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.

Thoughts on My First Year at University

Aside from one final exam in the middle of May, this week saw me complete my last set of lectures for my first year at university. With that in mind, I decided it would only be right for me to write a sentimental and reflective blog post about the past year I’ve spent at the University of Lincoln.

Before starting university, I suppose everyone asks if it’s right for them in terms of their career and life in general. For me, I knew it was the course I wanted and – of course – had to do to get a career in journalism. However, it was the university culture which worried me: the search for friends during freshers, being that one guy who doesn’t like clubbing and someone who attends 9am workshops religiously (yep, that’s me). It’s fair to say that I wasn’t the typical student, and that worried me.

Thankfully, there were options available which meant I could make friends before I started. The university had a scheme which allowed you to find potential course mates, which helped. I was then added to a huge Facebook group chat where I made even more friends, and it was the same when it came to finding out who I would live with.

As well as this, I have to thank Kimberley from The Colour Chronicles for kickstarting what was an amazing set of opportunities. She introduced me to her friend who currently studies at Lincoln, and since then I’ve worked with them on the local community radio station, which led to me having my own radio show myself! What a small world.

It’s this sort of ‘snowball’ effect which has constantly led to me having new opportunities come up almost every day. By hosting my own radio show on Siren FM, I was then able to interview Public Service Broadcasting – a band I admire and who have played for the BBC and at Glastonbury.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a long time now, you’ll know that I used to do a ‘Liam Interviews’ series, where I managed to interview a couple of bloggers and authors. Whilst doing this, I couldn’t help but feel like starting an email with: “I’m a lifestyle blogger” or “I’m an aspiring journalist” would lead to an interview request being declined. Now, I have the opportunity to say I volunteer for Siren FM, or am a student journalist, and that tends to open so many more doors. Basically, having the ‘university stamp’ has allowed me to achieve so much more.

For example, two recent opportunities which have taken me by surprise have been when an article for the university’s student newspaper – The Linc – then went on to appear in an article on The Independent. As well as that, I was thrilled to go to my first media awards ceremony, where a blog post of mine was ‘Highly Commended’.

What I’ve loved about university is how it offers new skills and opportunities. I’ve mentioned some of the opportunities above, but in terms of skills, I like to think that I’ve changed as a person. It’d be unfair for me to say that university hasn’t had its ups and downs, but it’s those tough experiences which act as the perfect training ground for the world of work and later life. On another note, I’m one of those weird student journalists who loves shorthand – it’s strange to see how I’ve gone from knowing nothing to taking my 80wpm exam last month!

Now, as I look ahead to my second year at university, I’ll hopefully get to branch out into radio and online journalism. It’s funny, because when I first started the course, my main aspirations were to write for the Guardian or to be a court reporter. However, being a presenter on Siren FM has really opened my eye to the world of radio journalism – which I love just as much as print journalism. But, that being said, doing online journalism should be good, as I’m slowly starting to admit that the print industry is continuing to decline. Newspapers and magazines won’t decline completely as there’ll still be the big brands, but some will soon cease production and move online, which is a shame.

Now I have a nice long summer break to look forward to, which is filled with work experience opportunities and a couple of festivals. Roll on summer and the next year of university!

How was your week? What did you get up to? Comment below!

Liam

Confusing politics and why the ‘remain’ campaign has an advantage | The Friday Article

News and politics are boring – that is, until it can be related to people. It’s why Ebola only became a UK problem when nurse Pauline Cafferkey contracted the virus last year. In terms of politics, Nick Clegg’s apology for raising tuition fees prompted more young people to get involved with voting. As a result, the Liberal Democrats’ seats in parliament were slashed from 57 to 8. Now, with the EU Referendum approaching, people want to know how exactly the EU affects them – and that’s where Britain Stronger In Europe may have the upper hand.

Politics surrounding the UK and the EU has always been confusing - this is where the 'remain' campaign has the advantage. Photo: Michael Sauers on Flickr.
Politics surrounding the UK and the EU has always been confusing – this is where the ‘remain’ campaign has the advantage. Photo: Michael Sauers on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/legalcode.

With any election or referendum, vast amounts of political information is thrown at us in order to make an informed decision on who or what to vote for. In my case, it fuelled my interest in politics further ahead of last year’s general election. With the question of whether we should leave the European Union, we once again expect this barrage of detail. However, I get the impression that the UK’s business with the EU remains fairly secretive and hidden in the media. So, for a lot of us, we may have to learn about the numerous aspects of the European Union before we cast our vote. But, we would most likely turn to the ‘remain’ campaign for the positives before looking at Vote Leave’s scrutiny of these benefits.

This comes from something within our human nature: we like to criticise from time to time. On most occasions, we learn about a topic, see the positives and then criticise the idea with opposing views. It’s a technique which has helped comedians and of course, politicians.

If you don’t know much about the EU, turning to the leave campaign may not work. It’s hard for us to understand the criticism when we don’t know what it is that’s being criticised. As a result, many will turn to ‘remain’ for the facts first, before looking at ‘leave’ for the opposing views – some people will choose to adopt the views of ‘remain’, others may decide to back leaving the EU. Either way, the ‘remain’ campaign has that ‘first impression’ which puts them at a slight advantage.

The effect is purely psychological, but it may have unintended benefits for those campaigning for us to remain in a reformed European Union.

Are you interested in politics? Do you think this is a strategy that the ‘remain’ camp are using? Comment below!

Liam

The Additional Challenge of Shorthand

Next week, I’ll have an idea about whether or not I should take my NCTJ 80wpm shorthand exam at the end of April. It was whilst thinking about this decision, that I realised how beneficial learning the written language can be for a deaf person like me. Since then, I thought today I would talk about how shorthand could help the hard of hearing, or those with a mild/moderate hearing loss like myself.

Shorthand Pen and Notebook
With shorthand being as much of a listening skill as much as it is a writing skill, deaf people may find it challenging. Photo: Wannabe Hacks on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/legalcode.

For some deaf people and those with auditory processing disorder, it can take a while for us to ‘hear’ a word. In my case, when I am talking to someone with an accent, it’s often a matter of picking up the sounds, identifying them as words and then applying them to the context. But, when it comes to shorthand, the time pressure means you don’t have time to process what you hear – writing in shorthand is very much a thoughtless action.

When I think about it like this, I remember how learning to play the drums 10 years ago helped me and my co-ordination. Back then, it was terrible but I have since achieved Grade 8 and played at many concerts. If this was a motivational post, then you could say that I’ve overcome a challenge and proved that ‘anything is possible’.

But when it comes to shorthand, this time I’m testing this ability to process information quickly. Learning to play the drums improved my co-ordination, but it’s unlikely that learning shorthand will ‘cure’ my deafness or greatly improve my processing skills. First one thing, deafness cannot be ‘cured’ (at least not yet) and for another thing, this ability to ‘process’ what I am hearing is very much tied into my deafness, so that won’t change either. That being said, it’s certainly helped with my listening skills and thought processes.

At each level, the speed of the speaker reading a passage increases by 20 words per minute (I have to take my 60, 80 and 100 words per minute exams). This therefore means that I have less time to think before the next word is hurled at me out of nowhere. If I think too long on a certain word or mistake I’ve made, then I could then end up losing an entire sentence.

Thankfully, I passed my 60 words per minute shorthand exam earlier this year. At that speed, taking a message down should be instinctual – where all of the three steps I previously mentioned, plus converting the word into shorthand – should all take less than a second. Thankfully, at 60wpm, that is currently achievable. Now it’s a matter of increasing this to 80wpm.

On the whole, I suppose it comes down to not letting your disability stop you from doing what you want to do, but I promised that I wouldn’t get motivational…

What is your biggest challenge, and what have you learnt from it? Do you know shorthand? Comment below!

Liam

The EU Referendum: Why I’m voting to stay | The Friday Article

With Britain Stronger In Europe, Vote Leave and other groups beginning their campaigns from today, now is a good time to explain why I’ll be voting for Britain to remain in the European Union.

EU Building
Photo: ’50 European Union’ by annarouse on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/legalcode.

My reason for this comes down to a simple question:

At a time of a deficit and threats from numerous countries, is it really wise for us to leave a single market and risk damaging our union with other countries?

Granted, some voting to leave have argued that we could still access the single market through the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), but the loss of EU’s single market would impact many jobs which rely on our relationship with the union.

It would also be a matter of negotiating with the EU and EFTA in order to still access this market. What is not to say that us leaving the EFTA in 1972 has tainted our relationships with the association? Similarly, leaving the EU would surely damage our ties with EU member states.

Whilst the UK will have to renegotiate certain laws and regulations regardless of June’s result, surely it’s best to renegotiate whilst we’re in the EU, rather than attempt to reach agreements on our own? What if we leave and don’t get everything we wanted? If we stay in the EU – even if we don’t achieve new deals – we still have this ‘special status’, the rebate, less issues with travel and many other benefits.

Another reason for voting to stay in is extra devolution of power that the EU brings us. The ‘leave’ campaign thinks this is restrictive, but that is the point – it holds our government to account. If you were unhappy with the government’s decision on a matter which affects you, you would want a body like the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to fight our corner. A recent example of this is the Investigatory Powers Bill, which the ECJ is looking into. If we leave the European Union, we are stuck with our country’s decisions – what if we don’t like that? We need that extra level which the ECJ provides. On top of that, the European Arrest Warrant has given us more police powers in the UK. The ECJ, EU rulings and laws all hold our country to account whilst also granting us the UK new freedoms in law enforcement.

Aside from law and the devolution of powers, unity is another issue. There’s no doubt that leaving the EU would taint relationships at a time where we must remain together in order to fight numerous world threats.

Speaking in February, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon said that a ‘leave’ vote could lead to another independence referendum. Is a vote to leave a great idea, when it can affect our unity not just in Europe, but the United Kingdom?

Lastly, I think the new EU agreement on immigration is fair, where EU migrants only gain access to specific benefits after 4 years. However, there have been talks that these reforms are not ‘legally binding’, but I can only hope that they do become bound by law once a remain vote is confirmed.

On a more general point about immigration, leaving the EU would mean the UK as a nation would have to deal with a European problem on its own. We need to work together to solve the refugee and migrant crises, not as one nation on our own.
For these reasons above and – admittedly – the opportunity to annoy UKIP leader Nigel Farage, I am voting for us to remain in the European Union on June 23.

How are you voting in June? Are you voting for us to remain in or leave the EU? What are your reasins? Comment below!

Liam

Liam O’Dell gives blog a professional revamp | The Friday Article

Lifestyle blogger and aspiring journalist Liam O’Dell has announced plans today to update his blog, The Life of a Thinker.

The University of Lincoln student, who started the WordPress blog in August 2012, set up the website to improve his writing skills.

Now, the budding writer is hoping to upgrade the site to show off his previous and current experiences in radio, print and online journalism.

Liam said: “I’ve always considered my blog to be an online portfolio, but now I’ve realised that there’s other things I can do to create that image.

“I’m hoping to add a few more pages to my blog, and the idea of buying my own custom domain has been on my mind for a while.”

The changes can be expected to take place over the weekend.

Liam

Weekly Update: Taking my NCTJ 60wpm shorthand exam

So this week has been a pretty quiet week. It’s still been busy – of course – but being ill has kind of overshadowed what happened over the past seven days. Although, that being said, one of the exciting things which took place this week is my 60 words per minute NCTJ shorthand exam.

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If you don’t know what shorthand is, the above image should help you out. Basically, I do Teeline shorthand and it’s a really quick way for journalists to take down notes. Granted, in the digital era you could just use a dictaphone of whatever… Well, not quite. For example, in court reporting, only shorthand notes are allowed (because obviously audio and video recordings are illegal in court, and even if they were, they could be edited to suit what the journalist wants to say in their article). Similarly, if an interviewee says something, the journalist took it down in shorthand, but then the person denies saying it/sues for libel, those notes count as evidence – after all, they can’t be edited like an audio recording, right? I mean, there could be crossed out, but then the ‘editing’ is obvious.

Anyway, aside from the usefulness of shorthand, I thought it would be interesting to talk about what it was like to take part in a NCTJ shorthand exam.

First of all, if you’ve ever done French, Spanish or German for your GCSEs, then a shorthand exam is very similar to the listening exam. For me, I studied French for my GCSEs. Since I am deaf/hard of hearing, I was worried that sitting at the back of a loud exam hall with an echo, listening to a poor quality audio tape, would be a problem. Thankfully, talking to the school’s exams officer meant that I could be in my own separate room, as close to the original source as possible.

So naturally, when I found out that shorthand exams follow a similar structure, I was worried that I would fail the exam because I couldn’t hear (it’s a bit funny that I’m learning a language which relies on good hearing, but oh well). Thankfully, when I was told on Monday that I may be entering the exam on Thursday, there was enough time to arrange special support to make sure I stood the best chance.

About an hour before the exam, we had a warm-up where we could practice difficult outlines, before the exam took place. I was sat close to the speaker (which was a massive help) and had my pen and spiral-bound reporter’s notepad ready. Then, at a speed of around one word a minute, I had to hear and take down what a person was saying in shorthand. After that, I then had to translate my notes into ‘longhand’ (English) with minimal errors.

Out of all the exams I’ve done so far, I have to say that it was one of the best in terms of how enjoyable it was. Obviously, because it is a test of speed, any moment of thought or delay costs you, so naturally panic and adrenaline builds up. It can be stressful at first but then it gets fun. On the whole, I left the exam feeling like I did well! I’ll find out in two weeks how I did.

Listen to the latest episode of my radio show, Brunchtime:

How was your week? Comment below!

Liam

P.S. Apologies if you saw this earlier – it went up before it was written!