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Posts tagged ‘journalism’

You tell me yours, and I’ll tell you mine

Coming from a sector of journalism where personal ‘everyday’ stories are given the utmost value, I’m already sold on the idea that sharing one person’s human experience can be powerful, meaningful – and sometimes just plain old heartwarming.

So when I heard how telling real stories was forming the foundation of a unique, innovative project, called Storying Sheffield, in the English department of the University of Sheffield, I was immediately interested and intrigued in the idea behind the scheme.

The project led by Dr Brendan Stone involved undergraduate English students being paired with people from the Sheffield community, who were happy to share some experiences/memories/revelations about the lives they had lived so far to form a multi-media representation of themselves, and the city they called home.

The volunteers who told their story came from groups who tended to be socially-excluded, such as long-term users of mental health services. I had the chance to some of them talk about the profoundly positive effect Storying Sheffield had on their lives, at a one-day showcase of the resulting exhibition last Friday. http://www.storyingsheffield.com/

As Dr. Stone said in his introduction: ‘Telling stories is healing.’ I couldn’t agree more. These sweet snapshots of lives were told through a mixture of films, audio recordings, written text, food (yes, real food!), pictures, photographs – and even some live performance poetry.

I found this show of normally unheard voices as moving to consume as I’m sure it had been to create. From hearing some of the participants speak, it was a life-changing experience and tapped into a deep instinct we sometimes are in danger of forgetting in our 24-hour, there’s-an-app-for-that culture – for as long as we’ve existed as a species sharing stories with others has been a fundamental need, as essential as the air we breathe and water we drink.

There must be something in the great Sheffield air, as last week I introduced a new social enterprise I’m a voluntary director for called Silent Cities. http://www.silentcities.org.uk/ One of our major aims is to harness creativity and give voices to those in society who are often left silent. It’s good to know we share this spirit with such a ground-breaking project like Storying Sheffield.

Until next week, keep sharing your stories!

Between a stone and a chatty place


Interviews bring out the good, the bad and the plain old bizarre in people. In my 13-year career as a journalist, I must have gone through this simple, but deceptively-skilled, Q + A process several hundreds of times – often talking to people who have never before sat down to delve into the details of their personal ‘story’ with anyone close to them, never mind an official member of the press.

In this situation, my default state of mind confidently clicks into relaxed auto-pilot, steering the talk with firm but friendly control. Within seconds of beginning an interview, it’s amazing how many people I come across who can be placed into three main ‘types’ of talker.

First, there’s the sort who is journalistic gold: they chat easily but don’t ramble, reel off dates of birth, times of weddings, clothes sizes, baby’s birth weights and whatever other details I ask them about to make their story spring to life on the page.

Next, there’s the cul-de-sac gassers, who erratically jump from one decade in their lives to another, starting off anecdotes with no endings or apparent relevance to the subject in hand. With a bit of reigning in, we usually reach our destination, despite the many wrong turns and dead ends!

Finally, there’s the blood-out-of-stone people. You know the sort. You ask a long, detailed question, wait expectantly for a reply but are lucky to get one that consists of a few, half-mumbled words. Silence is my most effective tool when these moments strike. Give these ‘stones’ space and they will – sooner or later – speak.

I hate to pigeon-hole, but men tend to fall into this category, unless they’re celebrities or for whatever other reason have been trained to speak to the media. Does this mean women are natural chatterers then? Or just more willing to talk about the ins and outs of their lives?

In the past week, I experienced yet another interview. Only this time, I was the one facing the questions. Despite my old-hand experience, I have to admit I had a few nerves. ‘Shall we start?’ I was asked confidently, as a mic was thrust into my hands. Then off we went…

My role-switch over, I’d like to think I fell into the first of my three makeshift categories for the radio journalist, studying at University of Sheffield, who been keen to record my thoughts about Sheffield’s bid to become City of Culture 2013 for her final year project. http://www.sheffieldcityofculture.com/

With my journalist’s hat on, this temporary swap of professional shoes was a great way of reminding myself good communication means getting under the skin of the person you’re connecting with.

After all it’s their story you’re telling. So it’s my job to listen up, take note – and let even the hardest stone have a chance to speak.

Happy talk!

It’s real life! Just beware the distorted lens


Enter the warped land of the documentary and you could be forgiven for assuming the topics they often focus their beady little wobbly cams on are like the broadcasting equivalent of your proverbial local bus. Essentially, it only needs one fly-on-the-wall screening of an in-depth analysis of a subject then all of a sudden, another similar broadcasting brand gets to grip with this suddenly ‘hot’ topic.

And so it was last week, when ‘Secrets for Sale’ – a programme following the features team at Real People magazine going about their day-to-day business of creating a weekly real life magazine – was aired on BBC1. Three nights later, C4 screened Cutting Edge’s ‘My Daughter Grew Another Head’ detailing an assortment of journalists, readers and the people who willingly share their stories in this sector of the print media.

As someone who’s spent much of her journalistic career writing almost every type of human interest story you could possibly imagine (believe me, dear reader, the truth is far weirder – and indeed more interesting – than fiction) for these titles and many others like them, on one level I was savouring every second of both these shows. It was a pretty odd sensation to see so many familiar faces and former desks where I’d sat working as a freelancer – yes, right there on my TV screen!

I wasn’t the least bit surprised they focused on the more salacious and seedy side of the women’s real life magazine market – which remains huge, compared to the sales figures of aspirational glossies such as Cosmopolitan. After all, this apparently neutral view of ‘the truth’ behind the ins and outs of this world was being filtered through the decidedly dumb and ultimately thick lens of so-called ‘investigative’ television.

After the final credits had rolled, I still found myself asking one question. Why do the middle classes get so affronted by someone (who’s usually broadly-speaking working class), agreeing to share their personal story in print and receiving a fee from the magazine they appear in, for their time and trouble? For far too long, access to the non-news media was effectively out-of-reach to large swathes of the British public. And then real life magazines came along. You can shout ‘patronising’ and ‘exploitative’ as loud as you like, but why does telling your story to a broadsheet – which will also be printed to the fit the angle they want – without receiving payment give you any high ground? In many cases, freelancers might offer the same story to that’s life! as to The Guardian. It’s the same ‘truth’ but with distinctly different audiences.

Throughout both these shows, I was feverishly tweeting (updating on Twitter, for those who aren’t fluent in social media) with other seemingly Guardian-worshipping viewers. The sheer venom and ignorance in their messages was unnerving and left a distinctly bitter taste in my mouth. Real life magazines may not be the reading matter of choice for one group in society but they have as much right to exist on the newstand as their glossier and perfume-scented cousins.

Now, let me step off my soap box, as I have more news about Sheffield’s bid to become the UK’s first City of Culture 2013.

Last Friday, I caught the Radio 4 show ‘You and Yours’ which profiled my great home city and discussed the possible economic benefits this award would bring to Sheffield. University research, conducted to determine the financial impact for Liverpool after the city had gained its title as European City of Culture, concluded the award had brought 9.7m additional visitors to the area and the overall economic impact totted in at a hefty £753m.

Sheffield City Council have set aside £150,000 to spend on the bidding process and project the economic impact on the city if the bid’s successful could be around £10m.

In these austerity-ridden times, who can deny this prospect sounds especially welcome….whatever your taste in magazines?

Happy reading!

Links: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/youandyours/items/02/2010_09_fri.shtml

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00r9057/Secrets_for_Sale/

www.channel4.com/programmes/ my-daughter-grew-another-head-and-other/4od

Single ladies and start-ups, stand up for being special


As someone who’s busy striving to find her feet in a new area of work, I’ve recently made it my business to find out every little nugget I can about what to do – and what not to do – when it comes being successful at selling your services to the corporate world.

This week, my latest lesson, learnt at a business event workshop for the self-employed, was a simple one : specialise, specialise, specialise.

As I sat listening to the Enterprise Champion of Business Link Yorkshire(yes, this is her official job title) explain the importance on strictly focusing on your potential market and firming staking your claim to this territory, I remembered the last time I’d been told this fine-tuning approach to cultivating a career was a canny move.

My former journalism tutor had the same advice while I studied for my Postgraduate Diploma in Magazine Journalism, 13 years ago. ‘Find an area to specialise writing in, make your name there, then you’ll have less need to look for work, as it will come to you…’

So, it was with this notion of cultivating my ‘specialness’ still ringing around my head, when a few days later, I read a piece in The Observer – albeit about an altogether different market – which threw this notion out of the window. And left me spitting feathers!

Lori Gottlieb, American author of Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr Good Enough, is urging women who haven’t found Mr Right by the time they reach 30 to settle for Mr Second Best.

Gottlieb attempts to qualify her laughable ‘theory’ by saying: ‘Every woman I know – no matter how successful and ambitious, how financially and emotionally secure – feels panic, occasionally coupled with desperation, if she hits 30 and finds herself unmarried.’

I’m not sure what left me more irritated and disappointed – the fact that Gottlieb was the latest in a long line of hollow mouthpieces who felt it their duty to dig out their rusty loudhailers to dictate to me and my peers on the grounds of gender, or was I more irked at The Observer for giving her such a prominent voice, in the shape of a half-page ‘news’ article on page 7?

Here’s the full piece: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2010/jan/24/women-stop-looking-mr-right

Second best is never good enough, whether you’re talking couples or corporates.

Keep it special!

Mother, I won’t be in the cold for long

After all the whizz and clatter which revolved around my last post – chronicling my latest momentous decision to jettison myself from my professional comfy slippers of journalism into the sharp-heeled world of corporate communications – I was then inadvertently but temporarily tripped up good and proper by one female I wouldn’t dream of messing with.

That’s right, Mother Nature got the boot in. Or should that be industrial-sized wellies?

Along came the Big Freeze and suddenly all my carefully-crafted emails to contacts old, new and yet-to-be, as well as my lovingly-prepared elevator pitch for my first networking event of the year(forced to be postponed due to ‘inclement weather’), went the same way as poor Jack Frost under a cheap sun bed.

Shaking off my frustration, I’m pleased to say I haven’t been left with any lasting ‘I’m out in the cold’ feeling, despite the fact my car still resembles a mammoth marshmallow.

Besides, whoever said being snow-marooned means you’re necessarily starved of stories or interesting subjects? Here’s my pick of three hot topics of debate I’ve enjoyed over the past seven sub-zero days:

R4’s Women’s Hour looks inside the Pandora’s Box of mother and daughter relationships
http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/womanshour/04/2010_01_wed.shtml

Do portraits of family life raise difficult questions about children and photography?
http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2010/jan/11/elinor-carucci-children-photography

Forget the election soap box, research suggests Cameron and Brown are neglecting to step up to the social networking plate
http://www.mediaweek.co.uk/news/976385/Tories-Labour-failing-protect-digital-reputations/

With a reputed thaw round the icy corner, it seems, at least when it comes to Twitter(http://twitter.com/stellamedia) I’m streets ahead of the two political big-hitters mentioned in the last above link, as I’m off to my first ever tweetup tomorrow evening, happening in the city I’m proud to call home, Sheffield.

Here’s the details:
http://upcoming.yahoo.com/event/5175055/SY/Sheffield/syorkstweetup-2/Showroom-BarCaf

Blow me down, but life’s still rather tweet.