Tag Archives: Chancellor

#askthechancellors: How important was the digital audience in the UK Chancellor debate?

Last night I enjoyed lurking on the Twitter backchannel while watching Channel 4’s Ask the Chancellor debate – trivia mixed with observational insight.

I liked Evening Standard journalist Paul Waugh’s tweet about George Osborne’s ‘invisible pedal’ left-foot habit, as much as the economic 140-character analysis and Channel 4’s live poll via tweets, as the Chancellor hopefuls and incumbent fought it out (Vince Cable was the eventual winner, with 36 per cent; leaving Osborne and Darling with 32 per cent each).

Twitter also gave us an insight into the Channel 4/BBC political debate rivalry – spotted in tweets between Channel 4’s Faisal Islam and Radio 4’s Evan Davis. This, from Islam, for example:

amused by @r4today s licence-fee funded sniffiness about #askthechancellors Obviously nowt to do with this: http://bit.ly/aoc4MH

Probably worth noting this too, spotted via @the_mediablog:

RT @DominicFarrell: Those who will decide the #election were watching Coronation Street #askthechancellors

That was a sentiment supported by this morning’s TV stats: Brand Republic reports that Ask the Chancellors peaked at 2.1 million, while 9 million watched Eastenders.

So how important was this backchannel and the digital audience? That was the question Jim Naughtie posed to POLIS director Charlie Beckett on this morning’s BBC Radio 4 Today programme (audio at this link). Beckett said:

I think the real winner (…) despite some of the media cynicism, was in a sense ‘democracy’. I detected a lot of people who were quite pleased to hear a lengthy debate in detail, in public, by these people.

Beckett elaborates here, on his blog:

It all makes for much richer, multi-layered reportage. The TV debate alone would have been worth it. But the fact that tens of thousands of people were taking part reminds us that citizens do care about politics. And they want to be part of reporting the debate as it happens.

Too old to become a journalist – The NCTJ fast-track course: say so long to your social life

I am now on week seven of my NCTJ course at Lambeth College, London.

As previous posts to the Journalism.co.uk forum will prove, I spent a large amount of time wondering whether or not to do an NCTJ course – was it worth the money and the time? Did I want to concentrate on news when I was a features writer?

I spoke to a few working journalists in the hope they could make the decision for me, but surprisingly opinion was mixed, especially in the dreaded shorthand debate (a national newspaper journalist I know doesn’t have a word of shorthand).

With the benefit of hindsight here’s my two-pence on the NCTJ:

It’s worth every penny.

Even if you want to be a features writer the NCTJ is a well-recognised qualification within the industry. There is a magazine equivalent but I’m not sure if it’s so well-known or respected.

I can only speak for the course at Lambeth but I am staggered by how much I already know about journalism, the government and the law and I can’t imagine walking into any publication – features or news – without it.

The Lambeth Course
The fast-track course at Lambeth is only 18 weeks. It’s Monday to Thursday and they expect you to spend your Fridays on work experience. The homework and revision has me working literally all the time.

The fees are £800 (international £3,390) at the moment and, according to the college website, are set to remain at that level for next February and September’s courses as well.

After that there is talk of the fees going up to a couple of grand. I found other NCTJ courses in London cost around £3K and some were wildly more expensive so at the moment Lambeth is great value for money.

While Lambeth College and the surrounding area may not be the most attractive place in London or the world (if you want leafy go to NoSweat), the course has an excellent reputation and pass rate.

The entry exam will see you writing a news story from a press release and quotes given to you. My story was about 500 plastic ducks that had been found on the local village pond. Yes, I did put: ‘Villagers thought they were going quackers…’ With phrases like that you better hire me before I get snapped up.

There is also a current affairs test with the usual questions like: ‘Who is the Chancellor?’ etc.

Once you’re on the course it is broken down into four sections:

Mainly geared to hard news writing but I’ve found it really sharpens up feature writing as well.

You are taught what makes news and how to sub your copy to within an inch of its life to make your writing clear and concise.

It’s pretty formulaic but a quick read of any news story in a newspaper, national or local, applies the same principles.

Favourite quote from the teacher so far: “This is probably the hardest exam you will ever do.”

Using the trusty tome ‘McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists’ you deal with all aspects of media law. Defamation made me want to lie down in a dark room. You also get out in the field: we went to the Jean Charles De Menezes inquest this week.

Public Affairs
Or ‘how central and local government works’. It’s an absolute minefield and I have no idea how councils function with the amount of regulations they must adhere to. Very interesting stuff however and satisfying when you read the paper and see what makes the political news – Russian Yacht trip anyone?

Favourite quote from the teacher so far: “If the council like you, then you’re not doing your job properly.”

Shorthand (Teeline)
Ah, the beast you must tame. To pass the exam you must be able to write 100 words per minute (this is only a C grade however, in other words, just a pass).

That’s a tall order in only 18 weeks but it can be done. The teacher says you must do two hours a night practice and she ain’t joking…

It’s two hours a night or re-take the exam. I am at around 50wpm now and it’s only week 7 – cue the ticker tape. If I can do it anyone can.

Favourite quote from the teacher so far, said after a discussion on the importance of keeping letters neat.: “If your colleague walks under a bus, then you need to be able to translate their shorthand.”

You also have to complete a portfolio of work, i.e. cuttings, but these don’t necessarily need to be published.

If you’re currently doing a journalism course, at a college or at a distance, then let us know how it’s going in the comment box below. What’s good, what’s bad?

It would also be interesting and helpful to hear from industry people with their thoughts on the NCTJ:

  • Do you think it’s worth it?
  • What are your criticisms of it – the video and online aspects perhaps?
  • Would you hire someone with an NCTJ over someone without?
  • What do you think of the magazine equivalent course?

Calling all feature writers and magazine editors – NCTJ, do you need it?

Lord Falconer’s plan to remove news from online archives during trials is unworkable

Former Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, told the BBC yesterday he believed articles relating to high-profile court cases should be removed from online news archives so as to not prejudice the outcome of trials.

In addition to this change to the law he not only suggested that should news publishers refused to comply “it would be very strong evidence they’d committed contempt”, even more bizarrely he told Radio 4’s Law in Action programme that the Attorney General should determine to which few cases this should apply.

With this proclamation Lord Falconer has added a further staggering example of the gulf between what is presumed about the web and how it actually works.

He was talking about The Contempt of Court Act 1981, which prevents the publication of anything that creates a ‘substantial risk of serious prejudice’ to a court case. This comes into action when proceeding become ‘active’, that is to say a person has been arrested and charged for an offence or a warrant has been issued for arrest.

During this time news outlets are only allowed to report certain simple factual elements of the case. If reporting during the trail then what has been said in court, rather than any additional information, can be published.

In the period prior to this and after the conclusion of the trail reporters are at liberty to transgress the rule, in fact, it no longer applies. It’s articles written prior to this ‘active’ period that Lord Falconer wants removed from archives temporarily in the run up and during the trail.

I have to ask whether during the critical thinking that fed his idea it was considered how different it would be for a news aficionado to trawl newspaper web archives for old stories about court cases than to order old editions through the post or hop on the bus to the archive or a library to look the print stories up in person? Has a paper ever been held in contempt for offering an archive service?

A juror wanting to find out more about the case can pretty much do that at the moment if they are keen enough. The problem would seem to be one inside the courtroom rather than outside if a wayward juror actively sought additional information and began casting judgements based on information beyond the facts as they are laid out to them in court.

This active pursuit is the problem. Not the publication. It’s unlikely that someone will incidentally come across extra information. That person would have to engage and search for it. They would have to trawl newspaper achieves or get deep into Google News, as it only throws up results from the previous month in a straightforward search.

It would be impossible to police too. Removing information from news sites would be time consuming enough but what about easily obtainable stories on foreign sites? You’d have to block access to them somehow. Links in email and blogs? What about search engine’s holding mirrored versions of articles? What about précised versions on blogs, on message boards and the wildfire spread of that content once you try to have it removed as the knee-jerk response of the blogosphere to anything that could be misconstrued as censorship kicks in.

Lord Falconer’s assertion that the Attorney General could determine which cases this rule should apply also is baffling. Shouldn’t a suspected stationary thief in Barnstable be afforded the same right to a fair trail as an alleged abductor of children? Shouldn’t it be a law for all, if at all? It seems not.

His idea may be unworkable but it’s something of a moot point anyway, seeing as he’s not the man who makes the decisions anymore on matter like this.

However, he may have inadvertently stumbled on an issue though. What about related news stories thrown up on news sites by some automated process? A link to an older story connected to an online news piece about an ongoing trail? Could these links create a passive access to prejudicial news? Is it that the same process as before: actively seeking out news? Or is an automated link not publishing?

And what about comments? You’d hope that comments on stories like these would be pre-moderated or turned off.