Journalism students at the University of Winchester have the ongoing task of producing a weekly news bulletin. This 10-minute program is put together in the same way a TV news program is created; everyone has a job to do, and if the reporters and presenters do their jobs, then the people in production roles should be able to put this content together in time for a live broadcast at 3pm each Wednesday.
The patch I have been given to report is ‘Crime and Community’. I’m pleased to have been given this opportunity as it is challenging for a number of reasons: Firstly, the subject matter is often difficult. It isn’t easy to get hold of people for interviews when dealing with trauma or controversy, and I feel this will prepare me for a career in reporting. Getting information from a press office is like trying to nail jelly to a tree.
Secondly, this kind of reporting presents a person with a fabulous selection of legal hurdles and pitfalls. For example, when reporting court cases, you have to be constantly mindful of committing contempt by publishing something which could be seen to be likely to influence a jury on an active case. A moment of absent-mindedness leading me to refer to a convicted burglar as a ‘robber’ would land me in trouble. Why? Because ‘burglary’ means unlawfully entering a building as a trespasser. ’Robbery’ means that threat or use of unlawful violence has been used to take someone’s property. Calling a burglar a robber is defamation.
Finally, Winchester doesn’t see a great deal of crime. I’m not complaining about this fact- a low crime rate is a good thing. I’m just saying that being a crime reporter in Winchester is a bit like being a restaurant critic in the Atacama Desert.
My first piece of content for Winol was less than successful. I heard that a pathway in Winchester was very poorly lit and a quite frightening place to be at night. I took myself down there at 10:30pm and found myself wishing I brought a torch. I thought I’d get some GVs (general views) and took out my camera. I found that shooting at night was trickier than I thought and decided to come back with Maddie later on.
Still, I decided I’d found my story and decided to run with it. I spoke to students about their feelings towards the area, I chased the council to find out the reason to the lack of lighting, and I called the local police to see what they had to say. Students were happy to talk, but police and Council were harder to pin down and my deadline was looming.
I carried on putting together what little material I had in between phone calls, all the time hoping that the authorities would have something to say. Alas, very late in the day I received the news: Both sources got back to me, but neither of them were available for interview. The police confirmed that the path, while creepy, is historically as safe as the Cathedral. The Council said it had tried to get some lights down there but had run into problems which it would not elaborate on.
So I ended up with something of a non-story that explained that a bit of Winchester is dark at night, students aren’t keen on it but the council can’t do much to help. What little controversy was there on existed because I asked for it.
Still, I did learn a great deal. As well as practising camera and editing work, I learned that reporters should be reporters and not try to be writers. It’s okay to look for news, but trying to make the news is a fool’s game (unless you’re working for a tabloid, perhaps). The mistake I made was failing to recognise the point at which my story ceased to be news. To be fair to myself, I thought there was going to be more to this story, and by the time I realised this wasn’t the case I was too close to deadline to put anything else together; but from now on I’ll be chasing hard facts, not whispers.
So the following week I found something better. Winchester Crown Court was to hand down a sentence after a man pleaded guilty to GBH. This was my chance to put together an interesting court report and demonstrate that I can tiptoe around tricky laws. The complainant in the case was facing a criminal charge of his own, so I would have to be careful not to identify him even though the case I was reporting was no longer active, or I would be at risk of prejudicing the jury in his own trial. I hoped to score some points for spotting that one.
Unfortunately, on the morning of the sentencing I felt more unwell than I can ever remember feeling before. (This was thanks to an overpriced sandwich I purchased- but as I can’t prove it I must resist the urge to warn any local readers about the vendor.) Still, with some kind help from Charlotte, a very generous coursemate, I made it to the court, sat through the trial and reminded myself how bad my shorthand is. I even asked the defendant, who was given a suspended sentence despite stamping on someone until they suffered organ failure, for a quote after the trial- which I didn’t really feel like doing while my body’s reaction to some malevolent bacteria had me sweating and shivering uncontrollably. I hoped that would score me some points as well.
I thought that if I could manage that on Tuesday, I should be able to do a quick piece to camera and submit my edited package on Wednesday. I was wrong. Tuesday’s triumphant story became Wednesday’s sob story when I found that a small sandwich had rendered me unfit to drive into uni and incapable of any kind of activity (and I hate admitting that). I ashamedly called in to let the editors know, and asked if I could deliver my report over a phone link in the hope that it would go some way towards redeeming my “It Gets Dark at Night” story the week before. This offer was declined and I now face Winol Edition 3 with additional pressure. This pressure comes only from myself, but that’s the best and worst kind of pressure there is.