Friday, 18 March 2016

Back in the blogosphere

I’ve decided to revive Modern Life and return to blogging at last. I'm not yet sure what I’ll write about or how regularly - it depends how busy and self-disciplined I am. Because, when you blog, you're setting your own deadlines and editing your own work, I tend to be much less reliable than with work assignments, where obviously I can't miss deadlines in the same way.

As it’s so long since I last wrote anything on this platform, though, I thought I’d first fill you in as to what I’ve been doing over the last few months.

I graduated in July 2015, the same month I started my first paid journalism job at BBC Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine, having work experienced at BBC Bristol, Times Higher Education and Bristol 24/7 in June. I spent two and a half months at WDYTYA? writing online content, including a weekly genealogy news round-up, TV and Radio highlightsinterviews with researchers who featured in episodes of the latest series and fact files about celebrities appearing on it.

I then interviewed for a job as Online Editor of BBC Countryfile Magazine. My role there involved running its Twitter and Facebook accounts and writing and editing a wide range of articles. Subjects I covered ranged from the badger cull to leaf peeping, speed limits, the plastic bag charge and farmers’ mental health difficulties.

Like with WDYTYA?, it involved working with a lovely group of people who made me feel welcome from day one, and the team was great fun to be a part of. We had one or two stressful moments, mainly due to readers phoning in with some strong views, let’s say, about the dog of the year competition... Actually, to say some readers had "strong views" about dog of the year is possibly the biggest understatement since Boney M. sang "Ra Ra Rasputin, it was a shame how he carried on". But I learnt a lot, it was thoroughly enjoyable and the journalists there - like those on the magazines around us (we shared the building with Homes & Antiques, History, Wildlife, Cross Stitch Crazy and more) - do an excellent job.

An old friend I ran into at GuildHE conference grabs the camera and
 takes a sneaky photo as I post HE reaction to the Autumn Statement

After three months, I moved back to London and started as Reporter for higher education policy and politics website Wonkhe, which aims to improve policymaking in HE and provide a platform for the new or previously unheard sector voices. I scheduled tweets throughout the week, wrote and commissioned articles, and did reports and liveblogs from several sector conferences in London, GuildHE’s Annual Conference in Worcester and the higher education fringe at the Labour Party conference in Brighton.

I enjoyed being part of a growing organisation and writing about a topic I take a real interest in. Especially at a fascinating time for HE - for good or for bad. From a journalist’s point of view, it’s been the ideal time to be reporting on it. I now work there in a reduced capacity and have gone freelance so pitch articles to various publications about a range of topics that interest me.

In my free time, I’ve continued to attend Charlton Athletic games with my dad and brother - we have season tickets and have been to five away games. Lowlights included being at Selhurst Park to witness a 4-1 League Cup thrashing by rivals Crystal Palace in which our then manager infuriatingly rested several key players and a trip to Reading in which we failed to even have a shot on target. But what makes it the most depressing time to be a Charlton fan since the 80s is not poor results which have kept us in the Championship relegation zone since December. Not even the week which saw a 5-0 loss to Huddersfield, a 6-0 defeat to Hull and an FA Cup exit against Colchester United, who are bottom of League 1. It’s how our club’s been run by our odious owner and CEO, and their utter contempt for the supporters who, when we lost our ground in the 80s and faced collapse, saved the club and played a key part in helping bring it back to the Premier League. In my time watching football, I’ve never known such an overwhelming majority of any club’s fans oppose their ownership. Nor such unanimous agreement among journalists - local, national and international - that they’ve got to go. Blog to follow.

At The Valley to see Charlton in happier times

In a personal capacity, I was invited to speak at an Italian Democratic Party event in Reggio Emilia, where I took part in a discussion about the future of the Italian left and alternatives to austerity alongside President of Tuscany Enrico Rossi and former British Labour Party MP Chris Williamson, who I travelled with.

I was also lucky enough to host a public interview with Richard King about his excellent book on Bristol music and his time working at Revolver Records on Clifton Triangle.

I organised a conference for London-based student journalists with six guest speakers covering topics such as digital media, constructive journalism and how to freelance, as part of the voluntary role I do for the Student Publication Association on the side.

And I went to Dismaland while it was open, and thought it was absolutely brilliant!

I’ve also been adjusting to living back at home with my family. It’s not that long since I moved back here, so it’s probably still the “honeymoon period”...

There's one more question I should probably answer before I sign off: why go into journalism even though it's become one of the hardest industries to get into?

I made up my mind quite suddenly over the 2014-15 Christmas holidays, having loved (nearly) every minute of the first half of my term as Epigram Editor. And I knew when I thought about it then that I wanted to make a living from things I like doing so much - writing, interviewing people, keeping the public informed and holding people to account.

My experience nine months in, just like at Epigram, has been that you meet so many nice people, whether interviewees or colleagues. You also you learn so much and become more and more informed about more and more topics from research, interviewing and considering different points of view. In a way it's like being able to study for life, increasingly putting to use skills you learn.

It's become tougher to find journalism work than ever before, though. You used to be able to leave school at 16, go to your local paper, learn on the job and work your way up from there. And not just 40 or 50 years ago. I know people in their 30s who did the same. That’s unheard of these days. Nor is a good university degree and significant experience at a student newspaper generally enough. You’re told that you won’t get anywhere unless you spend a further £9,000 on a Journalism MA or over £4,000 on an NCTJ-accredited diploma. Local papers, which used to be ladders to nationals, tend to be the fussiest about having the qualification, so the ladders are mostly being taken away.

I don't often agree with Nick Cohen, but he's right that, in journalism, "managers have passed the cost of training to potential applicants. They no longer pick promising recruits and pay them while they learn. They expect the graduate to arrive fully formed and fully trained, and to work nothing for months as an intern".

You’re expected to do more than ever - writing, editing, subediting, social media, data, photography, audio, video and so on - and own a car. And you’re paid less than ever, less than predecessors who could only do one of those things were. But no-one goes into journalism for the money (or job security), and I’m no exception, so I’ll just keep plugging away.

An up-to-date list of my articles can be found on my Journalisted page.

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