Day Two

Life "So do you have a family? Any kids?" I asked.
"I don't think that's any of your business really."
It hadn't take me long to descend into the realm of tabloid journalism. About three minutes in fact. I was talking to a woman who was supposed to have made a call to emergency services about a house fire in her street earlier this morning. I'd already spoken to the landlord of the property and knew that some children had been living in the flat which was gutted and I thought that her kids might have mixed with them. She wasn't having any of it. She looked annoyed and I couldn't blame her.

In today's section of the media course we workshopped a real fake news story, working to tight publication deadlines putting together a narrative about a housefire in the Fallowfield area of Manchester. After an introduction from our tutors for the day, David Ward from The Guardian and Ian Herbert of The Independent (both Northern Correspondents) someone ran into the room to tell us that a fire at started.

As we left the building into a quadrangle outside, smoke billowed from a machine and it became apparent that there were eyewitnesses and we would have to question them for information about what had happened. There were policemen, firemen, the aforementioned slick landlord, neighbours and even the father of the children. It was impossible to speak to everyone but what was amazing was that in the spur of the moment there was a palpable suspension of disbelief as these actors became real witnesses at the scene of an actual fire, all with information that we needed, and at the back of our minds was the story we should be telling. Was this about dodgy landlords, dodgy parenting or poor safety?

Looking back at my notes I'm surprised I developed any kind of story at all -- I don't have shorthand, so it's a mess of names and times and opinions most of which turned out to be red herrings. Information was revealed in a piecemeal fashion like some of the best mysteries and I like to think I was more Bernstein than Woodward as I picked through the facts. Initially it looked like the mother of the family was off in Southport living it up with some random bloke leaving the kids alone in the flat whilst the father was out on his night shift and that was what I wrote at least. A further press conference revealed that the mother was actually dead in the property and the random bloke might have been a social worker. Later it transpired that the mother had actually been beaten up before she was incinerated and the father had disappeared after identifying her body.

The important conclusion from the day was that print news stories have a whole different structure to an essay or feature piece. The important information needs to be stated up front and simply, with the details of the event revealed over the following paragraph with the less important material pushed to the end because it'll be cut anyway for space and adverts anyway. This tends to sharpen the mind and I really wish I could write my university reports with this process -- it feels like a much clearer way to structure an argument since it becomes 'this is what I believe and why' rather than 'it could be this but it could also be that but you know it might be this too - but you know I think its a bit of everything' which seems to be how most of these things turn out.

The really thrilling moments happened when I realised or believed that I'd picked up information overlooked by others -- not many people spoke to the person who reported the fire and it was later revealed at the press conference that the police didn't even know who she was. Sometimes I managed to trip up the actors, such as when I asked the person from Social Services, off the record, if she'd heard that the mother and the social worker were having an affair (I mean really who knew I could be so tabloid). She spluttered for a moment or two before I admitted it was speculation. She grinned and said: "So it's just speculation."

But I think I was most impressed with how relaxed, intelligent and helpful the two journalistic mentors were with us. Happy to speak for many minutes at a time, they gave us an overview of the industry offering anecdotes about recent news stories and presenting insights into actually how much co-operation there is between papers. There was interesting material too about the points of the difference between The Guardian and The Independent in terms of how they structure their stories and what their journalistic priorities are, with the later trying to present a more feature based paper to the former's narrowband fact based approach. It's still a thrill to meet someone like David Ward whose work you've read and enjoyed and have them give you their opinion of what they do.

It's been an excellent couple of days and importantly it's focused some of my ideas about what I'd like to do in the future. I worked so long and hard to save to return to university, to do the course, that actually I've neglected the next thing. I'm still nebulously thinking that it'll be something film or television related but really I need to decide what I actually want to do, at least at first, and pile all of my energy into that. It's worked for me in the past, so hopefully it'll help shape my future.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous7:52 am

    Nice to hear someone sound so positive - good for you!