Category Archives: Who are Journalists?

A tiny person who thinks and farts

When last I blogged it was about being nine weeks pregnant and, funnily enough, here I am at another nine week juncture. Nine weeks and three days, to be precise, since I stopped caring about my unplucked eyebrows. Nine weeks and three days since blearily singing misremembered pop songs while smeared with vomit at 3am took on a whole new meaning. Nine weeks and three days since my world fell to the mercy of a tiny, yowling, brand new person who thinks and farts and devastates a room with her smiles.

Some things you come to expect from motherhood during those long, rotund weeks of pregnancy spent reading books, Yahoo Answers and Mumsnet. Other things you are told to expect, from NCT leaders, your family, every woman over the age of 40 and Babycentre.co.uk. But for the most part, a lot of first time mums have no f*cking clue until they are thrown right in there, covered in poo and vomit in the wee hours, desperately trying to remember all 12 days of Christmas their true love gave to them while their offspring gazes up at them from the changing mat with a faintly appalled expression.

The business of 3am.

Yes, they told me I’d be sleep-deprived. Yes, they told me to get as much shut-eye during those first baby-free weeks of maternity leave as possible. And I listened and took it all on board with an ambivalent laissez faire, que sera sera and yeah-it’ll-be-hard-but-it’s-easy-if-you-love-them kind of ideology shared by many a knocked up 13-year-old. On this side of the 40-hour push-fest I can reply that yes, you love your baby but boy, that does not make the transition from the eight-hour-plus unbroken paddocks of slumber to sporadic 1-3 hour sleep grasps any easier. Especially when your body is a wreak after two days of pushing out a 6lb 9oz human (3lbs of which I’m sure was her head) and you can’t sit down or shuffle up a bed without pulling stitches in an area that should NEVER have contact with a needle and thread.

“But I’m a night owl/ insomniac/ one of those slightly mad-eyed people who function on less than four hours of sleep a night,” you cry. Ok, well I’m guessing that you don’t spend those wakeful hours up, out of bed and traipsing to the kitchen with a squalling infant to make up a bottle, or attaching said squalling infant to one of two very sore nipples who don’t know what they ever did to offend anybody. All the while moving twice as slow and three times as bandy-legged as usual. So if you’re pregnant, sleep. If you’re not pregnant, sleep. It’s the best friend you never appreciated until they confessed they weren’t a baby person and turned their back on you forever.

The poo/sick debacle.

I never thought of myself as particularly squeamish but wow. How does such a little digestive system create so much weird-looking, evil-smelling gunk? And the sick – it may be white and milky but it still has that vomit stench which, even though it has come from a pure, innocent little baby and I haven’t been on a raging night out in a pathetically long time, still elicits feelings of nauseated shame and the nagging sensation I’ve spoken out of turn.

Raging against the parent.

They tell you that sometimes a baby just cries for no discernable reason. Week three and we discovered just what that meant, and no amount of back-patting, swaddling, nursing, increasingly shrill singing, rocking, shushing, bouncing or jostling made the slightest bit of difference. Babies are humans, humans are weird and each one is different, even when they are 50-something centimetres long and weigh less than 7lbs. Our particular little character likes to lie on her back on a changing mat, preferably bare-bottomed, while the mat is jiggled back and forth by a parent talking in a high-pitched voice. It’s a bit weird, yes, but it shuts her up after four hours of relentless wailing, so who gives a sh*t?

The magic 6 week barrier of it-all-getting-easier.

That’s what we’re told, isn’t it? Six weeks post-partum the tiredness, the pooping, vomming and colicky rages all magically improve? Well, this is an interesting one. For me, life at nine weeks is still exhausting, full of surprises and doubt, but everyday brings more joyful, shining moments I want to record so I can play them back over and over in 20, 30, 50 years time. And yes, it is easier than it was in the early weeks. But that’s not just because the baby sleeps more and eats well and seems to be past the worst of the colic, it’s because we’re all a little more used to each other. Motherhood didn’t get easier, I just got used to it. That, and the moments when, out of the blue, she will stop wailing, lock eyes with me and give me the biggest stunner of a smile that shines right up into her eyes… And suddenly all the poo, vomit, tiredness and screaming matters as little as these increasingly bushy eyebrows of mine.

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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.


Blogging: A Journalist’s own Personal Newsroom

A journalist’s blog, whether it be about politics, technology or the best of the web, provides a unique platform for their craft beyond the power of TV, radio and newspapers.

This was just one of the points made by BBC Technology Correspondent and blogger extraordinaire Rory Cellan-Jones at CJS this afternoon.  He was very upfront about the fact that TV reporting is generally considered by most as a ‘higher’ form of journalism than online journalism.  But he also made the refreshing point that having total control of one’s platform reconnects the journalist with the fundamentals of the trade. 

ie:

Yesterday a colleague and I were sent onto the streets of Cardiff with an audio device, handheld video recorder and our smartphones to source a story.  We interviewed a sound tech guy helping to set up the city’s Christmas Lights Switch-on event and a UWIC student dressed as a time machine.

I found that rather than focussing on good questions to elicit interesting responses, I was fiddling about trying to get the audio device near enough to the interviewees’ mouths while desperately trying not to decapitate them from shot.  I think this really proves Mr Cellan-Jones’ point.  Given the broadcasting platform of the interviews, I was more concerned with the mechanics of recording material rather than content. 

He also pointed out the difficulty of getting a piece of journalism on air at all, citing his Spinvox story as an example.  Without blogging, and the audience he has built up online, this would never have been publicised because the content is so specialist.  Yet it was a huge story with massive repercussions for the technology community.

Mr Cellan-Jones conceded that TV journalism will for the moment always reach more people than a blog post.  (Particularly the BBC’s News at 10 and The Today Programme)  TV is showing journalists what the audience rates in news stories – audio and videos which are exclusive and which are complimentary to the story. 

Can blogging emulate this?  If journalists continue to build their online reputation, draw in more followers and ultimately begin to receive the crucial images/videos sent in by members of the public… Why the hell not?

Ending this post with a link to a video about Citizen Journalism vs Traditional Journalism which I came across when researching for this post.  It’s a little out of date now and a bit long but I think some of its points are still relevant.  Plus, I realised about 10 seconds into my first viewing of it that one of its creators is a guy I met in Australia a couple of months ago… Small world…


Blogging On the Beat

Adam Tinworth brought the I back into journalistic blogging at CJS this week. 

He told us that publishing online does make money, that the market is all about the niche and that old school beat journalism is making a comeback.  In short, blogging has facilitated the return of definining journalists by what they report on. 

Using the example of Jon Ostrower, Adam explained how journalists can make their name by reporting on something that they find absolutely fascinating.  The downside is, so can everybody else.  So how do you define yourself in a world where your interest in a particular subject is twn million a penny?  Enthusiasm, honesty, communication, information… they’re all the building blocks Adam gave us, but what I found the most interesting was the emphasis he put on being social.  If you interact with your readers, your public, they will trust you more, more will follow you and you’ll being to carve your little intials on the great big world of your niche.

But what about the journalist who retreats from the face of what they report on?  Who keeps themselves separate from their subject and goes home at the end of the day someone completely different?  Why shouldn’t the journalist be entitled to their own private life? 

To answer this I want to look back at the words of another guest lecturer at CJS, Charles Reiss, former political editor of The Evening Standard who spoke to us in our Reporters and Reported module.  He stressed, among other things, that the root of people’s trust in journalists lay in their determination to ‘tell the complex truth.’  He also revealed some rather damning statistics on the current state of said trust… But even worse off than journalists are politicians – because, among other things, politicians spin.  People feel they only get the slippery surface of a politician when they hear them speak.  And this is why journalists need to be open, this is why journalists should put their all into their beat blogging if they are to have any chance of competing with people who blog on their own steam.  Because if you show that you care about something more than you care about your own self-promotion people will trust you more and you will get a step closer to expanding those inconsequential little initials to a full-flowing signature.


Are you sitting comfortably…?

…then I shall begin

I love stories.  When I was little I loved hearing them at school, at home, from anyone.  Hell, I still love hearing them.  Part of the reason why I chose to take Classics A-level was because the teacher used to tell the best stories whenever she took assembly.  I love telling stories as well.  It’s why I did Creative Writing at university numero uno.  It’s why I fell in love with journalism and it’s why, when we were assigned the task of a niche blog, my first thought was to use the medium of blogging to explore different ways of telling stories.  This is a work in progress.

So, when Dr Daniel Meadows spoke about Digital Storytelling during our second Online Journalism lecture, I was instantly engaged by the idea.  Some of the videos he showed us definitely backed up the thesis that the method is a very personal way of telling a story, whatever that story might be.  All very well and good, you might think, for a person to put forward their own expression of grief, love or footwear-related bewilderment, but what does it have to do with journalism?  As trainee journalists one of the lessons lurking behind almost every lecture is the mantra not to let personal feelings seep into our work.  So where does this self-confessed intensely personal medium fit?

The answer, I think, lies with a question Dr Meadows asked us last week:  ‘Why is the voice of the media interesting?’  

Because it’s authoritative?  Maybe.  Because it’s the truth?  Not always.  (And here I could use my newfound geek-slickery skills to link to an example but not going to because right there beside the subjectivity lessons has been the siren-shrieks of Defamation! Libellous! Lawyers!

I think the voice of the media is interesting because it is a voice.  Belonging to an individual.  I think the journalist’s personal stamp on a story is part of what can make that story great, no matter what it’s about.  After all, if it wasn’t why would there be a need to train journalists?  

Digital Storytelling tells a story, but it doesn’t have to be just one person’s…  It can tell any story.  It could be used to tell the news in a different way – imagine that.  It could be used to enhance a news story, give it a new perspective.  Enlighten it.  I heard someone say the other day that they don’t bother paying attention to news stories concerning topics with history behind them – the Iraq war, for example – because they don’t know the backlog of issues associated with the story and thus it makes less sense.  So what if Digital Storytelling could be used as a crash-course resource to get people up to date with these topics?  Kind of like those youtube tutorials you see…  It may be hovering on the out-of-date cusp of the mind-wrenching chasm that is Social Media today, but I think there is a huge audience for Digital Storytelling in journalism. 

We were given the task, at the end of the lecture, to make our own Digital Stories, using the tutorial found here.  I’m sure I’m not the only one bursting with my share of crazy, bizarrity and tragedy, so I can’t wait to see what comes of it.  Bring it on!


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