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Training Matters: Election helps students put training into practice

MarkBradleyMark Bradley, left,  is a journalism teacher on the NCTJ-accredited BA and MA journalism courses at the University of Sheffield. Before joining the university in September 2014, Mark was the group editor of 12 weekly newspapers and websites across West Yorkshire, including the Wakefield Express, Dewsbury Reporter and Halifax Courier.

He has worked as a reporter for the Uxbridge Gazette in west London, a sub-editor for the Harrogate Advertiser and the Yorkshire Evening Post, and also edited the Halifax Courier while it was a daily title.


Public affairs (PA) is not a sexy module. By that I mean that the majority of teenage students will not have prioritised learning about the tierage systems of local government when deciding upon a journalism degree.

But put PA, and the same students, into the context of a general election count and then you have something to set pulses racing.

Love them or loathe them (and I fall into the latter camp), controversial characters like Russell Brand have inspired increased awareness about the importance of government and voting within the 18-25 year-old bracket.

And more and more young people, perhaps because of the proliferation of mobile news websites and social media, care about what’s happening in the world.

An impressive 58% cast their vote last week, up from 38% in 2005. And from this same group come the future journalists who want to report and tell the story of the election in both traditional and new formats.

At the University of Sheffield we had numerous BA and MA students filing material on election night.

Many were working for outside organisations, including Sky, the BBC, commercial radio and the regional press.

And they were all paid for their shifts, during which they gained valuable experience while shadowing experienced multi-media and broadcast reporters.Mitch Rushton tweet

Olga Cotaga tweet

Our department of journalism studies also ran their own through-the-night output, with content produced, edited and curated by a group of post-graduate students based in the newsroom and at the Sheffield, Rotherham and Doncaster counts.

Victoria Finan tweet

And they told the story of the night in an original and engaging way.

As well as the traditional website format, news was broken via a live news feed updated by six count reporters, and many of the themes were captured in a magazine-style long-form report.

They designed an interactive constituency map as well as a comprehensive results service.

The following morning broadcast bulletins were produced for radio and TV, while the leadership fall-out continued apace.

All of our students had to think about content for several platforms, all produced words, pictures and audio-visual elements, and all had to handle the technology required to turn this content into news. Techniques ranged from live Periscope broadcasts through to rapid shorthand.

Simon Lee tweet

But perhaps the key experience was for a group of fledgling reporters to be working alongside and competing with their national counterparts, and the reality of fighting for exclusives in a competitive environment.

My team at the Sheffield count went from patiently waiting in line for audio interviews at 11pm to chasing around the corridors of an athletics stadium looking for an elusive Nick Clegg by 4am.

So did they learn from the highs and the lows? From what they did well and what went wrong? I’ll let them answer those questions:

“It was an exhausting but amazing night, and one I am really glad I got to experience. It was a very eye opening look at what it is really like to be a reporter during such tense and important events,” Chloe Gray, working with BBC Radio Sheffield.

“My reporting partner and I kept busy by speaking to the candidates and other political supporters to provide Sky with a live Twitter feed. Overall, it was a great experience and something I am very grateful to have been involved in,” Robbie Gordon, working with Sky News.

“I learnt that you must always be on the ball and that mishaps can always happen, in particular when the only working microphone you have goes AWOL and, whilst searching for it, a constituency winner is making his speech and you find yourself sprinting from one end of the venue to the other whilst taking notes,” Jonathan Pickles, working with the Sheffield Star.

And no matter what else may have changed in the industry, the thrill of the byline after working through an election night has not diminished…

Sian Bradley tweet

To see more student coverage of the elections, click here.