Archive for the ‘ newspapers ’ Category

Tweeting from the council chamber

Tonight was a first for me; I followed a council debate live from Dudley while snuggling in my bedroom listening to Elbow’s new album.

No, I wasn’t peering in to the council chamber with a telescope, in the style of James Stewart in Rear Window. I was following the debate through the medium of Twitter.

All I can say is that in the space of 12 Tweets I learned all I needed to ever know about the public sector cuts debate engaging the good folk of Dudley. It saved me attending myself (as if) but still made me feel intimately involved. I particularly liked the bit when the public gallery started chanting and the police had to be called to clear the chamber. All very exciting.

As it happens, I don’t even live in the district of Dudley but I do subscribe to the tweets of the Express & Star, a daily regional newspaper where I once plied my trade as a young reporter.

Someone there has clearly twigged the value of social networks in the battle to engage the hearts and minds of local people. It will be slow, and time-intensive – but I reckon this kind of initiative is the future.

We are used to reading reports from council meetings and courts and inquests and other venues where journalists are traditionally welcome to attend. In our new world of rolling 24/7 news, we can sometimes get those reports within minutes of the case or incident ending.

But being able to get an instant, regularly updated feed live as things unfold? That is powerful. That is really mind-blowing. Through Twitter, pictures can be uploaded, captions posted, precise and clear words written – and it is as if we are right there, while it’s happening.

It’s taken me a long time to “get” Twitter. I still don’t really get it, only because I mostly follow minor celebrities and comedians rather than people I know. I don’t want to network professionally, or engage with other PR people particularly; I’m not trying to market myself or my services or tout any wares. I’ve used it to find some good photography blogs and information sites, I follow a few fantastic record company and record shop sites that tip off about upcoming tours and that kind of thing, and I once asked someone for a print quote who I spotted on Twitter just as I was about to email someone else.

But for those people who do want to do networking, or to engage with like minded people on particular topics, then I get why Twitter matters. I get why more and more people are doing it.

For me the future of Twitter comes in sharing information in a way that is direct, unadulterated and interactive. Any Express & Star followers tonight would have been able to find out what was happening in a council chamber miles away, and then make an instant response if they were so inclined.

This type of information-sharing will soon be the norm. There are already several class and school tweeters, who post daily from the classroom about what the kids are up to. Court reporters are beginning to tweet from live cases.

I like that I could choose to “tune in” to these tweets, in much the same way we currently tune in to news shows or TV and radio programmes.

Thanks for twittering on tonight, whoever was behind those E&S Dudley tweets. Good job.

PS: That Elbow album – excellent by the way.

Oh, and if you are minded to follow my tweets (they are rare) then I’m @rockhousePR See you twitterers!

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The Summer of 1996, Swansea, Wales

My flu-enforced house confinement this week has given me lots of time to contemplate the past, present and future (and sort through some old boxes of junk).

Tonight, one of my discoveries was a mix tape I made in May 1996 or thereabouts – a time when I was living and working in sunny Swansea.

I moved to Swansea in early 1995. I’d applied for and been offered (on the basis of a chat over a pint in a pub) the job of district news editor with the South Wales Evening Post. It was to be my first news desk role so, even though I didn’t know a soul and the job would take me miles from friends, family and my boyfriend at the time, Richard, I jumped at the chance.

I arrived on a cold and blustery Sunday, the wind blowing across the Mumbles seafront as I took a solo stroll along the beach. I wondered what the hell I was doing there.

I’d left the comfort of my simple life as a journalist at the Wolverhampton Express & Star, living with my boyfriend and having Sunday lunch at my mum and dads, to move to this distant corner of Wales, to live in a sad bedsit over a craft shop.

As soon as I met my new workmates the next day I knew it was going to work out just fine. They were friendly, kind and funny people who very generously allowed this English interloper to fit into their gang, who made me feel instantly at home.

I worked long hours and partied pretty hard, but also enjoyed long walks in the parks and on the beach with my new pals. I made some particularly special friends – Kathy & Rich, Cathy, Peter & Jayne, Janine and Kaye and many more – who shared this lovely time with me.

Within weeks I had been introduced to Wendy, a Scottish probation officer, who invited me to lodge in the Sketty home she shared with her black Labrador Mac and boyfriend Robin.

Though there were only a few years between us, Wendy quickly took on the role of substitute mum. I was naughty teenage daughter; I hardly ever washed up, rarely cooked, played loud music, drove a rusting, unreliable red Ford Escort and often came in late and drunk. I think it was a role she was used to – her partner, now husband, Robin, a fellow journalist, was like my naughty older brother, always in trouble. Mac the dog was definitely the least troublesome member of her household! Wendy could always be relied upon for a shoulder to cry on, someone to have a laugh with – and she always, always, had a pot of tea brewing.

It was a lovely period of my life. The only downside was the amount of time I spent apart from Richard, who by this time had moved up to Fort William, in the Scottish Highlands, to take up his own dream job – reporting for a weekly paper by day, climbing mountains every evening and weekend.

We only got together for one weekend in six, because of the immense distances involved. We had each taken on our new jobs with the other’s blessing – I wanted to push on in my career, and Richard wanted to seize the opportunity to live in the Highlands, however briefly. We were both prepared to risk being apart, in the belief our relationship would survive, and thankfully it worked. We enjoyed our independence, but ultimately we realised we wanted to be together more than anything.

While I missed Richard I truly fell in love with Swansea. It is an amazing, warm city and I would happily move back there tomorrow, if the circumstances were right.

Working at the Post was interesting and challenging. The editor who appointed me, Hugh Berlyn, was a difficult blighter – one day funny and brilliant, another day moody. It was a newsroom blessed with plenty of characters. I had the odd difference with people, and I’m sure I made the lives of some of the district reporters hell, but mostly we had a good giggle. It was easily the best place I have ever worked.

During this era my interest in music was reignited (probably because of all the time I had to myself tootling about in my Escort or in my room.) I went to lots of gigs and befriended a couple of the staff at Newport’s Diverse Records, which I called in to every time I popped along the M4 to visit my folks in Shrewsbury.

We quickly came to an arrangement – they would post me a batch of 45s every month, and I would keep what I liked and return the rest. They introduced me to lots of amazing bands – Super Furry Animals, Snuff, The Grifters, Lambchop – and lots of rubbish ones too, but the arrival of that package always gave me a great buzz.

So here I am tonight, sat in the kitchen, listening to that mix tape, remembering my old Swansea buddies. In front of me is the commemorative front page my old pals made me on my departure. It makes me smile every time I look at it, recalling as it does some dodgy nights out, my love of clumpy shoes, my inability to answer phones, my crush on MP Peter Hain (don’t ask), and my penchant for flavoured alcopops.

I left Swansea in November 1996 to move with Richard to Nottingham. I’d got a new job as deputy news editor at the Nottingham Evening Post, while Richard became a TV press officer for Carlton TV.

I made it back to Swansea a few times after moving away, but I’ve not been down for several years. I keep pledging to visit. But it won’t be the same, will it? Going back never is. There’s a bit of me that just doesn’t want to risk it. I want to remember Swansea, the Post and the people there just the way it was, summer 1996. Good times. Very good times indeed.

That Mix Tape in Full (labelled March-May 1996):

Manic Street Preachers: A Design for Life

Whipping Boy: When We Were Young

Bluetones: Cut Some Rug

Menswear: Being Brave

Auteurs: Light Aircraft on Fire

Bis: Kandy Pop

Gorky’s: If Fingers Were Xylophones

Wannadies: You & Me Song

Rocket From the Crypt: Young Livers

Laxton’s Superb: Coming Round

Gene: For the Dead

Snuff: Nick Northern

Ben Folds Five: Sports & Wine

Urusei Yatsura: Kewpies like Watermelons

Peter Perrett: Woke Up Sticky

Lambchop: The man who loved beer

Sparklehorse: Hammering the cramps

60ft Dolls: Talk To Me

Nilon bombers: Superstar

Shed Seven: Bully Boy

Eggman: Not Bad Enough

Ian McNabb: Don’t put your spell on me

The Grifters: Parting Shot

Sleeper: Sale of the Century

Hold The Front Page…

My kids have done me proud, just as I expected.

I’m not talking about my own flesh and blood here, but a group of budding writers that I’ve been working with at a local primary school.

Thanks mostly to their own desire and skill, albeit with a little helping hand from yours truly, this handful of 9- and 10-year olds have written, designed and created their own school newspaper.

This is not just any old school newspaper either. It’s an all-singing, full colour, glossy job, complete with headlines, cutouts, hampers and panels, photos and even an exclusive celebrity interview. They refused to do anything by halves, despite having just seven weeks to do it.

We only met once a week, for less than an hour a time, so it was all a bit more frenetic than I’d planned for, but their energy levels barely dipped. Every week they would turn up, at the end of a full school day, bursting to tell me who they had interviewed, what new ideas they had got, and desperate to show me their notebooks full of scribbled notes. It gave me a real buzz and reminded me how exciting the job of a news reporter can be.

To their delight, I made them each a reporter’s ID badge on a lanyard, and a named notebook and pencil, and persuaded the school to let them use a digital camera. It all added to their impression of themselves as “proper” reporters, and they behaved accordingly. One of them even suggested doing a “young love” expose. I managed to talk him out of it, but only on the promise he could do a pre-Valentine’s Day special about romance among primary kids. I await the finished article with bated breath and a terrible sense of dread.

The kids decided on their own news list, wrote to or approached their interviewees, wrote out their own questions, arranged photocalls and did all the writing themselves. They did most of the layouts, and generally wowed me with their IT skills and creative abilities.

It was an amazing experience and reminded me, not for the first time, how much I sometimes forget just what kids are capable of and how deeply they think.

As this was a bit of an experiment for all involved, I had volunteered to mentor the kids for free, and only charged a nominal rate for extra time I spent on it. I’d got no idea how the kids would respond to me or how much time it would take, and the school had no idea whether their instincts about me would prove correct.

I’m pretty confident we all came out of it well. I got the chance to trial a few ideas – some worked, some didn’t. I learned, for example, that letting kids loose on design will result in the introduction of LOTS of colours, many of which will clash horribly.

I also learned that all the “fun” of a “fun end of term quiz” is lost if you let the kids mark their own answers at the end; no matter how good they are, at least one of them will  not be able to resist cheating if chocolate is at stake.

I found out a lot about how to get the most out of different personalities; when to cajole and when to stay quiet. The kids told me they really enjoyed it, and have shown it by signing up to produce the next edition. The head was pleased with the finished product, and I got some lovely compliments from teachers, governors and parents.

It could also turn out to be very worthwhile in the long run. I’ve already been approached by two schools wanting my help to do something similar for them. As someone who thrives on confidence (if I was a footballer I’d be more erratic Emile Heskey than cocky Ashley Cole) this means an awful lot to me. I just hope I don’t let the kids down.

By the way, if you want to read the first edition of The Franche Flyer, you can see it here: http://www.francheprimary.org.uk/assets/final-franche-flyer-ed.pdf

Enjoy reading!

Back into the Newsroom – kiddie-style

As anyone knows who knows me well, or who regularly follows my blog, I spend a lot of time planning stuff – and a bit less time actually doing stuff. I have made an art out of procrastination.

I have even got my own Homer-style bum groove in the settee; evidence of my recent inertia.

For a few years now I’ve had excuses, in the shape of two beautiful little boys. Somebody once suggested I had them five years apart to string out the time I could stay at home guilt-free. They might have a point.

But now my littlest fella has started school. Time for Super Jane to fly into action!

From about May onwards I prepared for his September school start by doing yet more planning.

In fact, I planned a crazy, impossible workload.

By Christmas, according to my schedule, I will have relaunched my PR company Rock House Communications, made a success of two new business ideas, had a series of features published in national newspapers and magazines, become thin and super-athletic, and my house will be fit to grace the cover of Beautiful Homes.

Well, it’s been three weeks. I am, incredibly and to my complete surprise, not doing as badly as I thought I would.

That Christmas deadline is, of course, completely unachievable, and I don’t see me turning much of a profit on the work front for a few months yet, but things are beginning to fall into place.

I am actually DOING SOMETHING – and am all the happier for it.

As a wise man once said, the longest journeys begin with a single step. Well, I’ve taken a few small steps.

One of them has been to persuade a local head teacher to let me work with a group of kids at her primary school once a week to write and produce a school newspaper.

It’s a little something I’ve been meaning to do for a long while and now have the time to actually put into practice.

As an ex-hack, I’d almost forgotten just how incredibly brilliant it was to be at the heart of a newsroom. The buzz of knocking round story ideas, coming up with quirky angles, giggling over silly headlines, teeing up interviews and photo opportunities…

Okay, I might be getting just a teensy bit carried away. It’s a lower school classroom, after all, not Canary Wharf.

Our newsroom consists of four unreliable computers, Publisher (2003 edition), a point-and-shoot camera and a photocopier.

But I can’t help getting caught up in the excitement of it all. It takes me back to some of the best years of my working life.

I’ve already filled the kids’ heads with the more memorable bits of my own time as a daily reporter and news editor.

Like the time I spent covering the major news stories of the 90s and early noughties, including 9/11, Princess Di’s death and the House of Horrors.

Like the excitement of interviewing famous criminals, prime ministers and celebrities (if you count Mark E Smith, Noddy Holder and 5ive).

The buzz of seeing your name on the front page.

The joy of meeting inspiring and passionate people from all walks of life.

The free travel around the world.

I don’t think I’ll bother to tell them about the hours and hours of boredom in magistrates’ courts and council meetings; of wading through dull press releases and meeting some of the most boring people ever.

Nor about the long, long days, early starts, late nights and threats of violence (and that was just from my bosses.)

As a result they are enthusiastic, uber-keen, funny and really happy to give up their own time – including their playbreaks and lunchtimes – to pursue stories, carry out interviews and be right little nosey parkers.

At the first session we drew up our first news list, the children telling me what they knew about what was going on at school.

The school chickens have had new chicks. “Great,” I said. “Let’s get a picture taken,write a pun-filled caption – include the word egg-straordinary. Next!”

Giant white carrots have been pulled up at the school allotment. “Ditto… Next!”

One boy’s just returned to England after living in Spain and another girl has come back after living in Canada. “Lovely – let’s get a nice interview about the contrasting lifestyles and schooling, accompanied by a spread of pics from Spain, Canada and here. Next!”

There’s a fundraiser being held next week for a poorly pupil. “Let’s tell his story, find out what else we can do to help him. Next!”

The mayor’s coming to a coffee morning at school. “Ooh, let’s interview him about his own schooldays. And get a picture of him with the reporting team. Next!”

I think I might have got carried away, barking out orders. I think I also forgot they are only nine and ten, and that I might be expecting just a tad too much from them.

A few days after this meeting, one of the cub reporters approached me in the playground, proudly took out his reporters’ notebook and turned the page.

“Look at this,” he murmered, furtively looking around.

It was a list of boys and girls names. “What is it?”

“That,” he said, “has taken me all lunchtime to put together. It’s only a list of who is going out with who in Year 5! What do you think?”

“Er, what do you want to do with it?”

“Print it. In the first edition. I think we could run a regular column. We’ll call it Young Love and do a list of all the couples, with their pictures, and then everyone will know who is going out with who. I’ve already asked everyone and the ones with a tick by their name say they want to be included.”

I read through the list again. “Your name’s on here. It says you’re going out with J. But last week you told me J got on your nerves.”

“Yeah, well, I didn’t want to be left out of the list so I asked her to be my girlfriend again.” Mmm. Kid logic.

I suggested it might not be, well, appropriate for a school newspaper. And most of the couples would be split up by the time we printed the first edition in a few weeks. And people not included might be sad. And I was pretty sure the head teacher wouldn’t want it included.

“But,” he retorted, “everyone’s really excited about being in the paper now. And you did say it was up to us, as editors, to decide what to include.”

He has a point. I think I did say that.

So, will they publish and be damned? It will certainly be interesting at our next get-together to see if I can use my years of experience to successfully persuade them to do the right thing.

Here’s to doing stuff, whatever it may be. Enjoy doing your stuff this week!

PS: My camera is at the insurers being repaired and I’m missing it a lot. I love taking photographs, finding it a nice way to be alone, to chill out and to really appreciate the world around me. I particularly love taking pictures of my beautiful kids. You can see my attempts on my flickr pages at http://www.flickr.com/photos/fab2010/

However, they pale into insignificance next to the amazing pictures being churned out currently by an old pal Mark. If you want to see some lovely landscapes, check out his flickr pages at http://www.flickr.com/photos/zardoz67 or see his blog all about his adventures as an amateur photographer here http://www.zardoz67.wordpress.com