A big sigh of relief is needed because I am very nearly finished my first year at Edinburgh Napier and nothing has went drastically wrong, I have passed all of my assessments (so far!) and the enjoyment involved really made it fly by! This semester was far more difficult than the previous one, because I was given the task of beginning my portfolio (eek!). For someone who has little hard-news writing experience this was a huge challenge and it meant I had to find stories, interview sources, write articles in a structured way and remember all my news values.
As you can probably tell from this blog, I am not a very structured person – in fact I feel like the organisation involved in “being a journalist” is far greater than most people realise! You have to structure your time so that you are meeting your deadlines, you have to make sure you keep spare time to deal with any possible problems that arise AND you have to organise all your notes and interview scripts in the SAME PLACE so that you don’t lose anything – you’ll learn for next time Julia!
Another thing I didn’t realise before I began this portfolio-process was that journalists are on the phone a hell of a lot! I am the type of person that would always rather speak to someone in person, or text/email them, rather than have to go through the awkwardness of a phone call. The danger of speaking at the same time, over-emphasising, under-emphasising, putting on a clearer voice that really sounds nothing like you but more like a shrieking Helena Boham-Carter. So I had to conquer my fear this semester as I nervously wrote down everything I would need to say on a piece of paper in front of me – reading a script is something that comes almost second nature to me so…
“Hello there, my name is Julia Carstairs and I am a student journalist writing for the Edinburgh Napier News. I am currently writing a story about the Borders Railway and I am aware that your house has recently been compulsory purchased. (breathe….) Would you be happy to speak with me? “
It was only when I encountered an embarrassing situation where a very snotty Borders Council employee asked me to “slow down” and “repeat everything” I had just said, that I realised that this scripted way of using a phone was not helping. My plan had failed and I ended up looking very silly. After about the fourth phone call I began to get the hang of using a phone naturally, so-to-speak, and it was much easier after I gained that confidence.
For my first article my interviewees were terrific. All my interviews were done over the phone because I was short of time and I really couldn’t cram in a 30 minute bus journey. The first person I interviewed didn’t want me to record the conversation, which is fine (personally I would say it benefits him just as much as it does me, as it means I can’t misquote him or put words in his mouth, as he could just get me done for liable, and there would be a tape to prove it), so I couldn’t directly quote him in great length, but I did get some fantastic information that I used in my article. My second interviewee, you could tell was experienced with interviews, and he had A LOT to say, and made very good points. His attitude and manner was very helpful and appreciative and as he was a community councillor, it made my article all the more credible. After coming off the phone with him I couldn’t stop grinning, I was so pleased!
One thing that didn’t please me – in fact it did the opposite – was contacting the council. I was diverted all over the shop, given different phone numbers, different names until I finally reached someone who did have two minutes to spare (in Glasgow – nowhere near where the railway is being built!) and she gave me a great email address! The first problem I came across was that the council will always try to dwindle their way out of things so that the journalist is not given the information that will make them look bad. That may seem obvious, but when they gave me a piece of legislation (Data Protection Act) as a reason for not giving me information I was blown away. I eventually found that piece of information for myself in the LOCAL library – yes, sure, very Data Protection Act, indeed.
The second time I phoned the council I was only giving them the right of reply, which I thought they would appreciate and use to their full advantage. But no, instead they sent me a link to the “Borders Railway” website and told me to look up benefits. As if that wasn’t the first place I had looked when I began my article….but hey, they probably thought I was just a student journalist or something…hmm.
Hopefully for my next great news story I will have the “Edinburgh Evening News” name behind me. Wishful thinking but I’m guessing that will make things easier.
Links to the two articles I wrote for my portfolio: