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