Absolutely normal chaos…

So I’m now officially a trainee journalist. My post-graduate course in print journalism began in January – needless to say my life has been absolutely manic ever since.

As it’s a diploma, not an academic masters, there is a big focus on the practical. Suddenly I’m having to shake off three years of essay writing, referencing, and being unnecessarily wordy, so that I can write ‘news’. Which, in short, means ignoring any sort of complex language and getting straight to the point. Quickly.

It’s difficult. Having always been a fiction writer, I’m used to writing as freely and flowery as I like, so switching to short, sharp, to-the-point sentences can at times be quite depressing. I know broadsheets, particularly my favourite, The Guardian, do have a wordier style, but the reality of the industry is most trainees don’t just land a broadsheet reporting job straight off. You put in the hours – normally at a tiny little local paper first – and then you take it from there. So for now, at least, I need to be able to write with the same news style used every day by smaller papers.

I don’t mean to sound whiny here. I’m loving the course. It’s got a great reputation, features a 6 week placement period (where I’ll be crawling around editors trying to snag my first job) and lots of other opportunities, such as meetings with councillors, working with a news team on election night – a total joy for a politics geek like me. We’re spending a day at Catterick Garrison on Wednesday, learning how to correctly address and interview army personnel.

We’ve also started to produce North Leeds News, which is distributed around the college, and in local train/bus stations, as well as being send to news editors across the region. I’m absolutely useless with the Quark software so far (I’m a writer, not a IT tech!) but I’m learning. I’ve not got anything too serious in the first edition, just a collaborative piece on the Bradford International Film Festival with a colleague, a review of Shutter Island (see, now I have a real reason to go ogle Dicaprio) and a sports story covering the Sports Relief Mile. We need sport in our NCTJ portfolios, so I figured I’d opt for a sports story that avoided any real sports coverage. I know I’m going to have to do others soon. Yuck.

My life now revolves around news. I spend most of my net time on the Guardian website, the BBC News site, and my copy of The Week arrives every Friday. Then there’s local news…it’s a lot to take in! Definately a full-time occupation. I begrudge flicking through the Daily Mail and the Mirror – but needs must, I need to be aware of their news agenda. I realised the only time I looked at the Mail prior to this course was when some sort of Twitter storm led me to another hateful Jan Moir column. That woman is dark. The Stephen Gately storm has gone away, pretty much, but Anthony Cotton (from Queer As Folk, now Sean in Corrie) tweeted a link to a Moir rant about Kate Winslet’s divorce. I began to wonder whether I only log on to Mail to be offended, which means I have less right to be offended than all those who jumped on the Ross/Brand bandwagon over Andrew Sachs.

My general annoyance that most news front pages don’t actually feature real news is back in full force. We had the John Terry front pages, then the Cheryl Cole front pages (fool me once, shame on you…) and more recently, the bear-baiting John Venables front pages. Some of which were just plain ridiculous. The lynch-mob mentality that can suddenly appear in this country is frightening. I feel for Denise Fergus, her son was taken from her in the cruellest of ways – but frankly, if we are going to deal with any reoffence, and allow the man a fair trial, without a prejudiced jury, then she needs to step back. And the Mirror needs to stop writing that Venables is partying in Liverpool, chatting up woman and telling all who will listen his real identity. Where do they get this stuff?

Sadly, the lynch mob mentality has moved closer to home for me – I wasn’t aware until now, but apparently we have a rehabilitation hostel for sex offenders in the town where I live. I found out via a particularly nasty Facebook campaign a couple of my school friends had joined, asking for the centre to be closed down. The usual bile spilled all over the comments page – saying the offenders should be shot, not rehabilitated, recalling 3rd party anecdotes such as ‘I had a friend who knew a girl who was attacked’ etc, and plans for a protest (supposedly peaceful) to have this place torn down.

Shock horror, I haven’t joined the group, just balked at how nasty some of my neighbours can apparently be. I wonder if any of them have considered where these people are to go, should they get their way? I’m not wanting to forget what these people have done, by any means, but how can rehabilitation be a negative thing? Helping offenders to deal with their issues and rebuild something like a normal life. These people have been put forward for rehabilitation – which in my mind would suggest that they are not dangerous – as incompetent as the Home Office can be, I’m pretty sure they would not plonk a load of dangerous sex offenders in a minimum security hostel in a town filled mainly with families.

My law tutor said I was ‘too soft’, when I spoke up for the rights of a defendant in a court trial. He said I would be better suited a social worker. Hmm. I just don’t see how getting angry and demanding for this place to be torn down achieves anything. They’ll be moved to another area, where some other Facebook page will produce mass hysteria all over again, and it will be a miracle if these offenders are ever in a position to rebuild their lives ever again. Call me naive if you want, mock my optimism – but isn’t society better served if we allow these people to live in peace, work on rehabilitation and then allow them back into society? Is that not a more productive solution that charging round there with torches and pitchforks?


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