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Journalists share style tips as trainer sparks newsroom dress code debate

Andy DickinsonThe importance of “wellies” was among the issues highlighted after regional journalists were inspired to share their newsroom fashion tips online.

Journalism trainer Andy Dickinson, who teaches at Manchester Metropolitan University, sparked a debate on industry dress codes after posting on Twitter about how he was planning to give guidance on the topic to his new students.

Andy’s tweet prompted dozens of responses, many from journalists working in the regional press, and the full thread can be viewed here.

A number urged newcomers to the industry wear smart clothing, while others favoured more casual attire.

Some respondents also encouraged new journalists to ensure they have a good pair of Wellington boots to hand.

Derby Telegraph court reporter Martin Naylor wrote: “Always smart. Suit, shirt, tie, shoes (for blokes).

“When you knock on someone’s door, go to an inquest or court, or approach someone in the street you’re the face of the organisation and your attire should reflect that. I am, however, in my 50s.”

On the topic of court attire, the Oxford Mail’s Tom Seaward added: “I wore an open necked linen shirt to court during the heatwave and a judge asked whether I was off to the beach.”

PA political reporter Chris McKeon, who used to work for the Liverpool Echo and Surrey Live, agreed a suit was a necessity.

He said: “My journalism tutor used to say ‘what if you have to go and interview the emperor of Japan?'”

Sarah Ward, news editor for SWNS Scotland, said: “Having a professional appearance builds confidence with the public, cops, court staff and with yourself.

“Especially for girls because older men do talk down to young women as a matter of course. I cherish my smart work clothes and never get to wear them anymore.”

Natalie Fahy, who edits Reach plc titles Derbyshire Live, Lincolnshire Live and Nottinghamshire Live, added: “Always flat shoes, never trainers, a tie just in case, buy a pair of wellies and a decent waterproof, fingerless gloves essential for winter vox pops.

“We allowed smart shorts in the heatwave. A smart coat can transform an outfit if needs be.”

And Jenni Phillips, social media insights and development editor for the South-West of England at Reach plc, went one step further in recommending specialist clothing for journalists working in rural areas.

As well as advising a “smart jacket and shoes for death knocks, court and serious stuff”, she wrote: “If you are in a rural patch and you don’t have wellies in your car boot then you are missing out on stories.

“[Ex-Gloucestershire Live journalist] Ben Falconer had a pair of waders for flood coverage.”

The responses inspired Andy to write a blog on the subject.

He wrote: “What I love about the responses to my tweet, is the idea that there are very practical issues at play here.

“As a journalist, you tell all kinds of stories and you need to make sure you’re prepared. Whether that’s for muddy fields or heartbreaking chats with grieving families. We know in our hearts what’s appropriate.

“That said, we can’t escape the impact of covid and remote working is having on some parts of journalism — there was a good deal of comment along the lines of ‘shorts and t-shirts on zoom’.

“We operate in changing times and the idea of a dress code might feel so pre-covid. But there was a very strong sense of what was professional without the need to dictate.

“Perhaps the idea of how a journalist should dress being a generally understood norm rather than an uncritical rule says something about changing attitudes.”

Speaking to HTFP, Andy said he “wasn’t really surprised by the advice and the position people took”.

He added: “The idea that there is a norm that people were kind of tuned into was nice. As an academic, I could get a little pointy headed about identity, newsroom culture and the role of a journalist etc.

“But I thought it was a helpful collection of advice for new people entering the industry and the idea of what’s acceptable when Covid has turned the way we do things upside down and new starters may rarely find themselves in a newsroom to soak up that expectation and experience – or borrow a tie from a colleague.

“As an aside. I thought ‘death knocks’ coming up was interesting – you’d be lead to believe by some that’s the kind of right-of-passage journalism that doesn’t happen any more.

“But it’s clearly a thing – along with court and council. And a thing that people take seriously.