Upping my photography game

Until now, I’ve been thanking my lucky stars that Flickr’s Creative Commons and fair use laws exist. Whenever I have an album to review or political opinion piece to write, I browse the site for photos to accompany my lines of text. It brightens the page and makes it livelier. However, upon looking at other bloggers and their websites, it’s clear that I need to include more original photos on this blog.

I remember a friend telling me a short while ago that they missed my lifestyle posts on this blog. During the changeover, where my blog became an online portfolio for my journalism, out went my Weekly Update posts in exchange for more professional articles. Except now, where I think I’ve finally found the middle ground.

During my second year at university, the Digital Photography module reignited my passion for photography. Keen not to let new passions die, I’ve been considering taking a photo a week to encapsulate my seven days. I’d be able to complete my – at present, failing – New Year’s Resolution to take more, whilst also going back to the blogging days where I talked about my everyday life.

For the past few weeks, blog posts have been pretty infrequent (which doesn’t help when it comes to competition entries), but I believe this should finally solve the issue about what I talk about on Sundays. Wednesdays are still problematic, but most of the time, these have been an extra music review, which is fine.

All being well, a new blog series – A Thousand Words – shall be starting very soon indeed…

At the centre of the action: thoughts on covering the general election

Journalists can have two results to the news of an election. For most of us (excluding those in Scotland) the news of a third vote in the space of three years can stir up fatigue as a voter. However, it’s the reporter within us that gets excited, knowing that UK politics is about to change once more, and we’re at the heart of the action.

My set-up for the evening, as I reported on the count in Mid Bedfordshire.

Annoyingly, with the EU referendum taking place on the week of Glastonbury, I was unable to cover it. So, naturally, when the surprise general election was announced, I was quick to ask the local media if I could help out.

This led to me working with the Broadcast Journalism Council and Radio LaB in Bedfordshire on their programme, The Vote. I was sent off to the Mid Bedfordshire count – an ultra-safe seat for the Conservatives and their candidate Nadine Dorries.

The night started with me heading into the offices of Central Bedfordshire Council, worried that a mere student reporter would be turned away by the security guard or the receptionist. Thankfully, I was quickly handed my visitors’ pass and escorted to the press room.

There’s always a sense of community that comes with hanging out with other reporters in a press room. A feeling of mutual stress (in that we are all rushing to meet deadlines) and excitement fills the air as I get settled down – laptop powered up, shorthand notebook open and mobile phone fully charged.

It was 20 minutes later that I had my first ‘two-way’ (a radio term for having a back-and-forth discussion between a reporter and presenter). I painted the scene of the constituency and gave details of some of the candidates, before it was back to work.

It wasn’t long before the Liberal Democrat candidate came in to say hello, and I had my first interview of the night. Due to the rules in place around the count, reporters weren’t able to go into the marquee where staff were counting the votes, and so a member of staff had to go in and track down candidates on our behalf.

Once the first interview was out of the way, then things started to pick up. I had to edit the recording to get a solid 30-second clip, whilst also grabbing a quick snack (a sweet chicken sandwich which sadly, wasn’t too pleasant), composing tweets for Twitter and doing the occasional two-way. Much like in a normal newsroom scenario, work was starting to pile up, and the night started to pick up pace.

The Labour candidate was next to come into the press room for interviews, and it was whilst transcribing the recording that the news came through: the result was due to be announced shortly.

Plenty of Skype calls and phone calls were made to the studio as I sprinted into the marquee. A particular highlight at this point of the night was the fact that I posted news of the result ahead of the BBC – get in!

After that, I was able to speak to two more candidates and do a final two-way before packing up for the night. On the whole, regardless of the party allegiance, everyone was up for a chat – even when a serious election was taking place.

I was in a position which was new to me. My Friday Article posts on this blog are pretty reactive to political events, and save for my work experience at the press office of the Department for Work and Pensions, everything else has seen me respond to politics, as opposed to experiencing it first hand.

Being at the centre of politics during a general election is intense, fast-paced and exciting. Given the current state of affairs and the possibility of a second election, I can’t wait to return to heart of the action again in the near future.

If you fancy a look at what I got up to on the night, you can see my tweets on my Twitter profile, and listen to interviews with some of the candidates on my Facebook page.

We’ve been here before, but now a stronger Labour can hold the Tories to account | The Friday Article

It should have happened in the first instance. Ever since the result of the EU referendum was announced, Labour and Jeremy Corbyn could have made gains off the back of a vote against the political establishment. A crumbling Conservative Party, defeated by its own arrogance over the remain vote, could have been held to account for its mistakes. Now, in a moment of pure déjà vu, the Tories have returned to that very same state – except this time, the Labour Party will be there to hold them to account.

Photo: Andy Miah/Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/.

Blairism has well and truly died – in its place, an appetite for socialism clearly displayed amongst the youth vote and the fact it simply wasn’t a landslide for the Conservatives. Now, Theresa May and the Democratic Unionist Party (or May’s successor) are trapped in a political stalemate: a minority government (even if it is with the appalling DUP) is not strong enough to deal with the mammoth task of Brexit. “There’ll be a second election soon,” predicted the former Labour MP on ITV News last night.

It could very well happen, and it’s essential that Corbyn uses this interim period to continue to build local support for Labour.  The Conservative majority diminished this time around, and could fall by even lower numbers should the state of play with the Con-DUP pact be so catastrophic. Much like how Labour MPs were subtly preparing for (and some, fearing) a snap election shortly after Brexit, Corbyn’s team and Labour members must continue campaigning and putting pressure on the Tories as though another election is imminent.

Now, there’s nothing in Labour’s way – there’s no coup or a sense of identity crisis which could throw Jeremy’s leadership into question. The party is now united, redefined, and is pushing out an anti-establishment sentiment which has been brewing for almost a year, and has now returned to the surface.

We’ve seen passion and engagement present amongst Labour voters. It’s important now, should there be a second vote, that election fatigue does not allow our young people to fall back into disenfranchisement – nor should a divisive Conservative and DUP partnership.

Labour must continue putting out its message in Parliament, and local communities need to do the same. A new wave of voters are engaged, and that’s not going away easily.

The fight is on.

Deaf Awareness Week 2017: A celebration of collective action | The Friday Article

‘A celebration’ is the theme for this year’s Deaf Awareness Week – something which, to me, suggests that we should celebrate the power of collective action within the deaf community. It’s now that we should celebrate the charities and campaigners, as well as their achievements. At a time when politics has divided Britain, it’s important for us to show society the power of collective action and what we, as a community, can accomplish.

Photo: Deaf Council.

One example is the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) – a charity with which I have very strong connections. In 2014, I was part of their Youth Advisory Board (YAB), a group of 18 deaf young people from across the UK who came together over the two years to discuss issues affecting deaf people. Whilst on the board, I campaigned for better audiology services and contacted key figures in the NHS about the matter, amongst other things. Now, the new YAB have launched their new campaign, calling for sign language to be taught in schools. They found out that 97% of young people want British Sign Language (BSL) in schools, and through the NDCS, they have taken to the local and national press to get their message out there during Deaf Awareness Week.

Elsewhere, Action on Hearing Loss’ Subtitle It! campaign called on on-demand TV services to provide subtitles for deaf and hard of hearing people. Through an amendment to the Digital Economies Bill, the broadcasting regulator Ofcom has the power to ensure on-demand programmes have a ‘minimum level’ of subtitling.

Then there’s the landmark achievement in Scotland back in 2015, where the BSL (Scotland) Bill became an act, calling for its Parliament to ‘promote the use of British Sign Language’. Now, the fight continues to make British Sign Language a legally recognised language in the UK.

Yet, it’s not just deaf people coming together which we should celebrate, it’s the creative talent of the deaf community, too. Entertainers such as John Smith and Danny’s Skits offer funny videos which promote deaf culture at the same time, and, of course, the deaf website The Limping Chicken offers individuals a platform to air their views on deaf issues.

Every year, the theme for Deaf Awareness Week is different (last year’s was ‘a common purpose’, for example). However, whilst these topics are subjective, it can always come down to highlighting the power of the deaf community. As a strong subculture, we can make positive changes in society and ensure our voices are never ignored.

There’s a hidden truth behind the snap election – we must be suspicious | Liam O’Dell

After nearly three weeks since the triggering of Article 50, the Tories have finally spat out the Brexit pill which no party wants to swallow. A snap election on June 8 will continue to create more uncertainty that Theresa May promised to end.

Photo: Number 10 on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/.

“At this moment of enormous national significance there should be unity here in Westminster, but instead there is division.

“The country is coming together, but Westminster is not,” the Prime Minister said in a speech earlier today.

We must be suspicious. An arrogant Conservative Party determined to defy the rulings of judges and Lords to pass the Brexit Bill has once again resorted to Cameron’s levels of cowardice. Voters will remember that, but they must question the true reason for calling the election.

The immediate presumption would be that it is an attempt to decimate Labour, but that is questionable. It seems too great a risk for May to sacrifice the Tory majority (and a supposed lack of opposition on Brexit from Corbyn) to ‘kill’ the left-wing party. If the PM expects to win back a majority in June, then she is forgetting that a general election has become more than a Labour vs. Conservative battle.

A call for a snap election is – of course – a gamble, and it’s one May appears to have taken due to the disunity in other parties (according to her speech, at least).

With Labour’s in-fighting continuing to bubble every once in a while, the SNP tackling their own referendum and the Lib Dem’s membership slowly rising, it seems as though May is aiming for a wipeout whilst building upon her majority. But when has disunity within other parties ever hindered the Tories’ Brexit plans? If anything, it’s almost given May a ‘carte blanche’ to do her thing without any real scrutiny.

It’s even more confusing when the Conservatives have always been arrogant and stubborn when enforcing policies. To gamble their majority for the sake of silencing other parties, or getting them to support their plan, seems unfathomable.

So what is the explanation for the snap election? My friend Jarrad Johnson raises an interesting point, saying on Twitter that “someone or something has forced May’s hands behind the scenes.”

It’s an interesting comment when we look back at the past. The last time we had a vote between the typical five-year period was, of course, the 2016 EU referendum. On that occasion, it was believed that this was to end the internal conflict within the Tory party about whether we should leave the European Union. Now, as we face another surprise election before the end of the usual five-year term, we have to consider whether the same arguments are occurring once more.

Thoughts on passing my 100wpm shorthand exam

The past seven days have been full of writing and journalism-related opportunities. From an inspiring masterclass from columnist Owen Jones on Monday, to chatting to fellow writers in the local pub on Wednesday, the sense of enthusiasm I gained from talking to imaginative people was fantastic. However, as well as the events, there was also some news. On Tuesday, I found out that I had passed my 100 words-per-minute shorthand exam.

Shorthand Pen and Notebook
Photo: Wannabe Hacks on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/.

There was a sense of disbelief that came with seeing my name on the list of people who had passed. Despite feeling confident after the test, doubt over certain parts of my submission made me question whether I was successful and I was quick to assume that I was unlucky for the third time. I had already began to organise the resit, and so to find out that that was unnecessary was a great weight off my shoulder. The news came as a relief as well as a wonderful surprise.

I always loved shorthand ever since I started learning it back in September 2015. The ability for languages to aid communication – be it breaking down a semantic barrier or help write words quicker – has always fascinated me. Having learned British Sign Language in the space of two years (to a degree that I can now have a full conversation with a BSL user and use fingerspelling if I’m in trouble), I was looking forward to the challenge of reaching the 100wpm milestone as soon as possible.

It took a couple of attempts to get there, though. Unlike other languages where it’s a question of memorising an extensive vocabulary, shorthand is all about building up speed. With that, came plateaus, where it felt like I had reached a certain level and I was stuck there. If I remember rightly, there was one between the 60wpm-80wpm gap, and then getting up to the crucial 100wpm also led to a few problems on this front, too.

Then came the fact that the language requires a lot of quick thinking alongside listening to what the speaker is saying. It’s something which can be difficult as a deaf person when I’m trying to process what I’ve heard (more on this here), but if anything, passing this exam has clearly shown that my speed on that front has improved as well.

As much as shorthand was a challenge, it was of course great fun, too. Like a typical puzzle on the back pages of a newspaper, there was a sense of it being almost like a logical test, too.

When you look back on your notes and see a word missing from a sentence, you often have to look at the other words around the unknown one to get a sense of what it could be (‘context is everything’, as it were). If not that, then trying to decipher the almost text-speak structure of the language would be fun (for example, realising that TRFC was the word ‘traffic’). As someone who loves logic puzzles, I also saw shorthand as a fun game as well as an interesting language. I imagine that feeling won’t fade now that I’ve passed my 100wpm exam.

Whilst my lessons at university have now come to a close, I am never one to completely abandon the languages which I have learned over the years (memories of GCSE French still linger around in my mind) and so I will no doubt continue to use shorthand when in the industry. Thanks must go to my tutor, Pat, for all her encouragement and support over the two years to get me to such a milestone.

UKIP’s identity crisis is a lesson for the SNP | The Friday Article

UKIP is in crisis. It’s been 10 months since Britain made the historic decision to leave the European Union, and one would have thought that the far-right political party would have at least had a name change by then. Instead, UKIP has seen two leadership elections, an ‘altercation’ outside European Parliament, and most recently, the party’s only MP Douglas Carswell quit the party to become independent – “job done”, the Parliamentary representative for Clacton said in a blog post last month.

UKIP leader Paul Nuttall. Photo: European Parliament on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/.

Then there’s the current leader Paul Nuttall, who is no doubt overshadowed by his predecessor, Nigel Farage, despite the latter saying he “[wanted] his life back” after the vote of June 2016. Two shoddy leadership elections have meant that some media companies still have Mr Farage on speed-dial for anything Brexit-related, even when Nuttall is the one at the helm.

All of this makes for a hilarious but important case study for the SNP as they plan to call for a second referendum on Scottish independence. As the only other major party so devoted to one political cause, they must now consider – in plenty of time – what would happen should their end goal be achieved.

As Nicola Sturgeon and her party prepare their arguments for a ‘yes’ vote should the UK Parliament grant the referendum, they must also get ready for the party’s next steps if they get their own way. The fact that UKIP were only asking the ‘what now’ question after Brexit is no doubt responsible – in some part – for politicians leaving the party to become independent or, in most cases, to join the Conservatives. After all, what use is it being a member of a party championing for Brexit when one could join the team with the seat at the negotiating table?

In the case of the SNP, they are fortunate in the sense that they do not have to watch from the sidelines. If the vote for independence is delivered, then they will still be in government until 2021 and will have to deliver a positive outcome for the Scottish people. Yet, at the same time, they must also establish a clear political stance away from independence now this would have been achieved.

Whilst it’s incredibly unlikely that Sturgeon’s party would fall into an existential crisis as bad as UKIP if independence occurs (a leadership election would probably only occur if it was another ‘no’ vote), there will no doubt be another party – probably the Scottish Conservatives – who will oppose the SNP’s plans for Scotland.

If Sturgeon’s ideal scenario is to occur, then as well as considering the future of Scotland, she must contemplate the future of the SNP.

As UKIP continues to scratch its head and Labour comes under fire over its power as an opposition, some may consider it fortunate that neither party is in government when they have internal conflicts at their heart.

This is where the SNP should take note. After all, if a party in government have an existential crisis, then their future – and indeed the future of an independent Scotland – could look very bleak indeed.