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Is there life after a journalism course? The Coventry Class of 2009 – Jason Craig

September 3rd, 2009 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Jobs, Journalism, Online Journalism, Training

At the end of the academic year John Mair, senior lecturer in broadcasting at Coventry University, asked just what would happen to his undergraduate journalism class of 2009. In the face of the biggest media recession for many a generation where do they go? Is there life after a journalism course? A few months on, we are re-visiting the students.

Jason Craig graduated with a first class honours in journalism and media from Coventry University last June. He now works as a writer on the Belfast based Pacenotes – a magazine for the many thousands of  rally enthusiasts in Ireland.

As I write this, 10,000 copies of the September issue of Pacenotes Rally Magazine will be returning from the printers in Antrim and winging their way to newsagents, subscribers and leading rally figures across the UK and Ireland.

The days leading up to print deadline, leaving the office just before midnight and rising the following morning at 6am was not uncommon, and after a while you become oblivious to the man-hours needed to compile a 72-page monthly read.

When you are passionate about a subject and you are getting paid to write about it, time really doesn’t become an issue – at least for me, anyway. My last report covered the Ulster International Rally, a mammoth two day operation that required the compiling of driver quotes and pictures on stage and in and around service.

I give up evenings and weekends to be involved in a sport I have followed and admired for so long. To have access to teams and drivers is a privilege, so it is my job to relay this ‘inside information’ to the reader as best possible.

For the same issue, with the help of Phil James (www.pro-rally.co.uk), I have just compiled a one-off, 11 page commemorative feature on the Mini as this year marks its 50th anniversary.

I’ve spoken to many people about this giant-killing rally machine, but none more eloquent than the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally winner, Paddy Hopkirk. This is what makes my new job so varied and exciting.

Recently, in the space of a week, I have been to Dublin to research  a feature on Couture Auto Ltd before jetting over to England the following day to pay the motorsport engine builder, Mountune a visit.

This visit to the Essex based company had added meaning as anyone who knows me will be wholly aware of my admiration for the Blue Oval and rallying in general. As a matter of fact, I’ve never seen so many Ford GT supercars in the same place at the same time, including one worth a cool £1 million!

In October I travel to Cork to cover the final round of the TROA Irish Tarmac Championship where this year’s winner will be crowned, and in November – the weekend before my graduation ceremony, in fact – I travel to the final round of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge in the hope that Ulsterman, Kris Meeke will prevail as the champion.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have had strong leadership and continued support from my lecturers during my final few days at Coventry University: automotive hack Andrew Noakes and media guru John Mair were of particular help. They deserve a special mention for reasons known only to them, with two copies of the current issue soon to land on their respective desks.

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Whatever the platform, whatever the technology, it’s the stories, stupid!

June 12th, 2009 | 3 Comments | Posted by in Events, Training

Students rise to a challenge if you trust them and give them one. This week they’ve learnt that stories matter. As previously reported on this blog, my students – aided by my colleague Andrew Noakes and me – have been providing live reports on cutoday.wordpress.com from the Play the Game Conference in Coventry. To say this has been a rip-roaring success is an understatement.

The product and its appeal has shocked even hardened hacks like me and my fellow lecturer Andrew. The students have seen and scaled an online Olympus.

Let the figures speak for themselves: over 5000 hits  in four days before the conference has ended; hits received from all over the world and overnight they go up 500; 100+ posts for the week – the daily record so far is 30, from a staff that never exceeded ten. All contributed by students, bar two lecturers giving help and advice.

We’ve provided print, audio and video and a link to a live-stream of some of the events. These lessons in live journalism have taken place in the blogosphere and are very transferable.

But, Content is King. Keep putting up real and interesting stories in all media. The audience will find them and find them very quickly. One video on drug testing had 50 hits in the first five minutes.

It’s the video and audio which sells, especially if original and exclusive. Keep refreshing the stories with new one and new angles. People will come back to find the new. Vary the texture of stories with length and embeds. Remember that you are writing for a net generation with the concentration span of a gnat.

Tease and trail the speakers, profile them, preview them and then report them. Remember what happens in the conference hall (sometimes the live audience was, er, all of 15) is just the front-end; your audience is out there on the blogosphere worldwide. Via the internet, you can reach and refresh parts that many thought could never be reached – and do so in seconds and in some style.

But the central lesson is the obvious one. Produce good readable and accessible journalism. Assemble motivated hacks manqué, get them working quickly and accurately, finding angles and writing the stories up well. But make sure they are subbed and checked – one student was surprised to learn that the Lord Mayor of Coventry had changed since last year… But the mantra should always be – as Jim White of the Daily Telegraph once put it to my students – ‘good copy delivered on time…’

Whatever the platform, whatever the technology, it’s the stories, stupid. No stories, no content, no audience. It’s a lesson we have all learned quickly.

John Mair is a senior lecturer in broadcasting at Coventry University. He ran cutoday.wordpress.com at the 2009 Play the Game Conference. Most of the hard work was done by his colleague Andrew Noakes and a small group of students of journalism at Coventry University.

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Coventry students reporting live from annual ‘Play the Game’ conference

June 9th, 2009 | 2 Comments | Posted by in Events, Training

We teach them about real-life situations and real-life deadlines but how often do journalism students experience the adrenalin or buttock-tightening of knowing they are live-on-air on the internet? Not enough.

Nothing concentrates a man or woman’s mind so completely as the thought he or she will be cyber-hung in 10 minutes – to misquote Dr Johnson.

Coventry is hosting the annual ‘Play the Game’ Conference in the Cathedral and the University itself. Serious scholars and journalists from all over the world are here to discuss the big issues of sport-doping, cheating, match fixing and the whole underbelly of the modern business of sport. This is the sixth time they have scratched the sores that others might prefer to leave well alone.

Two hundred odd delegates in the very beautiful surroundings of Sir Basil Spence’s masterpiece, but why leave high quality thoughts for such a select audience?

We are not. Coventry journalism students (and one solitary LCC one) are reporting live or near live at Cutoday.wordpress.com. They attend all sessions, report them in print audio and (crossed fingers) video, right there in cyberspace. Want to hear or read David Goldblatt on the big round ball, or Declan Hill on match fixing? Then go to the site.

They’re learning to write against time: news, features, backgrounders, gossip, and so much more. Learning by doing. You can see fear in their faces when told to let the piece go to the subs and out to the world. One student took four hours of persuasion. His work is up on the site now – eventually. You can spot it as it is very carefully crafted and re-crafted and subbed.

Come out of closet, journalism educators! Trust your students. Try teaching journalism using the real world with the cordite of failure and the sweet smell of success. It’s what happens in real newsrooms. Daily.

I can just about remember…

John Mair is a senior lecturer in broadcasting at Coventry University. His colleague Andrew Noakes, who teaches automotive journalism, ‘is doing most of the hard work’.

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