I’ve made it to the half way point of my year-long Broadcast Journalism masters at City Uni. And, like most good things that you’ve dreamt of for a long time, it’s going bloody quickly!
So while I was enjoying my six weeks Christmas break, I got thinking about the most memorable things I’ve learned so far (after wondering exactly what my £9,000 fees were being spent on while I was off). So here’s my top ten nuggets of knowledge on being taught to make the news…
1 – If you want to be famous, leave!
Day one, lecture one. After the obligatory niceties, things got real. They were like SAS trainers trying to wheedle out the weak by subjecting us to psychological mind games. The staff made it very clear, they didn’t want any prima donnas. Especially not anyone who was merely on the course to become, perish the thought, ‘a presenter’ (the word spat through gritted teeth).
‘We do not teach you to be a presenter. If that’s what you want, get out!’ Okay, those might not have been the exact words, but the sentiment was clear… Journalist = good. Presenter = bad.
I thought this was a little harsh, seeing as the Journalism Department ‘Hall of Fame’ (above) has a fair few framed snaps of famous news presenters mounted proudly on the wall. Thank god Samira Ahmed, Evan Davis and Sophie Sophie Raworth didn’t get up and walk out in week one.
2 – BJs are nice
Once I got over the (frankly hilarious) fact that broadcast journalists can be referred to as BJs, I realised what a friendly, outgoing, sociable bunch my fellow City BJs are. It seems obvious thinking about it now, as we all have chosen the expressive, verbal and visual form of journalism, rather than just boring, old written words. But before I started, I feared masters journalism students would all be smelly, socially-awkward, middle aged men who liked smoking cigarillos. I couldn’t be more wrong.
For a start, well over 50 per cent of the cohort are female. The majority are also younger than my 25 years – many coming straight from their undergraduate studies. As a result, I have had to learn how to drink like a student again! And, despite one unfortunate incident involving Tesco Value Vodka and a third floor balcony, I think I’ve managed to pull it off.
3 – Wearing knitwear is a high-risk strategy
We have a TV news day once a fortnight where we all work to produce a local news programme inventively titled City News. I learned very quickly that you should always come dressed for going on camera, even if you have no intention of doing so.
On week one, I rocked up expecting a chilled day of editing and producing, only to be told that I would be reading the news! What can I say, chunky knitwear doesn’t really have that authoritative look. I vaguely resembled a geography teacher on a field trip. Raworth would not approve!
4 – ‘The orgasm always comes first’
From foreplay to sausages, everything we’re taught seems to have a sexual innuendo. Top of the list is our course mantra: ‘the orgasm comes first’. It’s meant to remind us to get straight to the point and put the most important pictures and facts at the start of our TV and radio packages. It’s certainly left a lasting impression. Just hope I never accidentally quote it in the workplace.
In a similar vein, a different middle-aged tutor taught us to always “cut the foreplay” in our scripts and get “straight to the best bits”. While another used the analogy of “sizzling sausages” to make a similar point. Really then, I should have put this as point one, not four. Oh well, I’m still learning!
5 – Getting celebs to talk to you is hard!
In our first documentary class we were set an Apprentice-style challenge Lord Sugar would be proud of…”You’ve got a week to interview a celebrity on camera. They must be a household name and they cannot be a journalist.”
It sounded easy. Oh no it wasn’t. What we soon learned is that once you utter the words ‘student journalist’ it’s hard to get anyone to give up their precious time to talk to you, let alone anyone famous.
After five days of unanswered phones and unreturned emails, my task partner and I resorted to camping outside the Radio 1 studios in an attempt to nab a famous face on their way in. We got lucky, and ended up with an (incredibly brief) chat with three-fifths of The Vamps. Thankfully there was no specified length for the interview.
6 – ‘However’ is BANNED, along with any other word over three syllables
You know all those nice long words you’ve been taught to add into your school and university essays to make you sound more intelligent? Forget all of them! Delete them from your mental dictionary and substitute them for basic alternatives.
We’re taught to make things simple, not complex, so that an intelligent 12-year-old could understand it. As a result however becomes plain, old but. And don’t even try to slip in a furthermore!
7 – Finishing a PTC is the BEST. FEELING. EVER.
A piece to camera (PTC) is that part in most TV news reports when the reporter stops being a detached God-like voice and pops up talking directly into the lens. They make it look so damn easy. It’s not, which leads to wild celebrations when you manage to get the end of one without making a tit of yourself. Cue jumping for joy.
8 – WhatsApp groups are not conducive to a healthy learning environment
Back in 2009, when I first started my undergrad, a Blackberry was seen as cutting-edge technology. As a result, lecture distractions were pretty much limited to writing notes on bits of paper and passing them around the room.
Fast forward to the present day and the social media smartphone revolution means staying focussed on the lecturer is an increasingly difficult task.
Especially because, being the sociable bunch we are, we all added each other into one huge WhatsApp group in the first week of term. As a result, it’s not uncommon to receive well over 100 messages over a two hour class.
9 – White wine is an essential ingredient to digesting media law
Contrary to what many News of the World journalists may have thought, there are in fact lots of laws and regulations that govern what journalists can and cannot do. So much, in fact, to fill not one but two 300+ page textbooks that sit proudly on my bookshelf.
I found white wine of any variety or price helped it all sink in while revising for my exam and writing my essay. It also helped me remember this bizarre fact: a journalist can tweet in a courtroom but not draw a picture with a pencil. Who knew?!
10 – Reading an autocue while engaging your brain is tricky
When I eventually got the chance to host one of our TV news programmes, I made it all the way until the very end before I cocked up! I had learned my wooly jumper lesson and come suited and booted, but that didn’t stop me saying goodbye from the “lunchtime team, this evening” at 12.45pm. Not the worst offence, by any means, but just a reminder of how easy it is to make a Ron Burgundy kind of mistake. So, in his words and until next time… stay classy, world! KB.