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.

In Development…

This week has been one of progression. It started earlier this week with me making a return to public speaking. The last time I had to give a presentation to someone, it was in May last year, when I went to Leeds to give a presentation about myself and my time as a member of the National Deaf Children’s Society’s Youth Advisory Board. Although reading a book by TED’s Chris Anderson provided me with some reassurance, I was still fairly new to the experience.

The presentation still went really well and it was great talking to the young people there, but I had certainly improved when I gave a talk to Central Bedfordshire Council’s Youth Voice on Tuesday this week.

It was a talk on social media, fake news and campaigning, and I was quite flattered that I was asked to chat about the subject (after all, I hardly see myself as an expert on these). Despite that, as I worked my way through the presentation slides, I could sense my own confidence and was able to talk at great length about the three issues. I suppose on this occasion, I was able to chat more about Twitter than I was about myself – but I think that came down to preparing the presentation in advance.

Overall, it was a great experience, the conference itself was great fun, and I even walked away with a greater idea about what my dissertation for next year, too.

It was also on that day that I was offered the role of Editor at the University of Lincoln’s student newspaper, The Linc. After spending the past year as News Editor at the paper, it’s an honour to take the next step up and accept the offer. I look forward to working with a great team next year.

Speaking of third year, it’s as my second year comes to a close that once again, I reflect on what my university experience so far has given me. Already, I have done amazing things with the community radio station in Lincoln and the student newspaper. I’ve applied the skills I’ve learned (such as shorthand, learning about politics and making FOI requests) outside of university and they have given me new opportunities as well.

As my final year approaches, there’s no doubt at all that it was the right decision, but I continue to be amazed at just how quickly time flies.

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.

Nearly 28,000 incidents of fare-dodging took place on the Underground last year, new data reveals | The Friday Article

Over 27,900 cases of fare evasion took place on the London Underground last year, a Freedom of Information request has found.

Photo: tseyin on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/legalcode.

The figure is higher compared to last year, where 27,413 occurrences took place.

The number has been increasing year-on-year except for 2012 – when it fell by over 2,500 to 13,825 cases. It then rose by nearly 8,000 to 21,810 the next year.

The statistics combine two different ways in which fare evasion is reported. Penalty Fare Notices are when people are charged for their first offence (such as failing to touch in their Oyster card), whilst Irregularity Reports are when individuals are considered for prosecution for repeat offences or other issues such as using a forged ticket.

Steve Burton, Transport for London’s Director of Enforcement and On-Street Operations, said: “The overwhelming majority of our customers pay the correct fare, however there is a minority who do attempt to travel without a valid ticket.

“We take fare evasion of any kind extremely seriously and we have reduced fare evasion on our rail and bus networks to around two per cent of all journeys, which is low compared to other transport authorities around the world.

“We widely communicate the consequences of being caught without a valid ticket and anyone failing to pay a Penalty Fare Notice is referred to a debt recovery agency.

“We are also working towards measures that will improve our ability to pursue those who don’t pay,” he said.

The data also revealed that from 2010 to 2014, over £2.6 million was collected in court costs for successful prosecutions for fare evasion for the underground. These costs are one of many sources of income used by the Transport for London (TfL), with money also coming from penalty fares and maximum fares income.

For the past two years, the most fare evasion offences took place on the Jubilee line, with the highest number of incidents before that (between 2010 and 2014) taking place on the Victoria line.

The request also discovered that there are currently 13 underground stations with one or more gate-free entrances. These include:

  • Chalfont & Latimer
  • Chorleywood
  • Finchley Central
  • Kensington Olympia
  • Mill Hill East
  • Pinner
  • Roding Valley
  • South Kenton
  • South Woodford
  • Woodside Park

The other three stations have ungated entrances temporarily. Euston Square will have a new gateline layout this year, whilst Crossrail enabling works at Moorgate has caused there to be gate-free access at the station. Bromley by Bow currently has no gates at present due to improvement works being made.

Despite not having a gate line, these stations do use card readers at entrances and exits for passengers to tap in and out.

More information about the penalties and enforcement procedures for fare evasion can be found on the Transport for London’s website.

Why I find Freedom of Information requests fun – and you should too

Maths is something which still creeps in to my life despite leaving it behind at A-Level. The influence technology has and continues to have on journalism has bolstered digital journalism and the way in which writers process information. One of the key sources of information at present are Freedom of Information (FoI) requests, but it’s not just journalists that can submit these.

Photo: Jon S on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/.

Personally, there’s something exciting about waiting for the response to drop into my email inbox after 20 working days – it’s like an early Christmas present. Plus, for someone who loves being analytical and finds mass data sets fascinating, there’s a sense of excitement that comes over me when I see an Excel document attached to the email.

In the past, I’ve found over 200,000 people have signed up to the Emergency SMS text service for 999, and discovered some news regarding my university’s library fines. The news that you can uncover is interesting, and I’m looking to write some more FoI-based stories on this blog in the future.

However, the great thing about FoI requests is that the process is rather straightforward, where you only have to make a request in writing and send it to the respective person at a public body. I know it’s not just journalists that possess this passion to uncover information and find things out (we love a good ‘snoop’ as it were), so why not give it a try yourself?

More information about Freedom of Information requests can be found here.