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November 23 2010

10:03

Hyperlocal Voices: Cathy Watson, Uckfield News

Hyperlocal voices - Uckfield News

Cathy Watson, an experienced journalist, first set up the Uckfield News 3 and a half years ago to promote her PR business, which it has since outgrown. The site is “reactive”, says Cathy, both in the directions that it has grown, and in many of the stories that it covers: “Where I see people hunting for information, perhaps on Twitter or Facebook, about traffic hold ups or fires I make the calls to find and post answers but I don’t make the traditional daily calls.”

This is part of the ongoing Hyperlocal Voices series of interviews.

Who were the people behind the blog, and what were their backgrounds?

I set up the blog but my husband, Paul Watson, now helps with it. We are both journalists.

I have worked as reporter, news editor, sub-editor, deputy editor and acting editor moving, within one company, between the Bury Free Press, Newmarket Journal and Lynn News and Advertiser. After moving to Sussex I worked as a freelance for the Sussex Express.

Paul too worked in all jobs across the newsroom before becoming an editor. He edited free newspapers in King’s Lynn and Wisbech before moving to edit the Middy, (the Mid Sussex Times at Haywards Heath) and then the Sussex Express.

Most recently he has been looking at the future training of journalists in managing a project led by the National Council for the Training of Journalists supported by the Broadcast Journalism Training Council, the Periodicals Training Council and the Society of Editors.

The project has included a survey of employers of journalists, relevant education providers and new entrants to the profession.

He continues to work as an editorial consultant for the NCTJ.

What made you decide to set up the blog?

I started a PR business, wanted to attract the attention of local businesses and thought it would help to have an Uckfield News page on my website. I updated it daily with nibs (news in brief).

When did you set up the blog and how did you go about it?

I started the news page three-and-a-half years ago using the free Microsoft Office Live platform. After about 18 months I altered the focus of the site to Uckfield News and a year ago had a bespoke site built.

What other blogs, bloggers or websites influenced you?

None. I didn’t know people were setting up ‘hyperlocal’ sites. Everything I have done has been reactive, people liked the news so I added more of it, I tested a shopping feature and it led to the listings, the listings are now leading to more features and people who pay to list (so supporting the site) are, where possible, sources for stories.

How did – and do – you see yourself in relation to a traditional news operation?

Uckfield is on the edge of circulation areas of three paid-for newspapers. They cover the town well but can’t pick up the ‘nitty gritty’ because of commitments to other towns.

I’m particularly interested in planning applications, change within the town, shopping and business news. I concentrate on reporting facts, leaving people to add their views in the comment sections at the end of stories, and on Uckfield News Twitter and Facebook pages.

I also mix paid-for ad features in with the news.

Where I see people hunting for information, perhaps on Twitter or Facebook, about traffic hold ups or fires I make the calls to find and post answers but I don’t make the traditional daily calls and tend to avoid “shock, horror, probe”.

What have been the key moments in the blog’s development editorially?

Adding shopping, business and history features. They are a good way of bringing people back to the site on a regular basis.

What sort of traffic do you get and how has that changed over time?

It doesn’t seem long since I was pleased to have four or five visitors a day! Growth has been slow but by the time we launched the new site a year ago we were getting about 1,000 unique visitors a month.

In our most recent peak we hit about 4,500 unique visitors, 9,000 visitors and 25,000 page views. The figures have settled again to about 3,000 unique visitors, 5,000 visits and 14,000 page views a month but the trend is upwards.

Paul and I have the desire to cover everything that moves because old habits die hard! But I am reining back because I don’t want to do this without advertising support. I have just had the site altered to accommodate advertising and hope to start building that side of the business.

September 17 2010

11:27

Financial protection for NCTJ courses

Rachel McAthy at journalism.co.uk chips in to the recent NCTJ debate asking NCTJ accreditation: essential or an outdated demand? She reports on the recent meeting of the NCTJ’s cross-media accreditation board where the answer is an emphatic, if predictable, yes.

Most interesting for me though was a quote from the report of the meeting by Professor Richard Tait, director of the Centre of Journalism Studies at Cardiff University:

While the NCTJ is quite right to insist on sufficient resources and expertise so that skills are properly taught and honed, education is a competitive market, and NCTJ courses are expensive to run. In the likely cuts ahead, it is vital for accredited courses to retain their funding so that they are not forced to charge students exorbitant fees; otherwise, diversity will be further compromised.

On the face of it a reasonable demand. But one that in turn demands a lot more clarification.  Who should be offering that financial security?  The universities, the industry or the NCTJ who take a fee.

Some more NCTJ bursaries perhaps….

September 16 2010

15:48

NCTJ accreditation: essential or an outdated demand?

The value of industry body accreditation in journalism has been at the centre of debate this week, following a meeting of the NCTJ’s cross-media accreditation board last week, where members raised concerns about the impact of potential education funding cuts on the journalism industry.

Quoted in a report from the NCTJ Professor Richard Tait, director of the Centre of Journalism Studies at Cardiff University, argued that accredited courses must be protected in the face of cuts.

While the NCTJ is quite right to insist on sufficient resources and expertise so that skills are properly taught and honed, education is a competitive market, and NCTJ courses are expensive to run. In the likely cuts ahead, it is vital for accredited courses to retain their funding so that they are not forced to charge students exorbitant fees; otherwise, diversity will be further compromised.

Speaking to Journalism.co.uk about his comments further this week, Tait said he was voicing real concerns that courses which meet industry standards may be more at risk because of their expense:

There has been a huge expansion of courses about journalism and about the media, but not all of them are accredited. These are not real journalism courses, they are journalism studies courses. There’s nothing wrong with them at all, some of them are very good courses, but they are not a professional training of journalists.

It’s really important that whatever happens to journalism education we protect those courses that provide this professional training of the journalists of the future.

If you’re running a journalism course that does not have a digital newsroom, does not teach videojournalism or students how to report online or what podcasts are, what’s the use of that? Some universities have invested heavily in these areas. But when money gets short people will say “do we really need this digital newsroom, do we need to teach shorthand etc”. There is a danger of people saying “frankly bad courses might be cheaper”.

Just days after the meeting, Brian McNair, former professor of journalism at Strathclyde University and now working at Queensland University of Technology in Australia, happened to discuss his decision to pull Strathclyde’s journalism course out of NCTJ accreditation in 2008 in a post on allmediascotland. His comments, which were picked up by media commentator Roy Greenslade, have since prompted huge debate about the value of the body. In his post McNair said accreditation is not enough:

In a world where (…) the supply of traditional journalism jobs has fallen by as much as 30 per cent (and those that remain are scandalously low-paid), the high flying journalist of the future needs more than NCTJ certificates in Public Affairs and Media Law to get on. He, or she, needs talent, imagination, a spirit of independence, an understanding of IT and social networking and their impact on media, culture and society in general; everything in short, that the NCTJ curriculum squeezed out with its relentless stress on externally-decreed learning by rote.

Many, maybe most, successful journalists never passed an NCTJ exam. NCTJ-certified journalists are being sacked, perhaps as I write, sometimes by editors who sit on NCTJ boards and declare their allegiance to the “gold standard” of training. The old world of print journalism in which the NCTJ was formed is passing into history, replaced by content-generating users, citizen journalists and all those journalistic wannabees who make up the globalised, digitised public sphere in the 21st century.

But while Tait reiterated McNair’s call for talent to be the measure of a journalist, he insisted that accreditation is a vital tool for students:

The problem is that there are a huge number of courses which have got the magic word journalism in them. If you’re a student and you’re looking at this multiplicity of courses and trying to work out what one is up to a certain standard, that’s absolutely essential.

What you’re already seeing in journalism is that it is becoming a profession where who you know is becoming more important than what you know. It should be about talent. I think that if you don’t have the accreditation process, the rigorous approval of courses by accreditation bodies, how can the students work out what to do?

What do you think? Let us know in the comments or by voting in the poll below:

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August 26 2010

10:39

NCTJ award offers students chance to cover Championship play-offs

The National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) is offering sports journalism trainees the opportunity to report on this season’s football play-off finals as part of a new arrangement with the Football League.

The sporting body is sponsoring a new award for the best performing candidates in the NCTJ’s sport journalism exam. The winner of the award will cover the Championship play-offs, while second and third place will report from the League One and League Two play-offs respectively.

The winners for the 2009-10 exam will be announced next month. Candidates for the forthcoming academic year will have the chance to report from the 2011/12 season play-offs.Similar Posts:



August 16 2010

09:48

August 03 2010

07:00

The New Online Journalists #9: Amy McLeod

As part of an ongoing series on recent graduates who have gone into online journalism, Amy McLeod talks about her path from the BBC to setting up a website offering graduate advice.

I had no idea that I wanted to be a journalist when I left university; I graduated with a degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from St Edmund Hall, Oxford University in 2008.  I had, however, made a number of short films which served as a useful starting point and got me work experience for the BBC.

Once in the building I talked my way into the current affairs development department and found myself working as a journalist.  I heard about the intriguing future plans for BBC content management and worked alongside Phillip Trippenbach, who was responsible for multimedia development – he made me realise the enormous potential that digital technology provides.  

In my spare time I learnt HTML and started work on a few fledgling coblogeration projects.  Thankfully I built up a relationship with a good web developer which meant I could be more ambitious with regard to the functionality of sites I was working on.

Training

I needed training to progress and so I opted for a fast track NCTJ which was far more affordable than a Masters (but probably not as good value for money).

Digital journalism was not covered at all; I set up a hyperlocal site for the college locality and encouraged my fellow students to use the platform to build up their portfolios.

I had several work experience placements on newspapers but the employment prospects were bleak. I wanted to work online but concentrate on producing written content so I moved from London to my home town Birmingham and set up www.rightfield.co.uk - a website that offers advice to recent graduates on how to use online platforms when starting out.

Doing it yourself

I interviewed innovative people and discovered Birmingham’s lively social media scene.  Thanks to Twitter, that network and my online portfolio I was approached by the University of Warwick to write for a new pilot website project that was being developed to provide better access to their online and research resources.

I currently write articles, record podcasts and research stories for the site.  I mainly produce 800-1000 word feature pieces based on a particular academic’s research, but I also contribute to developing the longer-term strategy that will see academics publish content to the site themselves.  I really enjoy that part of the job – figuring out ways to help people make the most of new media – the more the merrier!

My plan is to continue investing time in learning digital technology skills, finding ways to make use of these new capabilities while all the time improving on the basics – interviewing, research and telling a good story.
I think it is vital to remain open-minded about your career progression so you can respond positively to opportunities that present themselves. At the moment I am experimenting with translating datasets into infographics.

May 17 2010

12:00

Dear Peter Preston: universities shun the NCTJ too

I have an enormous amount of respect for Peter Preston, and much of what he says in Sunday’s Observer piece about careers in journalism is spot-on. But this line strikes me as just wrong:

“If you want to be a journalist, try to get on one of the 68 National Council for the Training of Journalists accredited courses, along with 1,800 or so other hopefuls, but in general beware courses the NCTJ shuns (of which there are far too many).”

There are so many assumptions underlying this sentence that it’s a challenge to unpick them, but here are the main two:

  1. That ‘being a journalist’ is limited to newspapers - regional newspapers, to be specific. Most other employers of journalists – national, broadcast, magazines and online – rarely ask for NCTJ qualifications. Even regional newspapers – the heartland of the NCTJ – do not recruit a majority of trainees with an existing NCTJ qualification.
  2. Secondly, that courses not accredited by the NCTJ have been ’shunned’. I teach on a journalism degree which chose, a decade ago, not to pay for NCTJ accreditation. The decision was taken by the then-head of journalism, the redoubtable and wonderful Sharon Wheeler, for reasons both financial (the money that would be paid to the NCTJ for a shiny badge would be better spent elsewhere) and educational (the NCTJ  strictures make it hard to be flexible in a changing media environment). That decision was restated by our current head of journalism Sue Heseltine, and I agreed with it: I didn’t see what we would gain for the money we pay to the NCTJ other than a marketing tool that we do not need (we receive around 10 applicants for every place).

That decision was also informed by the problems universities have had with the NCTJ, which I’ve written about elsewhere (the comments to which are particularly interesting). I’ve also written about the assumption that journalism degrees are comparable to training courses.

I don’t have a problem with NCTJ training in particular – indeed, I wish more journalists had the sort of understanding of local government and law that their courses teach – but I do have a problem when it is seen as the only, or best, route into journalism (an image perpetuated by the NCTJ’s own marketing materials). The same is true of university courses, which vary wildly in quality and scope (the latter is not such a bad thing; a one-size-fits-all approach cannot be good for any creative industry).

The only good advice I can think of for aspiring journalists is to simply go out there and do journalism – because there’s no longer anything stopping you – me or Peter Preston included.

November 12 2009

16:14

Shorthand week – a quick competition

The National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) has been promoting shorthand week this week – part of the organisation’s campaign emphasising the importance of shorthand in a journalist’s toolkit.

The campaign was featured on Radio 4 today, encouraging presenter John Humphrys to demonstrate his Pitman skills. The BBC website is asking if anyone can decipher his script.

Whether you agree with those or not (and feel free to tell us in the comments below), I thought I’d match Humphrys with a picture of my own Teeline scrawl – though apparently the Radio 4 man doesn’t think this counts in comparison to Pitman.

(No prizes for guessing which bit means iPhone)

Image of shorthand notebook

When I learned shorthand, we had a few competitions as incentives to get us up to speed – in that vein, please send us images of your shorthand and I might even be able to rustle up a prize from my desktop for the neatest outlines.

Feel free to email images or send Twitpics to @journalismnews.

BBC – Today – A quick shorthand test.

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