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October 05 2010

11:21

Ripe from the Vine: lessons in journalism

Today Jeremy Vine is top of the broadcast journalism food chain. He presents an eponymous  show on BBC Radio Two every lunchtime, fronts Panorama on BBC One every week and plays the all-important graphics role in the BBC’s Election Coverage. But it was all so different in 1986 when Vine started our as a bright-eyed 21-year-old trainee on the Coventry Evening Telegraph.

Opening Coventry University’s Coventry Conversation series last night, he let the university’s journalism students in on a few secrets (www.coventry.ac.uk/coventryconversations)

Vine had never been to Coventry before his first day on the ‘Tele’ thirty four years ago. He was thrown in at the deep end – sent off to report the courts and come back with story return with a story an a picture. “I had to go up with photographer, John Potter and work out who the defendant was and say, “that’s him! He was about 19 and made off with his family so we had to run after him.

“I was laughing thinking, ‘This is probably the most exciting thing I have done in my life!’ ”

But Vine was very quickly brought back down to earth after he filed his story.

“[The defendant] had run up to a woman in a park saying, ‘I want sex’, so that was my intro”. But news editor Geoff Grimmer told Vine, “That’s not a story because everyone wants sex. The story is that she fought him off with a shoe.”

It didn’t get much better. On another court case, the defendant collared Vine in the corridor and spun him a good yarn about the crime. Trouble was, it was somewhat different to his evidence in court. Vine wrote it up as gospel only for the news editor to toss it in the rubbish bin. Another painful  learning experience. “I got some pretty good carpetings for getting stories wrong,” he admitted.

“The most heinous crime was for someone’s name to change halfway through the story or in the lists of divorces or TV licence evaders. They also never wanted to see the words ‘incident’ or ‘situation’, if it’s a crash it’s a crash.”

He did learn though, and kept his eyes and ears open and delivered some front page splashes, including two very negative stories about the very university in which he was speaking (then Lanchester Polytechnic). Current Coventry Telegraph editor Darren Parkin, who is returning the ‘Tele’ to its roots, was on hand to present Vine with some of the broadcaster’s cuttings from the time. He looked humbled to receive them.

Vine said two of the biggest stories he covered on the Telegrpah were Coventry City winning the FA Cup and a rapist on the prowl in the City Centre. “At the end of the day I could see my story coming off the press 1,000 times a second. It was an amazing feeling seeing your name in print.”

Not amazing enough though.

Vine moved from ‘Tele’ to Telly, and to the BBC in 1988 for a news traineeship. News reporting followed, then Today on Radio Four, BBC Belfast, a job as the BBC’s Johannesburg correspondent, and then, in 2000, the big one: presenting ‘Newsnight’.

There was, however, already a Jeremy on that show (Paxman), and there was only really room for one.

“I was the other Jeremy and it was his show,” Vine recalled. The other Jeremy got the big ones, but Vine did some sterling journalism on Newsnight before Radio Two called in 2003 and he became the Jimmy Young of the new era.

For the 18-year-old wannabe hacks in the audience that night, there were plenty of good lessons in that Conversation. Words ripe from the Vine.Similar Posts:



June 02 2010

15:33

‘Keep your cool, but lose it if you must’: Jon Snow’s advice for journalists

Jon Snow has presented Channel 4 News for 21 years.He has worked in television news for more than three decades, always at ITN, but he is also the Visiting Professor of Broadcast Journalism at Coventry University.

What he does not know about making TV news and Current Affairs probably is not worth knowing and late last week, Snow passed on the wisdom of his years to young wannabe hacks at Coventry University.

Five golden pieces of advice from the master:

1. Stay sober: a lesson he learned in his early days at ITN then awash, in his view, with alcohol.

    The truth is you had to be pissed to get on in television. People drank vast quantities whilst they were working. We had a bar inside the studios and people would put out the lunchtime news and go and have a few pints and then go back to work completely squiffy.

    His road to Damascus came one day when after the early evening news, the editor at the time and next most senior person invited him for a drink:

    I went across the road to the wine bar, sat down with them and after about an hour, realising I still had to do a piece for News at 10, there were six empty wine bottles on the table and only three of us, so I realised I must have drunk at least one-and-a-half of them. I was now squiffy in any case. After a time I wanted to go to loo, so I went downstairs to the gents and I was unsteady on my feet and lurched into the cistern. It detached itself from the wall and crashed into the throne and then exploded in an eruption of water cascading everywhere. I made a very fast retreat, shut the door, saw the water pouring out underneath. I saw these two guys sitting there and thought ‘they’re going to drown’ and I said ‘chap,s got to get back and get my piece on for news at 10′. I sat there watching out of the window thinking this was the end of my career.

    It wasn’t. Snow has not really drunk on the job since.

    2. Keep it simple: Jon explained how he had appreciated reporting from Haiti after the earthquake had struck in January, because it went back to his roots – finding stories and telling them, simply, to viewers using all original footage and through this simplicity touching the hearts of millions .He pointed to the fact that £100 million was given by the British public to Haiti Relief partly as a result of the messages from broadcasters. Snow is planning to return soon to Haiti to follow up on the stories.

    3. Expect the unexpected: Tuesday 11 May was a moment of “complete magic” for Snow, as Channel 4 News went live outside Downing Street to broadcast the resignation of Gordon Brown.

    At 18 minutes past seven the car comes out and we have no idea where things are going. Normally the great thing about anchoring any programme is that you’ve got this thing [an earpiece], the lifeline, the umbilical chord to the producer, and they’re saying, ‘Jon he’s going to the Palace’. But they didn’t – I was hearing nothing but silence. I suddenly realised I was on a one-to-one adventure with the viewer. The viewer and I were equally ignorant about what was going to go on; it was a sublime moment of total equality when we were both peering at this helicopter image and the car was turning right and turning left.

    4. Have a point, but keep away from pressure: Snow said that TV had made the 2010 election with the Prime Ministerial debates dominating the agenda and the tabloid press having to follow that. The Murdoch-owned press fared especially badly, he said: “The tabloid press had a terrible, terrible election. They got it seriously wrong. Murdoch was beaten, in a fantastic moment in history Murdoch, decided to try and elect David Cameron and the Sun went out to bat for him. We now have the first government for a long time not elected with Rupert Murdoch’s support.”

    Then when questioned about the success of Channel 4’s comedy election night coverage and what that says about the British public, Snow said: “It tells you that people are real who necessarily wants to watch drab results with people as old as the ark coming out and saying ‘bark, bark’.”

    5. Keep your cool, but lose it if you must: Snow was very sympathetic to Sky News Political editor Adam Boulton about his outburst on air to Alastair Campbell on 10 May.

    It’s no good asking, ’should anybody have lost anything?’ He lost it, so what? Good God, the world would be duller place if people didn’t lose it (…) what’s misconduct? If he’s guilty of it I’ll have to go to the hang man’s noose.

    Snow said he saw Boulton’s outburst as a possible result of pressures building up on Boulton and Sky News to move along the road to a more Fox News’ style approach.

    Simple, to the point, straightforward – but that’s Jon Snow for you.

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    April 30 2010

    12:52

    Could peace journalism offer a future for news media?

    Non-violent activism is not reported enough in the media, which focuses on violence in too much of its language and reportage, Richard Keeble, Professor of Journalism at the University of Lincoln, argued yesterday in a Coventry Conversation event at Coventry University entitled “Give Peace Journalism a Chance!”

    Peace journalism is solution-orientated. It gives a voice to the voiceless. It’s attempting to humanise the enemy and exposing lies on all sides, highlighting peace initiatives and focusing on the invisible effects of violence, such as psychological trauma,” he said.

    Keeble attacked the traditional media, for acting as propaganda for war, rather than a resolution promoter, but stressed the importance of alternative media in promoting peace journalism.

    “Part of the critique is the critique of the language of the media and one of the things that always amazes me, is the way in which the metaphor of war is everywhere [...] there’s all different kinds of ways in which alternative citizen journalists are challenging the professional monopoly of this word journalism, and I celebrate them enormously.”

    Talking about the exposure of war, Keeble said: “It is the responsibility of journalists to expose the truth.”

    “You are not being told to be objective,” he added. “There’s no way in which X can be balanced with Y, because what about A, B, C and D and everything else in between? The whole notion of balance is problematic, isn’t it?”

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    12:37

    Cutting BBC’s waste could save 6 Music, say presenters

    On Wednesday, Radio 6 Music presenters Liz Kershaw and Gideon “the Guv’nor” Coe presented their arguments against the proposed sacking of Radio 6 in a Coventry University event, “Save us from Mark Thompson!”

    Plans to axe the digital radio station as part of a strategic review by the BBC’s executive were leaked to the Times in February – costing a BBC manager their job, it was reported this week. All of the changes proposed by the review are being assessed by the BBC Trust, which is running a public consultation on the plans.

    The state of economy and the necessity to cut costs and spend more efficiently was underlined, with the two presenters arguing that they are in favour of music that is part of the British national identity and such playlists are only available within the BBC. Without the platform for this kind of music, it will disappear, the said.

    Kershaw said: “I observe waste every day I go into the BBC. I observe waste on building costs, on transport costs, on inflated fees for some particular people. I feel this as a licence fee payer as well, and I’m quite horrified at the amount of money that doesn’t go into programmes.”

    Coe said: “I think with all these processes (…) there’s a certain amount of shifting the ground that goes on and in terms of what the Trust come up with as well, there are three potential solutions: one is nuclear; one is don’t do that; but there may be something in between where 6 Music continues.”

    Views on the future of 6 Music are being sought by the BBC Trust and can be sent by email to consultation [at] bbc.co.uk before 25 May.

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    February 05 2010

    17:48

    Dhiren Katwa: ‘Current BBC Asian Network model promotes segregation’

    Dhiren Katwa, senior news editor at Asian Voice, spoke at the Coventry Conversations series on Thursday about the possibility of the BBC’s Asian Network being scrapped in the face of strategic cuts. He said Vijay Sharma, head of the Asian Network, has been “in hiding” over the current situation.

    The Asian Network’s audience fell by 15 per cent to 357,000 in the third quarter of last year, and is expected to struggle for survival after director-general Mark Thompson’s forthcoming strategic review of BBC programming.

    Katwa, a member of the Equality Council of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), said he thought it would be a shame for the Asian Network to go, but added that he didn’t believe the BBC should be specifically broadcasting to minority groups. He told the audience that “with the Asian Network working within a silo, it’s promoting or contributing to segregation rather than integration”. He said that the solution is to embed minority targeted elements of the BBC more firmly within the corporation.

    When asked about the network’s fall in ratings, Katwa said commercial competitors such as Sunrise Radio had contributed to the network’s struggle to reach it’s young target audience, but put its current problems largely down to “a lot of internal issues”.

    Caroline Thomson, the BBC’s chief operating officer, told the House of Lords Communications Committee on Wednesday that the idea of one network serving the UK’s entire Asian community wasn’t the right way to represent such a large and diverse audience.

    Katwa echoed her assessment in his talk, and suggested that “the BBC Asian Network needs to be embedded within the BBC as a corporation with more faces from black and Asian backgrounds.”

    Sharing Katwa’s view, broadcast journalism lecturer and founder of Coventry Conversations John Mair added: “There is no role for something separate or segregated, it should just be part of the mainstream. Not ‘now Radio Four’s Asian hour’, every hour should be Asian hour”.

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    November 25 2009

    12:44

    Evan Davis ponders micropayments for the BBC at Coventry event

    On the day that he was honoured by Coventry University for his services to financial journalism, Evan Davis, presenter of the BBC Radio 4 Today programme and Dragons Den, spoke about his career in journalism and about the state of the industry at a special graduation week Coventry Conversation.

    Discussing the issue of paid content, one which has been in the news recently after comments made by Rupert Murdoch concerning the online indexing of News International’s content, Davis proposed that the BBC could start charging for content with a micropayment structure.

    “The BBC could charge for its web pages, a penny a page, and it should take all revenues thereby derived and just give them back in a reduction in the license fee the following year.” He stressed this was just an idea and that he wasn’t necessarily advocating its use.

    Davis was criticised for his overly-soft interviewing style after joining the Today programme last year. He spoke about receiving ‘emails of lots of colours’ from the show’s audience and admitted to ‘reading emails everyday, and getting more and more depressed by how many people hated me’.

    In response, Davis stressed the need for entertainment, claiming that the audience don’t want to hear an entirely ‘grown up interview’.

    “I genuinely, genuinely don’t think I’ve done a good interview if I have snared them or caught them out,” said Davis.

    “I think there are occasions when making them look stupid is a public service, but I think they are fairly rare occasions. I think most importantly is to make sure if they have something to say that they are given the chance to say it.”

    Discussing his own journalistic style, Davis stressed that there is no one particular style that makes a good journalist. He also reiterated one piece of advice he said had stuck with him throughout his career: “If anyone tells you that comment is free and facts are sacred, they’ve got it the wrong way around.”

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