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.

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.

Where I stand on sport…

It’s a typical ice-breaker question I don’t like to be asked: which football team do you support?

SINCIL BANK
Lincoln City Football Club made history in their match against Burnley this weekend. Photo: blogdroed on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/legalcode.

England is the easy answer – everyone unites over patriotism. It’s when you’re forced to name a local team that I struggle, because sport doesn’t interest me.

Well, that is when it’s a sports story. When a football team transcends the back page of a newspaper and becomes a news story, that’s when I pay attention.

This shift from sports to news happened yesterday, when Lincoln City won against Burnley and became the first non-league club to get to the FA Cup quarter-finals since 1914.

As a second year journalism student at the University of Lincoln, there’s that ‘second home’ feeling which really makes me proud to be studying in the city at a time when history was made. Talk of an ordinary match would probably remain with football fans, but greater success often leads to the whole community getting behind them, regardless of how much they like football.

So whilst I’m not the biggest sports fan, I have reported on football news whilst in Lincoln and as with any skill, it’s something I’ll look to improve upon when opportunities arise. But for now, it’s worth saying a big congratulations to Danny Cowley and the players at Lincoln City Football Club. Up the Imps!

Teaching children BSL can end the poor deaf awareness in our society | The Friday Article

British Sign Language (BSL) holds the key to breaking down the misconceptions, mystery and mockery which surrounds the deaf community in the UK today. It is the gatekeeper for Deaf culture. Once a hearing person is able to learn BSL, they can access new resources and meet new people who can share stories with them, telling the individual the truths about being a deaf person. Anyone should learn the language, but it’s particularly important that children learn BSL at school.

 

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

Yesterday, the government responded to a petition with 10,665 signatures, entitled ‘Make British Sign Language part of the curriculum’. Jade Armstrong, who created the petition, said: “It’s compulsory for students in England to take a language to 14 but signing isn’t listed along with French, Germany or Mandarin. With one in 60 brits [sic] profoundly deaf and 11m others with hearing problems, this is a glaring omission is it not?”

The Department for Education replied: “BSL was recognised as a language in its own right by the UK government in 2003. Whilst it is not a mandatory part of the curriculum, schools are free to teach it if they choose to do so.

“The teaching of a foreign language is statutory at key stages 2 and 3 for pupils in maintained schools.

“The government accepts that British Sign Language (BSL) can be a beneficial subject that schools might choose to teach in addition to foreign languages. However, the national curriculum programmes of study for languages contain a number of requirements that could not be met through BSL; for example at key stage 2 the requirement to describe people, places, things and actions in writing. A maintained school would therefore be unable to meet the curriculum requirement solely by teaching BSL.”

This is understandable. Of course, a foreign language is important in an increasingly global world. Yet, it’s also worth learning a language which belongs to a huge UK community and subculture, that 24, 326 people aged three or over use – according to an estimate by the charity Action on Hearing Loss.

At the moment, the main provider of British Sign Language courses is Signature. However, with courses costing hundreds of pounds, it’s a price young people simply cannot afford. For children and young people, the only option is through school. Thankfully, at the moment, the organisation is trialling a GCSE in British Sign Language across six secondary schools and this could be an option for children in the future.

Support needs to be given to this programme, and to schools who want to teach British Sign Language alongside Modern Foreign Languages. Whilst the debate about whether children can learn languages easier than adults continues, teaching children about deafness and British Sign Language will lead to a future generation free of prejudices and misconceptions regarding the disability. Communication between the deaf and hearing worlds will improve and will lead to a more integrated world.

Whilst British Sign Language may not be made a compulsory part of the curriculum just yet, the government should encourage and support all schools to teach BSL as a secondary language.

It’s time to create new avenues which can get rid of the poor deaf awareness which is rooted in our society.

Liam

Apple’s iOS 10 goes back to basics, but lacks a monumental change | The Friday Article

It may just be down to me being a fan of milestones, but Apple’s iOS 10 – revealed at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) – is a little underwhelming. For the tenth upgrade to iPhone devices, I expected substantial upgrades, as opposed to tweaking individual apps. The big change in design happened with iOS 8, meaning there wasn’t anything too exciting for Apple to boast about this time, in terms of the user interface.

iOS 10
The full, public release of iOS 10 is expected in the Autumn. Photo: iphonedigital on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode.

Instead, iOS 10’s most exciting upgrade is the changes to Messages – suggesting that this update to the iPhone’s operating system is one which focusses on the main functions of a phone: calls and texts. Of course, Apple revealed changes to Apple Music, Siri and Notes, but it’s these changes to messaging which has defined this year’s new operating system, and dominated reports on tech websites.

Aside from the new plans for iMessage, I like to think that iOS 10 offers something exciting for the deaf community. The new upgrade will see voicemail messages being transcribed and read, rather than being listened to. It can certainly help those who struggle to hear phone calls on the phone, and may provide an alternative for profoundly deaf people as well.

Emojis for iPhone was one of the main steps for Apple in terms of making messaging more personal. Text messaging has always been problematic when it comes to communicating emotions or tone of voice. Sarcasm is usually implied through italics, but whilst the option to italicise text is available on Notes, it’s yet to make the move to iMessage.

Facial expressions were communicated with emojis, and now bubble effects will help communicate excitement and sympathy. On top of that, hand-drawn messages also add personality to texts. Now, it’s about more than just the message.

It’s also worth adding that there are some changes I hope to see in iOS 10. As a Mac owner as well as an iPhone user, I’m a bit confused with the Calendar app. Whilst on the MacBook, users can set custom appointment times such as 10:21, events in the iPhone app can only be set at five-minute intervals. It would be great if there was some continuity on that front.

Apple’s tenth upgrade to the operating system is one which centres on a key function of any phone – messaging – but lacks something substantial to define such a milestone.

Liam

What is a lifestyle blog? I don’t know, but The Life of a Thinker is changing for the better

What is a lifestyle blog? It’s something I’ve wondered for a while now, since the blogging category has become so broad lately. In fact, not many things within the community are easily defined, meaning the main aspect of our blog which we can call our ‘niche’ is our life, our writing style and our personality. For almost four years, The Life of a Thinker has been the name of this corner of the internet, and I’ve continued to question whether it’s the right title to use – at a time where the only time I talked about my life on here was in my Weekly Update series (which no longer exists), and a lifestyle blog is so loosely defined.

LOGO

So it’s fair to say that my blog has been experiencing something of an existential crisis. I’ve recently made the decision to stop featuring guest bloggers on The Life of a Thinker, and working on turning the blog into an online portfolio – with more journalistic pieces as part of my Friday Article series.

This brings me on to the main aspect of this blog post. Every week, I’ve been writing an opinion piece based on a trending news story, and I have received so many interesting, informative and kind comments about these articles. What’s interesting is that I have always found opinion pieces or columns difficult to write, yet my blog statistics tell me that Friday is my most popular day, and a lot of my Friday Articles get shared around a lot, so thank you.

Whilst this blog’s content is drifting away from what The Life of a Thinker implies as a name, I still like the title for this website, and I’m pleased with where the blog is heading. As for the lifestyle aspect, well, I  will continue to update you when interesting moments in my life happen, whenever that may be. But for now, The Life of a Thinker is changing, and I’m happy with that.

What do you think about the changes to my blog? Is there something you’d like to see on The Life of a Thinker? Comment below!

Liam

The new BBC white paper respects everything Reith stood for | The Friday Article

Inform, educate and entertain. Reith’s motto and fight for an independent BBC still remain today. Now, after the government published its white paper yesterday, what can we expect from the British Broadcasting Corporation in the future?

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

With BBC Three now online-only, the BBC has finally jumped on the bandwagon in an attempt to appeal to young people. It faces tough competition from the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime, and until now the ‘iPlayer loophole’ has meant that it’s the only free online TV service – where those without a licence can watch programmes. However, in the new government white paper, this loophole is closed and only licence holders can watch BBC content. Personally, with most young people watching BBC shows thanks to their parents paying the fee, or because they live in student accommodation, 16-25 year olds can still watch the BBC for free – in some respects. In that case, it certainly has an advantage over Netflix and Amazon Prime, where the young person has to pay for the subscriptions themselves. The only issue is how this restriction will be put in place, and how student accommodation would work with this.

Speaking of BBC Three, I’m not too sure about the abolition of the BBC Trust. I remember taking part in the public consultation about the closure of the channel, and it definitely felt inclusive. Now that these responsibilities have been left to Ofcom, I can only hope that this strong level of interaction and consultation with the public continues. In terms of independence, it’s great to see the paper reference the BBC as being separate from government involvement – it’s exactly how it should be. But, in terms of the BBC board, I do hope government ministers do not get to sit on this, as that really would affect the independence the Culture Secretary John Whittingdale seems to champion in this white paper.

Lastly, the call for the BBC to create “distinctive media content” and the belief that the BBC One “schedule has become less inventive and risk-taking over the past 10 to 15 years”. Obviously this also includes radio as well as TV content, but one of the taglines which BBC One uses is ‘original British drama’. However, I would agree that the BBC needs to move away from entertainment, “property and collectibles programming’.

On the whole, whilst there are some things to keep an eye on, it still preserves the key values of the BBC and its independence. Whilst there was concerns over this, the proposed changes help to create a stronger British Broadcasting Corporation and that’s a great thing.

What do you think about these planned changes to the BBC? Comment below!

Liam