Of course you do, you’ve bloody got it.)
  • Refusal to accept that that well-known media group really did make you spend hundreds of pounds getting your butt up to London for an interview on TWO DAYS notice, PLUS overnight stay, PLUS awful cold of the sandpaper-throat, dripping face variety just to Not Bloody Bother Contacting You Despite Follow-up Nag for three weeks and counting thereafter.
2. Anger of the Face-Mutilation Persuasion
  • This comes courtesy of a former classmate of mine, whose frustration about the well-meaning encouragement of S. E.s (see above) she likened to wanting to stab said S. E.s in their eyes.
  • Mainly when you’re unemployed you spend a lot of time alone with your anger. This can lead to it turning inwards, which is, let’s face it, not an unreasonable direction for it to choose.  After all, most of the people you went to school/university/old job/university again with have great jobs now, what’s wrong with you?  To avoid this turning into Phase Number 3, I would revert back to Number 1.  Or at least direct anger at the Philistines mentioned in 1.3
3. Oh Dear Misery and/or Depression of the Much Woe Is Me variety
  • One can only take so much rejection after application stage before one begins wondering whether it was something one wrote.  And conclude one is a terrible writer with no business calling themselves a journalist. Add alcohol.
  • One can only take so much rejection after the face-to-face interview stage before one starts wondering if it was something one said, unwittingly inferred or, in my recent case, facially leaked. And conclude one is a social miscreant with no business calling oneself a broadcast journalist. Add alcohol.  Add chocolate.
  • Age can be an issue at this stage I think.  Especially if you’re a 24-year-old Work Experience Girl constantly being asked what you want to do when you’re…er… finished.  Ok, it could be worse. I turn 25 in 2 months.
  • Living at home = major exacerbation of this stage.  Especially when your hairdresser, age 20, tells you she’s been living in her own flat since she was 16.
  • Alcohol makes much better… then much, much worse. Unless it is a Friday, then all the S.E.s become your lovely friends again.
4. Consideration of Career Change
  • In the past four months I have thought about becoming: a chef, an actress/singer, a dog-walker, a ferry attendant, cab driver, bus driver, pilot, policewoman, fire fighter, paramedic, doctor, nurse, architect, archeologist, painter, plumber, milk lady, teacher, lollipop lady, lecturer, author, paid blog-writer, inventor who goes on Dragon’s Den and discovers elusive Pathway Into TV, local politician, helicopter engineer, royal marine/army officer, naval officer, sailor, shop keeper, night watchman, lifeguard, priest
  • In the past four months I have done some semi-serious research into how one would become a: pilot, policewoman, fire-fighter, paramedic, archeologist, author, paid blog-writer, army officer, priest (if you count googling How To Pray during one dark depth of Number 3)
  • In the past four months I have taken steps to launch my new career path in:
5. Utter, Humiliating Desperation
  • See above for example of Google search provoked by such.
  • This stage can lead to those fateful additions to your Cover Letter which tip you over the edge – beware any sentence bearing the words ‘I know the job description says I need to be a qualified …. but….’  Also to be avoided is the classic: ‘Salary expectations? Well, to be honest, I will work for anything.’ Can lead to the fielding of some rather awkward questions.
  • Unfortunately this phase can also lend itself to Self Sabotage, and not in the Meredith Grey sense of the phrase.  This one applies to interviews.  You can find yourself gabbling on and on and on about how paranoid local people can be about their post offices closing while your inner voice is saying Dear God Shut Up He Only Asked You How You Got Here This Morning.
  • I should perhaps, given my current situation, offer a cautionary about the words ‘I’ll work for free’ but to be honest, I’m not going to rant about the work I’m doing because I DO love it and it’s not the money thing that drags me through these phases over and over and over again.  It’s the ego thing.  And that’s one thing my CV could definitely do without.
So there you have it, my Unemploydenialment Cycle of Me.  Learn from it if you will.  And if you’re lucky enough to have a job you love, well good for you.  Just wear sunglasses the next time you take your poor unemployed friend to lunch.

Fuel Prices in Wales

A news package I put together a few months ago…


Niche Blog Assessment: The Story of a Weblog

The purpose of my niche blog Day One was to explore the storytelling of news, and ultimately try to discover a new way of communicating news stories online, both creatively and journalistically.  I aimed to compliment the more ambivalent nature of Insert Future Here with at least one answer to the blog’s opening question, Where is Journalism Going?  I think this was a very ambitious goal to set myself, but I do think that ultimately, the direction of the blog has stayed true to its origins.

It was always my intention to interweave creatively-presented journalism with a serial piece of creative writing.  As a former newspaper reporter with a creative writing degree, I felt this was a strong ‘niche’ topic for me.   What is more, people seemed genuinely interesting in the idea when I pitched it to them.

I launched the blog with a piece of creative writing, which was somewhat ambiguous in nature as I purposefully did not explain in a blog post (only in the About Me page) what I was doing or why.  I wanted the post to set a tone of creativity which would remain a consistent thread throughout the blog’s life. 

Day One was not only about experimenting with the storytelling of journalism, it developed into a social experiment on a larger scale.  As the hits began to pick up around December time, I decided to branch into more socially contentious subjects to see whether their SEO strength would affect my site statistics and comments. 

One of my most recent posts was a reflection on the diet industry of today and how it is handled in the media.  This post received around 20 hits within 24 hours of going live, as well as two comments.  These were judged by WordPress to be spam as neither were particularly constructive and one was downright abusive about some of the personal information I had put into the post.  I had decided to include this information as a means of engaging readers, in the style of the bloggers I had sourced for research, but in light of the response I see this was perhaps a bit naive. 

One of the best examples from Day One of my exploring different and creative means of newsgathering was my Story from an Iphone post.  I had covered the Cathays Sex Attacks story already for a CJS assessment, and wanted to experiment by very roughly putting the bare bones of the storyline onto some footage shot on my iphone.  I think the result showed an interesting interpretation of a news story, but the post did not gain as many hits or comments as I would have liked. 

In my niche strategy I mentioned that I would attend and review creative events in and around Cardiff as a means of ‘supporting my community.’  I didn’t want to just write a review, as I have done in previous blogs, I wanted to communicate these events differently.  As a result, I began building a Google map showing some of the alternative places to go and things to do in the city for people interested in exploring the creative side of life.   Cardiff, A Little bit Differently proved very popular as soon as it was published, and it continues to bring in hits as I update the information on it.   This was my blog’s most successful attempt at supporting my community through a creative method.

My most popular posts on Day One as well as Insert Future Here (my course blog) dealt with contentious subjects such as domestic abuse, binge drinking, the diet industry and the role of social media in journalism.  This was not only good for my blogs, it proved my point in terms of social experimentation – that posts about subjects that people care (and therefore search) most for will get more hits.  

My most popular post for Insert Future Here was my Capture Cardiff post, which continues to gain hits daily (currently 121).  I think this is a mixture of good SEO tags and categories, good sources and topical subject.  The post which I am including in the links below, however, is my very first one discussing Claire Wardle’s lecture to CJS students.  This gained the most comments out of all my posts, which I think shows that good use of links, a concise point and a good story to tell are the essentials needed for interactive blog traffic. 

My Day One post with the most hits (88) was my most recent, Tutors could be putting Students at Risk.  The content exactly reflects the headline, there is a link to more information, and a Soundcloud upload of an audio interview cementing the story’s validity.  As well as being a genuine piece of original journalism, the story is topical, contentious and relevant to my audience.  

I considered experimenting with social media differently to tell this story, but I judged that using the bare minimum of tools and letting Rebekah’s interview speak for itself would be the most creative approach ultimately.   On reflection, this approach clearly engaged readers as the post got 68 hits within a few hours of publication, and continues to gain popularity.

I did comment on some of the blogs and sites listed in my niche strategy, which in turn probably earned me a few more hits.  But I wasn’t as active with this as I had hoped to be – mainly because I found that I was not getting comments on my blog in reply.  This is something I will try to improve.

I did not post as often as I would have liked.  The complicated nature of my strategy meant that I became a bit perfectionist about my posts, I wanted each one to really earn its creativity.  I do plan to continue the blog though, as I would like to see its following increase, develop my strategy of creative journalism as well as the serial piece of creative writing.  This – which tells the story of a family struck by cancer – was originally intended to be a piece of fiction, but has turned autobiographical. 

I liked the idea of drawing readers to the blog with the creative journalism posts and then giving them a flavour of something completely different which they would, hopefully, then want to read more about.  This following is something I will continue to build on in order to gain a fledgling place in the niche of creative writing blogging.

Links: Social Media: Power to the Pimpled

Tutors could be putting Students at Risk

Cardiff, A Little bit Differently


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