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Conference tests students' real-time reporting skills

Journalism students at the Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies were given the chance to cover the Society of Editors conference this week as part of their training.

Among other things, the students interviewed Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre after his opening lecture on Sunday night, and tested their shorthand skills by taking down Monday’s keynote speech by Chief of the General Staff Sir Jock Stirrup at a speed which seemed far in excess of 100wpm.

HoldtheFrontPage asked four of the students – Rob Alderson, Jessica Best, Gemma Casey and Nicola Curtis – to give their impressions of the conference. Here is what they wrote.

Rob Alderson

In our first two months as postgraduate journalism students we have heard a lot about what the modern media is not. It is not a one way lecture where journalists tucked away in ivory towers pass on “The News” to their audience. It is not a booze-sodden old boys network where the daily column is an inopportune interruption to the day’s drinking.

Unfortunately nobody has been quite as clear on what the modern media is. Surely the Society of Editors Conference would provide a few answers?

Well yes and no. In his opening address, Paul Dacre said that the need to connect with readers is more pressing than ever, and any journalist who ignores the need to do so endangers the very viability of their paper. This need to engage the people formerly known as the audience remains the same, even if the ways in which we interact with them are evolving.

So far so good. The next challenge he said was to work out how media organisations can make money from their websites. I asked him afterwards if he had any ideas on how this might be done.

“I plead the Fifth Amendment,” he said. “I simply don’t know.”

Ambiguity was also the main focus of Sir Jock Stirrup’s address on Monday morning. He urged us to stop hankering after black and white certainties. He was talking about coverage of military campaigns but it resonated far more personally.

So it is that we may have no choice but to embrace uncertainty. Being at the conference has been eye-opening and exciting in equal measure. I may not return to Cardiff with any surer sense of what lies ahead, but I am damn sure this is the industry for me.

Jessica Best

Covering the conference was primaily billed as an opportunity for us to report in real time, as well as getting an insider’s view on the digital dilemma.

Reporting in real time was, for me, probably the most valuable experience I’ll take away. Although journalism schools apply the pressures of deadlines and live reporting as much as possible, I’m not sure this is ever entirely possible to replicate in the classroom and the last 24 hours have certainly tested my competence as a trainee journalist.

All the working sessions and lectures by well-known figures and authorities on the digital revolution were fascinating and made plain the massive shifts taking place in the industry. But what was, in a way, more interesting was talking to local and regional editors who are struggling to implement these changes on the ground. As one regional weekly editor said to me: “How on earth are we supposed to find the money to set up online?” This emerged as one of the main themes of the conference, and as students being trained to use multimedia skills it is these sorts of questions we’ll have to answer.

Finally, Sir Jock Stirrup’s keynote speech was a great addition to the programme. It was somewhat less inward looking than the rest of the conference and was interesting to see how the media are being received as well as the all-important discussions about what we’re putting out.

Gemma Casey

Reporting at the Society of Editors Conference was a great event to get a first hand experience of what I could expect as the life of a journalist. You can sit in a classroom for however many hours of the day, practising stories, correcting mistakes, but it is the real life situations which prove the most valuable.

Sitting in on a dozen different talks in one day, listening intently for that one special quote which will make a story worthwhile, proved very enjoyable. Hearing what the “bigwigs” of the journalism industry had to say about their own careers was fascinating, especially because a lot of it was actually farily pessimistic. It was surprising how many speakers, especially video expert Michael Rosenblum, said that unless we adopt to technological changes, our careers as journalists would reach an abrupt end. Frightening yes, but it certainly opened my eyes about what I was letting myself in for and I have to say, it has not altered my enthusiasm one bit.

The passion which all the speakers seemed to have for journalism was really encouraging for someone who is a trainee, and gave one the confidence that this is a career you could be happy in for a long time.

Nicola Curtis

Driving to Bristol was, for me, a familiar experience. Covering the Society of Editors conference which was held in Bristol was somewhat different. We had finally been unleashed from the shackles from the Centre for Journalism at Cardiff University, and given a chance to meet with the higher echelons of journalism in the UK. This was, of course, an extreme change of scene from sitting in shorthand lectures.

Learning to take notes on a speech or debate then write them up straight away to try and achieve real time reporting was a brand new experience, and one that seemed vastly different from learning the theory of taking notes and writing them up coherently in a newsroom environment. We wrote for the Society’s website, we Twittered, and we are going to blog. But of course, this is what real journalism is going to be like. Something that was clearly focused on in many of the talks was this need to embrace the changes that are sweeping through a world of journalism in flux.

It was refereshing, if a little daunting, to be surrounded by so many experienced journalists and editors. It was quite simply daunting to watch the presentation of the NCTJ awards.

But if this conference has taught me anything, it is however much we learn and experience in the journalism classroom, it is ultimately only going out there and actively doing journalism that is going to help us as budding journalists. Embracing instant reporting, as we did through reports, videos and by blogs, is the way forward for tomorrow’s journalists.