Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Blue Rose Code @ LEAF

Upstairs in LEAF tea shop, the night was set with multi-coloured light bulbs across the ceiling and the audience sitting around tables and benches with tiny tea lights. The mood was relaxed and mellow as Blue Rose Code aka Ross Wilson took to the stage to perform with his band last Wednesday.

Blue Rose Code originally hails from Edinburgh and has seeped into public conscious with the release of his first album North Ten. Last year, his profile was boosted with the help of BBC Introducing.

Wilson’s talent as a singer- songwriter is undeniable.  Whether he sings about love in ‘Skin and Bones’,  forgiveness ‘Edina’ or where he grew up in ‘Ghosts of Leith’, he did so in a way which captivated the audience, as they were struck by the stories he told with a great deal of poignancy and emotion.

While Blue Rose Code adamantly denies that he writes folk music, he is certainly influence by it, as we hear on tracks such as ‘Silent Drums’ with Wilson on guitar and the pangs of John Parker’s double bass. Even so, Wilson told us that he veered from this, when he went to Nashville, as part of the BBC Introducing showcase. The audience heard what he produced which was the country inspired, slightly Mumford and Sons-esque ‘Right to Be Happy’ and featured Matthew Boulter.

One of the standouts was the new single ‘One Day At A Time’ taken from his second album Ballads of Peckham Rye. This is touching song, which referenced his past struggles with addiction and how that came to affect his relationship. Samantha Whates’ background vocals complimented Wilson’s sincerity perfectly.

Blue Rose Code will undoubtedly go from strength to strength as this set proved. His last song was an ironic take on one of his tracks, so it became ‘This Is Not A Folk Song’ telling us that whatever he sings doesn’t matter. But, that was it, it did. His songs were from the heart, immersive and moving. A fantastic talent and without a doubt,  one to watch.


Sunday, 2 February 2014

Week 17 and 18

There we have it. After 18 weeks of blood, sweat and NCTJ induced tears. I've finished. HIGH FIVE. Yes, the fast track Diploma course has been, well, pretty fast. I don't think that me and my course mates were fully prepared for what and how much we've had to learn in this time. And the frantic last minute cramming that we've had  to do before exam week. What I've appreciated is that while we can now use this knowledge to get our first jobs in journalism, most of what we've learnt is useful in our everyday lives. Say you are having a conversation with a friend, you've not seen each other in a while, and you can be all like:  "Ah, council tax, that's a funny thing isn't it? Banding is A-H. A being the least expensive and H being the most. And it's based on 1991 house prices..." Or you're sitting watching a film with your partner, a thief appears, and you can inform your loved one and tell them that theft is in fact the "Dishonest appropriation of property belonging to a person with the intention of permanently depriving them of it. Not be confused with robbery, babe, you know. Because robbery is... "  See, this course can give you so much professionally and otherwise, so you really should consider doing it.

I thought that I'd give you a few final tips of how to succeed on your NCTJ course: 

1) Preparation: You've been accepted onto an NCTJ course, before you start, why not start reading key law topics or start learning shorthand? Yes, I'm not just saying this to be cruel, I assure you, it will help you a lot in the long run.

2) Time management and organisation: Like I've said before, if you keep on top of your work, it will mean that you'll be less stressed when it comes to exams and you'll actually have time for a social life.

3) Work hard on your placements: Be enthusiastic and keep producing work for the publication you work as often as you can. This way you will gain experience as well as building your portfolio. Also, keep in touch with the people you work with because having those contacts might come in handy in the future.

4) Work hard and play harder: I was lucky enough to meet some brilliant people on this course and it was only right that after a long, hard day, someone would say "Let's go for a drink". We went for a drink. Or two. Or three. Or four. Until we were all a wee bit too merry. But, that's how it should be. Journalists work hard and we should play harder. Something David Guetta clearly advocates:

Play Hard: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5dbEhBKGOtY

4) Take up a revision snack: Before I started this course, I looked at nachos and didn't think twice. You know, they were just corn chips, you could put cheese on them, bit of salsa. To be honest, they weren't all that. And then? I was introduced to them during my NCTJ. Jesus Christ. I used every available opportunity to plant my face into a bowl of Mexican corny, cheesy, sour creamy joy. I revised while eating them. They became my NCTJ diet staple. Seriously, pick a snack and revel in the joy of eating it. It will help you with many aspects of your course. Or you can be eating so much of it, that you will contemplate seeking out a support group. Either way, it's wonderful.

And that's it. Most of all, try and enjoy it. Because as tough as it might seem at times, it will be fun and worth doing. I'll be able to say that I'm a trained NCTJ journalist in a few weeks when I get my Diploma and that's brilliant.

As for me, I'm planning on staying in Liverpool to find my first job (or I'm now looking at Manchester). Most of the opportunities are down in London, at the moment, so I'll really need to see what I can get but I'm hopeful.  I'll be keeping you updated through this blog, I'm sure.

Until next time


Tuesday, 14 January 2014

NCTJ: Week 16

Last week, it was back to college for the final stretch of the race. Since then, it's been revision, revision, and yes, you've guessed it, MORE REVISION. I actually feel like I have it coming out of my ears at the moment. I mean one day I could have council tax spewing out of my left and section 11 court reporting restrictions out of my right. Not to mention newswriting, subbing and my portfolio. Where are they coming out of, eh? Actually, let's not dwell on that.... Moving swiftly on....

What I did do for most of the week was my portfolio. This comprises of ten original stories that you have had published (or not). Nine and a feature, if you have one.  You upload them into an e-portfolio on the NCTJ website, as well as details of work experience. You can then use it to take to interviews when you finish your course, as well as it being a key part of the assessment for your Diploma.

Here are a few key tips to help you put together your own:

1) Stories: You can upload cuttings from work ex that you've done at a news organisation previously and any pieces that have featured online. The best way to upload them is through turning them into a PDF by scanning. Most importantly, you need to submit a varied portfolio to demonstrate your broad skills as a journalist. For me, I included pieces like: The third annual Liverpool Pride festival, a gig review and a sports story about a local fencing tournament. The more diverse the selection of articles is the better your portfolio will be. Not all of the stories need to come from your NCTJ, you are free to use work that you've done from university (student media) or other work placements.

2) Description/Rationale: For each story, there will a description/ rationale section in which you must explain what you needed to do to get your story. Some pieces will have more detail than others, but try to be as thorough as you in your explanations. How did you find the story? Who did you interview? And how? If it was a review, did you go to the gig/ play etc? As well as this, you'll need to put down what legal regulations and ethical considerations you made when writing your story. Refer to your PCC code for this, and in most cases, you will be able to use the same clauses for more than one story. Accuracy, privacy, harassment, are good ones to include.

3) Traffic light system: You need to have your description, original copy (i.e. the one you have written before it has been subbed) and the final copy, for every story before you submit. Each of those 'lights' need to turn green for a piece to be complete. When you've done this, upload it, and feel a sense of relief that it is complete. One more thing to tick of your list. Boss.

Off to do some PA revision now, people.

Until next time


Sunday, 22 December 2013

NCTJ: Week ?????????????

Hiya readers,

OK, right, I *think* I've just finished week 15. What have I been doing since my last post? Have I been in some NCTJ induced coma that has stopped me from blogging about my exploits? Not quite. Instead of not blogging completely, I've sort of made the choice to leave it aside (for admittedly, a long time) and instead I've been focussing on interviewing, building my portfolio, exams and having a merry ole time with coursemates on the occassional night out (which is usually rounded off by a large McNugget meal from the Mecca that is McDonalds).

Since my last post though, I can say that I've grown so much in confidence as a journalist. Last time, I was talking about time management and my new role as a Bootle Community Reporter for the Liverpool Echo. The fact that I was struggling to find stories. At the beginning it was slow and I had to persevere before I got anything newsworthy. It involved exploring my local area and phoning places like schools, shopping centres, charities for anything that was going on at the time. I even went down to interview my local MP, Joe Benton. More for the experience than anything, I quizzed him about his role and issues affecting the area. I was quite nervous but he turned out to be really nice. I left my contact details with him, so hopefully he will get in touch with any stories he may want covering. And not forgetting to make the most out of social media, like Facebook and Twitter. I've had stories published in the Merseymart and Bootle Star supplements, which include a local fitness company running outdoor exercise classes in a Bootle based park. As well as an interview with a band, Tres, who had made it to the regional finals (now grand finals!) of Open Mic UK. I've been proud of the work that I've managed to produce as my skills have developed over the past few months. And I can't stress how important it to use your initiative when on such placements, as that is really important for you as a journo and for future employers to see that you are capable of producing high quality stories that you have sourced yourself.  Always be enthusiastic and don't give up, even if you feel disheartened, because eventually it will be worth it.

I had my first two exams in November. Shorthand at 60wpm (LOLZ) and Media Law. I can admit, I didn't feel comfortable with shorthand at all. I knew it wasn't going to go well. I think I'd built this negative attitude based on experiences of it I had in the past. Afterwards I felt pretty fustrated and upset with myself, but then thought I needed to give it another go. I spoke to my tutor and decided that I had to try and get something, even if it was to show that I knew the theory. So I took my 40wpm this week and smashed it. Yes, it is pretty slow but I think I'm going to work to 60wpm now. And then, who knows? ;) Next was our law exam. Due to illness, we haven't had a law teacher in the lead up to exams. However, we were taught topics and given a booklet with past papers to help with our revision. Along with the booklet and our trusty team NCTJ group on Facebook. OMFG. DOES ANYONE KNOW THE ANSWER TO THIS QUESTION? IS IT QUALIFIED PRIVILEDGE? HAVIN' A BREAKDOWN. In the end though, managed a shiny A. Really pleased with that.

Over Christmas, I'll be revising for my remaining exams. And expect to hear more of me as I reach the final hurdles of this course. No, really, I'll be blogging more, I promise!

I'd like to wish all my readers a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

S xxx

Sunday, 6 October 2013

NCTJ: Week 3, 4 and 5

Hello readers,

Let me begin with a discussion. A discussion of a concept, a concept  known as 'free time'. You know, it basically involves 'time' which is 'free' that you can do stuff in when you haven't got more important stuff to be getting on with, like your job or an NCTJ Diploma. 'Free time' may involve enagaging in things like socialising, reading or watching something known as 'television'. Now that I'm a few weeks into this Diploma, I have realised that I am doing very little of the aforementioned activities, which in truth, has been a difficult adjustment for me. WELCOME TO THE REAL WORLD, STEPH. I know, I know. This is what it will be like when I get an actual job, so I have to get used to it. And to be honest, I think I've settled into a routine quite well now.

I think one of the major factors when you are doing a course like this is time management. With so much to learn in such a short space of time, I've had do work even when I get home from college after a long day (news writing, shorthand and like). I'm a pretty motivated person, but sometimes, if I have Media Law revision and a new episode of 'The Great British Bake Off' to watch, then I'm going to have to go with the cake based food porn.

When finding stories, it's not normally a case of 'news only happens during the week', so that means I've had to go out interviewing during weekends, sacrificing the 'free time' I would've normally had. You see, journalism is a 24/7 job. You need to keep yourself on the pulse all of the time. Just like with this course and the work you need to do for it. Try to plan your time wisely and keep on top of everything that you are doing. It's quite easy (and tempting!) to lag behind  but it's best not to, if you can help it. After all, having good time management and keeping to deadlines are both essential requirements in a job like this, so it is defintely worthwhile to get ahead while you can. Of course, you can still have your 'free time', you just need to weave it into your schedule  and make sure you catch up on what you have planned as soon as possible.

As part of the course, I'm on placement with the Liverpool Echo and have been made their Community Reporter for Bootle. It is a great way to get experience but so far I'm struggling to find stories. I've been in touch with local schools and been out and about exploring where I live and have a few stories for next month but not many for the coming weeks. I think I need to go and investigate my patch further, something which I hope to do next week. I do have my first community story coming up next Wednesday and I have a meeting with a headteacher for a local high school on Tuesday, so fingers crossed I find out about some events coming up there soon. I think though, that some people have been luckier with their patches than others, as some of my coursemates have manged to get pieces published already. I'm sure it will pick up though.

Anyway, I'm off to do some Media Law revision now. Looking forward to the 'GBBO' repeat and 'Homeland' tonight. I can't wait for Claire Danes' 'Cry Face' to get back on my tv screen. HOORAH.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

NCTJ: Week two

Two weeks have passed and it really does feel like a month  (or two). We're starting to settle into the course now. We know what to expect. Four hours of shorthand in one day, things like that. By the end, I can tell that we are all questioning our sanity/ will to live. Actually, both of these.  I'm getting the hang of it now though. I'm quicker at reading sentences and pretty accurate with the occasional lapse. On Friday morning, I read an outline as 'Peeling balls' instead of 'Peeling bells'. It was pretty hilarious. And proof that you can actually have fun with shorthand, even though it has the capability to destroy your soul.

For me, I'd really like to see if I can pass the 60wpm exam that we have in early November and work from there. With my previous experience, I know that shorthand at speed is a real issue for me and it isn't made any easier by physical limitations. Last time I sat a dictation exam, the speed only at 40wpm. So, if I pass this 60wpm, I'll see whether I can do a faster speed but if I'm unable to it's not something I can really do much about. In interviews, I use a Dictaphone to record and then transcribe afterwards. I've been practising whenever I have the time to learn the theory. I will just have to see how it goes. However, unlike the rest of my class, I'm not too concerned about getting the industry standard of 100wpm. Whatever I can get, will, I'm sure, be useful to me.

Our second exam in November is for media law and this week we have already started to look at past papers, to get an idea of  style  and what type of things they will ask. Our tutor told us the NCTJ only have a limited number of questions to ask in certain ways. Considering that we have only learnt about defamation and contempt of court so far, we were able to attempt the paper and give informed answers. Basically, it will just be a case of memorising the laws and regurgitating them in the exam much like with Public Affairs (this week, we looked at the council and constitution) and Court Reporting. I'm going to start revising the things that we've learnt so far, to make it easier for when my exams come around.

This weekend, I went out interviewing for my first news story of the course about Heritage Month in Liverpool. I focused on the Bluecoat, an arts centre, on School Lane. They have an entire weekend full of activities exploring the building's heritage. I had to do a vox pop, which is always joyful. Approaching people and asking for their opinions is always nerve wracking, especially when some people aren't willing to give you a quote. I managed to get a few quotes from the public, as well as the Artistic Director of the Bluecoat. Quite alright, since I haven't interviewed in a while. Will write it up today.

Until next week


Sunday, 8 September 2013

NCTJ: Week one

The first week of my NCTJ course is offically over! And what a week it has been. I enrolled on Monday and started the following day, 9-5pm. If that was the course trying to ease us in gently, then it didn't really work, I was knackered and my brain was struggling to function by 5pm. If it wasn't, then, fair do's.

And since then, it has been quite impressive how much I've learnt in practically four days. This 'fast track' Diploma in Journalism has certainly lived up to its name (and my expectations) as like I have mentioned previously, it's only 18 weeks meaning that because we finish at the end of January, we need to learn everything for our exams in the shortest possible time, which as you can imagine will be delightful.

For those reading this blog who are considering an NCTJ course, I thought that this would be an ideal oppportunity to explain in detail who the NCTJ are and what they offer:

The NCTJ or National Council for Journalists is a body that provides recognised journalism qualifications through universities, colleges and training centres. Most importantly, a course that is accredited by the NCTJ means that your qualification will be recognised within the media industry. So, if you are thinking about a course like this, please make sure that where you do it has accredition, otherwise it will be a waste of time and money, as you would have to pay extra to take these exams. And I'm sure this is something which you would rather avoid.

That said, what route you choose is up to you, some might go for a MA (which usually lasts a year) and others go for a 'fast track' course. Personally, the reason I chose this course was I discovered through doing a year of journalism undergraduate, that you don't need to spend so much time learning the material. Even though it is much more intense, you learn what you need to pass the exams with a as it filters out anything unecessary. Also, I've been told that it is best to stay out of the industry for the shortest possible time which  means that you have a better chance when you enter the job market. Really good advice and definitely something worth thinking about when you are choosing which you want to do.

You can find out more about the NCTJ including which courses are accredited, here:


Every course should have the same elements, which are:

-News Reporting

-Public Affairs


-Media Law

- Options: Sub-Editing or Sports Reporting.

News Reporting is pretty simply learning how to write news stories. What is newsworthy? What is the best angle? How do you structure a story? This exam is notoriously tricky and there is a portfolio you need to submit which includes ten of your best stories.

Public Affairs includes matters of government, the monarchy and public services like education and the NHS.

Media Law explores key aspects that journalists need to know when they writing stories so that you don't end up in court. The court system, parliamentary acts and laws and such are covered here.

Shorthand is a fundmental skill that the NCTJ and employers really expect journalists to have and it is a necessity for when apply for your first job (and beyond). The industry standard is 100 words per minute and it is what we study most on my course because it is such an essential and desired requirement. I have had experience with it before on my undergrad. It's basically a form of text speak based on the alphabet and represented by symbols. I think the hit by Peaches and Herb 'Reunited' best describes how I feel about it, take a listen:


HAHAHA. I'M JOKING. Of course, it doesn't. I'm not very happy to reunited with shorthand even though I'm picking up a little quicker from my previous experience. It's frying everyone's brain a little ( a lot) and rightly so. It's difficult. And the key is that you need to build speed which takes practice and doing a little everyday. Our first exam is in November at 60wpm. The thought, already, is filling me with so much joy.

Sub-Editing involves not only editing copy (stories) but producing headlines too.  We need to use a program called Quark, which we are still trying to get our heads around, but the editing itself is pretty straight forward.

And finally, Sports Reporting, the exam is optional but the classes are complusory. This means learning how to write match reports and watching football matches (Oh dear!) But we have been told that it will help build our reporting skills, which is always a good thing.

So, there we have it. I hope that was enjoyable and useful. I'm practising shorthand and catching up on my media law today (Defamation! Hoorah!).

Until next week