The Press Gazette’s Student Online Journalist of the Year 2007, Jack Templeton, is now in his first job as a print/online journalist at The News & Star. In the first of a series of posts for the Online Journalism Blog, he writes about how he won a unique position as a print news reporter-cum-online consultant, and his fears of “being known as the ‘web guy’ in the corner who “does all that sort of internet stuff.””
My involvement with the News & Star began in early 2005 when then deputy-editor (now head of digital content development) Nick Turner made a plea on the website for readers to create a blog and regularly update it. Writing that first blog helped me develop writing skills I was currently learning: narrative, pyramid effect/hierarchy of events, use of quotes (effectively and humerously) and, most importantly for me, a personal style I was comfortable with.A month or two into writing the blog, I was invited into the office and offered a paid summer placement to launch and create content for a student section of their website. I detailed the experience earlier this year on my new blog, Neurotic World Order.
Although the experience of working in the newsroom that summer had not been particularly enjoyable, I was extremely fortunate to be asked back to work freelance on some exciting and creative projects, including a mixture of online, print and even broadcast. I created webpages at home using Dreamweaver (where I was able to work visually and with a lot more tools than the in-house CMS) and would copy over the HTML code of the webpage into the CMS. This allowed me to present content much more effectively on screen. An example of this was a very popular viral section, the Gallery of Mirth.
My ideas were always listened to, creativity in design/content was encouraged and the end results were extremely rewarding. Just a few weeks ago, my latest N&S website project – The Great Cumbrian Run – earned me the Press Gazette Student Online Journalist of the Year 2007 award.
During the last few months of my degree, I used the new blog to still tell some neurotic, self-indulgent ‘diary’ type stories, but also now for my own journalism experiences, analysis, reviews and interviews. It suddenly struck me as a great place to post work that had not been published for various reasons, but that I still thought should be seen.
A few weeks before I won the award, I wrote to the editor of the News & Star, telling him (!) to employ me as a journalist who was primarily interested in creating content for the website. I expected to be politely told the money just wasn’t there to create such a role within a regional newspaper, but was amazed to find my letter couldn’t have come at a better time – I was exactly the sort of person they were looking for. The editor was unable to precisely define my role, but my job would basically be a mixture of working as a news reporter for print and working with other reporters on helping maximise a story’s online potential. To some this may sound like two jobs in one. To me it was normal practice.
I was warned way back in the first few weeks of my degree that if you wanted to start a career on any regional newspaper, you would be covering the tedious jobs no-one else in the newsroom would want to do. How wrong that was.
As I post this, I’m in the second week of the job. My first job last week (working with another reporter) was a Carlisle man who bragged on national television about how he uploaded video clips of violence on YouTube “for fun”. Something as simple as suggesting we used the site to do our own investigation as to what other Cumbrian violence was being uploaded made it a much stronger piece – especially when you’re confronted by some of the shocking images of attacks.
In those horrible, all-too-familiar moments of the first few days when I nervously sat around with nothing to do, I began developing plans, to later discuss with reporters, showing how upcoming stories could be hugely expanded online – and with little time and fuss. I suspect this will prove to be one of the most difficult aspects of the job; trying to convince others of the value of online content. I don’t want to be known as the ‘web guy’ in the corner who “does all that sort of internet stuff.”
Indeed, I was wracked with nerves in the weeks leading to the first day that my position could create resentment among those who felt I had come in to work on the ‘softer’ side of journalism. I needn’t have worried as much; most of the journalists I have spoke to have been surprisingly engaging in discussing the future role of OJ. They admit they are not so keen in practising it themselves, but that they understand why things are moving forward. Obviously some stories lend themselves better to online potential than others, but already reporters have said to me, ‘Actually, that might be worth doing something with online, wouldn’t it?’
So, here I’ll be posting my experiences on here of getting to grips with a job where nobody (not even the editor) knows how it will pan out. I have a lot to learn from reporters (along with gaining the skills I had trouble with during my degree such as shorthand and law) but I think they too could learn a lot from someone like myself as to reporting stories from a different outlook. It is indeed a leap into the unknown but it is also very exciting.
Bring it on!