Diary of a journalism post-grad, chapter 12

THE snow was general all over London… and the city fell to its knees.

Underground messed up all day, schools closed everywhere, and most of my tutors are stranded in their cars somewhere (except the one that was taking my class on the snow day, unfortunately).

I guess I should get used to it: it never fails to amaze me just how much mileage journalists can get out of snowy weather.

Most of my week has been spent on the phone trying to coerce offender rehabilitation centres or refugee community groups to let me come and visit.

With a heavy cold – my New Year’s resolution to make sure I eat ‘five a day’ has not paid off – the purpose of my calling has been undermined by a ten-minute explanation that my name is Laura and not Nora, despite what my stuffy nasal passages may suggest.

The reason for this cold calling (pardon the pun) is a feature for my Home Affairs specialism. I have to write a 1,000-word profile of an organisation or group involved in some way with the Criminal Justice System. I have come up against quite a lot of resistance, unsurprisingly given the media coverage of this topic at the moment. Again, another thing I should get used to: reticence towards hacks fishing for an interview or story. This is one time when the fact that my work doesn’t get published outside of my course becomes an advantage.

I got another feature returned to me today for re-drafting. Nothing too negative was said, but I think the lesson learnt is: speak to as many sources as possible.

I had been writing about the forthcoming bicentenary, in March, of the abolition of slavery and had managed to get hold of some leading academics and campaigners on the subject who gave some great quotes. But I felt I tended to lapse into old academic ways and it turned into more of a discursive essay. More sources will hopefully give me more of a steer on what particular issue within this wider subject I should focus the piece.

Very helpfully, my tutor gave me loads of contacts she had had dealings with in the past.

She seemed to like it, but as I am finding, quite a bit by now, at this stage of the course, we’ve all moved past correcting obvious mistakes as a means of improving our work. Now we have grasped the basics of writing news stories and features, it is time to start crafting them into masterpieces – ideally masterpieces that can be pitched and sold.

This is especially the case with features: by the end of last term, writing news intros had been distilled down to a fine formula, but with feature writing there are so many different ways of going about it and therefore so many ways to get it wrong. Practice makes perfect I suppose; I mustn’t be afraid to spice things up a little.

I’ll give it a go, though perhaps not with my anti-slavery piece.

Laura x