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.

Where have you been?

I’ve always liked structure in my life, and whilst that’s not to say I don’t like spontaneity, breaking a pattern which I have been maintaining for the past few years does feel a little disheartening. In the middle of April, my blog schedule fell apart and the ‘post every other day’ theme crumbled. So, what happened?

The simple and short answer is university. As the course geared up for the May deadline, every module had at least one final essay or piece of coursework to complete before the academic year was over. As a result, The Life of a Thinker had to be put on the back burner until now, when the final exam for second year is done and I have the long summer months to look forward to.

After a decline in posts, I’ll be back to my normal routine – at least until September (for I am yet to know how much time I’ll have to blog in third year). Whilst I’ve been away, I have realised is that surpassing last year’s 16.1K views this year is unlikely. At present, the blog has reached 5K views, which could mean that I end the year with 12K – a disappointing drop when The Life of a Thinker has been on the rise year after year. Now is the time to get back to writing.

As you may have seen over the past few days, since Friday I have been posting every day and for the next week, that shall continue. Each post next week – except possibly for The Friday Article – will be a music review, as there’s been a lot of good music which has come out whilst I’ve been away.

Normal scheduling will resume soon – including music reviews and more political posts.

Stay tuned…

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.

Thoughts on a column-writing masterclass with Owen Jones

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that I write regular opinion pieces on Friday called The Friday Article. What started off as a way to talk about myself in the third person became a platform for me to comment on politics, current affairs, deafness and other social issues which interested me. It’s finally become something of which I’m proud, and fits perfectly into this blog’s theme of it being ‘online journalism portfolio’.

Owen Jones is a writer and columnist at The Guardian. Photo: Marc Lozano on Flickr.

However, ideas at the moment have been running low, and as a student journalist, pitching comment and opinion pieces to editors to be published and commissioned is something I haven’t yet considered in depth. A recent talk by columnist Mary Dejevsky at university first got me interested, and so this brings me on the column-writing masterclass with Owen Jones at The Guardian.

With a stuffed rucksack on my back and folder paper ticket in my hand, I approached the newspaper’s headquarters with excitement. I had entered the building on two previous occasions and so the cosy interior – complete with eccentric armchairs – felt all too familiar.

It wasn’t long before we were signed in and offered refreshments ahead of the main event. After the first session, I had the opportunity to meet Owen himself. After introducing myself, he was happy to sign my copies of his books, chat further about his tips for pitching columns, and wish me a belated happy birthday. Thanks, Owen!

After the final two sessions, both my notepad and brain were filled with ideas for comment pieces and pitches. As I write this two days on, I’m working on one particular article to submit to editors in the near future. I went to the event looking for inspiration, thoughts and a greater understanding of this particular writing form, and that’s certainly what I got from the masterclass as I left the building three hours later. Thank you both to The Guardian and Owen for a great event.

It’s also worth mentioning that after an amazing evening at The Guardian, I hopped on the tube to meet-up with my blogger friend Emily, from Emily Underworld. Within Five Guys, we chatted away – albeit briefly. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before I had to dash to make the long train home. It was wonderful to meet Emily, and I hope to meet her again soon for a proper chat.

In terms of future comment pieces, though, I left the event with some re-energised enthusiasm. As always, whenever I surround myself with fellow writers, the creativity and imagination spreads around. I left York Way with a smile on my face, determined to publish more Friday Articles on this blog, and pitch some ideas to national newspapers, too.

Exciting times lie ahead, I’m sure.