Critical Reflection: Year Three, Semester One

WINOL has expanded this semester as our team more than doubled in size allowing students to explore new niche areas in features and sports producing some fantastic work. News has also been transformed as multiple reporters now cover politics in different local constituencies helping develop invaluable experience in preparation for next year’s General Election. In addition, there was the introduction of a new ‘WINOL Politics Show’ – incorporating documentaries and in-studio discussions.

The way in which features are produced is unrecognisable to this time last year as written media has been revolutionised into television – transforming something that was once solely pictures into something much more visually interesting.

Football now generates a much larger part of our audience, and as the team has expanded, sports now produce vast amounts of content with highlights featured every week in our bulletin, alongside sister programme ‘Sportsweek’, giving news editors tougher decisions on what to keep and what to spike.

Access Winchester has been remodeled into ‘WinchXtra’ with presenters securing impressive high profile interviewees such as Jacqueline Wilson and Tom Deacon. ‘The Week Ahead’ was revived to help reporters keep on top of their beats and new website W2 was launched by BBC South’s, Laura Trant, who described students as ‘super keen, very organised and very calm.’

Winchester News Online won yet another award in the latest BJTC honours which was a great achievement. The team won News Day of the Year for the third time in a row in the award ceremony hosted by Birmingham City University.

This term, we linked to the United States – to our sister University in Illinois – regarding the protests in Missouri which was great experience for everybody involved working under pressure on an international story and meeting deadlines.

With multiple students working in the social media team we managed to reach over 2000 followers on our Twitter page (@WINOL) gaining over 200 new followers this semester alone. Students showed great market penetration and a strong ability to communicate to viewers. As well as gathering more followers on Twitter and YouTube our social media influence has also spread to Facebook, Flickr, Vimeo, Google Plus, Instagram and Pinterest.

The audience for WINOL is hard to define, as we do not solely aim our content at students on campus – as this is too narrow. Instead we broaden out into larger areas such as Southampton and Portsmouth and although this is not boosting our views it heightens our professionalism.

This semester we managed to beat unique IPs from last year and we also beat monthly views. But, WINOL’s success has not been reflected in its Internet ranking. WINOL currently has a global Alexa ranking of 3,610,739 compared to last semester’s 1,380,408 -showing a dramatic drop. When comparing this to our main competitor, East London Lines (ELL), who currently have a much-improved global ranking of 638,040, there is some cause for concern. One reason that we are currently below our competitors could be due to the fact that we don’t publish any content over the summer. Another contributing factor could be our location; our competitor ELL covers Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Lewisham and Croydon – where population (and audience) is very high. Whereas we cannot do much about our location, we should consider the possibility of MA Journalism students editing the website over the summer months – as ELL is currently being edited by a team of student journalists who study MA Journalism at Goldsmiths, so this is something that we can learn from.

Despite low circulation globally, our circulation locally is still very good when considering our student population and figures on our website do not always represent a true reflection of our views that we receive on YouTube – notably Lauren’s story of 87-year-old dance sensation, Ronald Burgess – which generated almost 1000 views on our YouTube account.

Guest editors from a variety of professional backgrounds have visited WINOL on our weekly news days to observe and critique our work. As well as Laura Trant from BBC South, WINOL was very fortunate to have Ian Sherwood from SKY News as our guest editor who said we were ‘very close to the reality of a regional newsroom’, adding that ‘content is hugely incredible’. It was interesting to find out that SKY News use the same DSLR cameras as us, which demonstrates the high level of training that we are receiving. Other guest editors included OMNISPORT Bulletin Producer, Graham Bell; Claudia Murg – whose background lies within investigative journalism; as well as freelance broadcast journalist, Chris Coneybeer.

The way in which the role of news editor was allocated changed this semester, as it was decided that students, instead of lecturers, would alternate every week to give reporters the opportunity to learn new skills. I chose to be news editor for the first official bulletin which I found extremely challenging but very rewarding. The bulletin that week received mostly positive feedback and included many good elements such as Meg’s spin on a national story involving Milk prices, a lovely ‘And Finally’ by Nadidja about a new-born donkey and an overall improved production. I was very happy with the order of the bulletin and the headlines that I chose. If I were to take on the role again I would pay closer attention to making sure communication was completely fluid between reporters and myself as there were some instances where I think I overlooked issues such as presenting.

As well as producing weekly articles and profile interviews for the Justice Gap, my role this year progressed from police and crime reporter to crime correspondent in WINOL and expectations increased in regards to quality, interviews and overall content of my packages. Since the beginning of this year I have taken a keen interest in the Justice Gap and continued writing for the publication over the summer, traveling to London many weeks to conduct interviews by myself with high profile figures such as Shami Chakrabarti, Evan Harris and Steve Hewlett. In doing so I gained a lot more confidence, which has helped me massively this semester.

I aimed to produce packages, on average, every other week to give myself more time to focus on attaining high profile interviews. My package surrounding rising violence in prisons with Governor of HMP Winchester, David Rogers, is a good example of this as it took a couple of weeks to secure the in-studio chat. I believe this interview was possibly one of my best as the Governor is a great speaker and the way in which it was shot was much more professional. I decided to conduct the interview in the studio but I set up two DSLR cameras and used a JVC for sound to improve the quality. Despite this, I don’t feel as though this is one of my strongest packages as I was very short on pictures and the story didn’t work very well for television. I had to create my own graphics for this package which was a great learning curve, and useful to build up additional skills, although as a result they weren’t as impressive as previous weeks.

Unfortunately, this semester the press officers at Hampshire Constabulary have been less willing to work with our crime team at the University as we do not produce high enough ratings to be prioritised when stories break. As a result, crime stories have been very hard in terms of arranging police interviews and students on our team have had to be resourceful when producing packages. An example of this is when I decided to do a breaking story surrounding 40% unrecorded crimes by Hampshire Police. Unable to arrange an interview with the police, I decided to do a debrief in the studio using the green screen behind to superimpose graphics. The graphics, produced by Calum with some of my own input, provided a great visual aid and I learnt a new skill, ‘keying’, as I edited the package together in Final Cut Pro. My confidence in presenting has definitely improved this semester, as well as my script writing.

My Immigration Street package is a good example of my work for the Justice Gap linking up to WINOL. An interview I conducted for the Justice Gap with MP John Denham also lent itself to a good local story for WINOL surrounding residents in Southampton opposing filming for a new Channel 4 series. As a result, I had to request additional permission for the interview to be used for our student bulletin – this is very important, as interviewees must always consent when using footage for a different publication. As a visual package – produced for television – this story was very sensitive and had to be approached with caution. Residents were very angry about how they had been treated by other filming crews in the past; therefore interviewing anyone from the street was out of the question. Instead, I arranged an interview with local Councillor, Satvir Kaur, who is very familiar with the community and residents’ views and who also lived on the street. Cllr Kaur advised me against filming on the street but gave me her contact card should anyone protest if I decided to go ahead. I took the Cllr’s advice under serious consideration and decided to compromise and film in a quieter, less densely populated area of the street where my presence would be less likely to offend but I still attracted a lot of attention from the residents and I settled on doing a single take for my PTC and a few brief shots before making my way back to the newsroom. Safety is always important when filming on location and I had a friend help me film on the day.

Visually, I was most proud of my New Forest Pony package, as filming all of the content outside meant that interviews had better sound and looked more interesting. Again, the story was quite sensitive as it reports that the number of animal deaths have risen in the area due to speeding drivers. I contacted the Verderers who were extremely helpful in arranging an interview with Head Agister, Jonathan Gerrelli, who was a great speaker; and the organisation provided me with some images of animal deaths from previous accidents. The aim of showing such images would not have been to upset viewers but warn them of the possible consequences of speeding. But, when discussing the pictures with the news editor we decided to spike them as they were too gruesome and as plans were already being put in place to help improve the situation in the New Forest, there was no point in risking upsetting viewers. To lighten the story I conducted a case study at a local stables, which was great fun and gave me the rare opportunity (in crime) to be creative with my shots. I interviewed a rider whilst on her horse and attached a GoPro to her whilst she attended one of her lessons, which looked very effective – despite the rain.

I think it’s important that the course remains very much focused on practical work with students producing a bulletin every week so as to continue learning and improving from previous mistakes.

Reporters are still struggling to attend news conferences with more than one story although I was very impressed the week that I was news editor at their ability to find other stories when their originals fell through.

Production has progressed massively this year and the use of a hard drive as opposed to tapes, in the gallery, improves transfer and quality of footage. Tweaks still need to be made in the studio in terms of lighting and cameras. I think that one way to improve this is to record in the studio against a green screen and then transfer the backgrounds in post-production as I found that this worked really well in one of my packages.

I am confident that the progress that I have made this semester will continue to improve and that the skills I have learnt will help me in finding some great work experience over the following months.

About brackenstockley

Contributor to the JusticeGap and WINOL. Currently studying journalism at the University of Winchester (Year Three).
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