AddThis SmartLayers

Trainer launches new bid to tackle ‘phone phobia’ among journalism students

Paul WiltshireA journalism trainer has launched a fresh bid to beat “phobias about phones” among his students.

University of Gloucestershire lecturer Paul Wiltshire, left, says many would-be journalists currently coming into the industry today are not used to making phonecalls as a means of communication.

As reported on HTFP last April, Leeds Trinity University trainer Richard Horsman sparked a social media debate after saying he is “terrified” by the number of journalism students who “won’t pick up a phone or challenge a press officer.”

In the same month, we covered how Paul had recruited drama students at his university to pose as hostile interviewees in a scheme aimed at boosting journalism students’ confidence.

Posting on his personal blog earlier this month, Paul wrote: “We do need to talk about phones. I love a bit of phone banter. There’s a particular joy to be had in oiling the wheels of nailing a story, or persuading someone to open up, through charming and/or cajoling down the line.

“Listening to some reporters negotiate their way to success can be like observing a master craftsman or woman at work. It can be sheer poetry. And yet, the generation that I spend most of my time with can find it hard.

“It can take a couple of years for the penny to really drop that using the phone can be the best way to the heart of a story – or to crack that work placement, or that final year project feature interview. Until it does, there can be a mini-world of pain, paranoia and procrastination.

“This is far from breaking news. The concern among editors and other employers emerges on a regular basis, and I’ve been talking to managers in the industry about this for several years.”

In a few weeks’ time, Paul will be launching a session where students have to use the phone, and will next year launch a first-year module “hammering home such basic skills”.

He added: “The hope is that we can crack phobias about phones within a few months of students walking through the door. It’s crucial that we free the journalists and other media professionals of the future to use every possible means of communication with confidence and charm. And, occasionally, with a little bit of cunning.

“I was delighted to hear one of our students tell me about her tactic for getting through to a woman whose story she wanted to cover.

“After emails, phone calls and a visit came to nothing, she sent her a letter by recorded delivery – meaning the woman had to sign for it, and the student got a receipt. She’s now doing that story.”

Speaking to HTFP, Paul said: “We absolutely recognise that new generations of potential journalists aren’t used to making phone calls, particularly to people they don’t know.

“But that sort of communication has to be at the heart of journalism, and we want to make sure our students are given the confidence to take it in their stride.”


You can follow all replies to this entry through the comments feed.
  • March 19, 2019 at 10:46 am

    Just imagine how these timid young reporters would’ve coped back in the old days when a gruff news editor ordered them to go out on their first “death knock”.

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(42)
  • March 19, 2019 at 11:00 am

    Encouraging the use of ‘cunning’ to get to speak to someone is nothing to be proud of,
    if “After emails, phone calls and a visit came to nothing” that should have told this person that the woman obviously didn’t want to speak to them, having to scrape the barrel and resort to sending “ her a letter by recorded delivery – meaning the woman had to sign for it” is a short step away from bully boy tactics and not likely to improve the reputation of said reporter or the paper concerned. With regard to getting the woman signing for a letter, this wouldn’t guarantee anything, it just showed she’d received it,if i were that woman I’d have told them where to shove it.
    Instead of making up a solution to something I doubt exists to any great extent,maybe the trainer could train on how to conduct themselves professionally, assertively and courteously in a face to face situation rather than over the phone and without using devious tactics ,or is that old skool skill no longer part of what he calls ‘hammering home basic skills’?

    Train the trainer time?

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(51)
  • March 19, 2019 at 12:55 pm

    Nailed it @Russ
    I’m sure some of these lecturers or trainers are desk bound,haven’t experienced life day to day in a modern,pared down newsroom,have given up on face to face contact and going by this,are stuck in the 1970s;
    “….. using the phone can be the best way to the heart of a story”
    ‘The phone’?
    He says he has been aware of this for a couple of years,but presumably ignored it?
    2 years is a lifetime in this industry so maybe it was a relevant issue then,it certainly isn’t now when everyone, particularly young people,live in a phone based world pretty much 24/7,maybe they aren’t cut out for real journalism if using the phone makes them stressed?
    Going by this I can only assume lecturers have run out of ideas on how to succeed in a modern news environment so are recycling the old chestnuts from an earlier time,or are coming up with solutions to problems which don’t exist.
    Even the course title; ‘hammering home the basic skills’ sounds like something from ‘The Sweeney’ or ‘Life on Mars’

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(32)
  • March 19, 2019 at 2:07 pm

    Just hilarious. The joy of the job used to be talking to people, usually face to face. There was more phone work from about 2000 when reporters were chained to computers doing production work such as filling in silly boxes. This got worse as staff levels were slashed. I remember dirty looks every time I left the office on a story because the other poor sods had to feed the production line and the greedy internet.
    But any reporter who can’t interview people should be shown the door.

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(37)
  • March 19, 2019 at 2:39 pm

    What world is he living in? Using the phone is not necessarily the best way to crack a story – face to face is. Sorry, but if it takes two hers to persuade a reporter that using a phone can be a good way to get a story perhaps the trainee ought to think about another job.

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(25)
  • March 19, 2019 at 4:00 pm

    Never liked the ‘wet behind the ears’ student stereotype. The ones I know are pretty capable – and do know how to use phones (!). Maybe the uni in question should look at toughening up its entrance criteria.

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(19)
  • March 22, 2019 at 10:32 am

    AndyN. with you on that. worked with some brilliant and articulate young graduates. Maybe the UNi needs to be weeding out?

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(2)
  • March 27, 2019 at 2:40 pm

    Think some of you are missing the point: nowadays, web journalism is not about going out of the office and meeting people ‘face-to-face’, or even ‘lifting the phone’ – in the newscorps world, all that takes up valuable time for the few staff they employ: the model nowadays is of ‘content harvesters’ – operatives with backsides glued to a chair, cutting and pasting from other web stories and trying to work in a local angle. Welcome to the not so brave new world of web ‘journalism’.

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(3)
  • March 29, 2019 at 11:53 am

    Axed – depressingly you’re right. Three years at university (maybe even a Masters), 10s of thousands of pounds worth of debt, massive competition for a handful of jobs (possibly more time wasted and debt accrued through unpaid work experience) for the glittering prize of ‘content harvester’!

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(0)