Critical Reflection 2015: Final Year Project

For my final year project I decided to produce a piece of journalism that reflected the 2015 General Election.

I wanted to create a constituency profile because I thought it would be useful to learn more about politics and most importantly about the General Election. After seeing the success of the Eastleigh by – election in 2013, which graced all media platforms and raised Hampshire’s profile across the country, I wanted to see what the General Election would entail. I decided to cover Winchester for because it’s inevitably on our patch. The constituency isn’t a key battleground seat but it’s still classed as a battle between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. I was also on a work experience placement with the Hampshire Chronicle a month before the election took place so any extra material that I discovered was a vital impetus for my project.

Election Profile

I produced a three to four minute election profile, which included interviews with the local MP and all the prospective candidates running for the seat. It focused on key issues in the area and what constituents thought about the future of their city.

I interviewed all the candidates including Winchester MP, Steve Brine (Conservatives), Mark Chaloner (Labour), Martin Lyon (UKIP), Jackie Porter (Liberal Democrats) and Michael Wilks (Green Party). It was paramount to interview Brine on Westminster’s College Green because he was an MP at the time. It was a great experience interviewing a politician and being alongside other television news broadcasts. I interviewed the prospective candidates in popular hotspots in town, so the profile illustrated parts of the area. Mark Chaloner’s interview was on the grounds of Winchester Military Museum, Martin Lyon’s interview took place at Abbey Gardens, Jackie Porter was interviewed at the University of Winchester and Michael Wilks was at Winchester Cathedral. I wanted to do all my interviews outside so they all looked consistent and had attractive backgrounds. The candidate’s interviews remained remarkably short because I didn’t want to base the entire profile on them. Politics maybe about politicians when they adopt national and local decisions which ultimately affect society. But primarily it’s how those decisions affect people and that’s what I tried to capture within my piece by adding vox pops and a case study. It’s paramount to maintain impartiality when reporting on elections; in doing so the Greens are considered as a minor party but in this case I wanted to give the prospective Green candidate as much time as the major parties.

The opening of the profile starts off with the most popular attractions of Winchester such as the cathedral and the King Alfred. I wanted to address the importance of the city with a drop intro and a sequence of the famous statue. Winchester is an affluent part of the country and I tried to highlight that with my voiceover. I decided to do a wipe of the candidates and didn’t place too much emphasis on them. Originally I wanted to use full size shots of the candidates with a focus on large backgrounds but I got in tight with their faces to make the interviews more intimate. I included natural sound at the start so the profile could make a stronger impact.

My voiceover contained facts and local issues of the area. One of the mounting issues in the constituency is a constant demand for affordable housing. I illustrated this by filming shots of luxury housing developments, which are taking priority over social housing.

Including a case study was probably the vital element of my piece. I chose a local independent café, The Forte TeaRooms. I localized a national story, with the Prime Minister, David Cameron gaining an election boost by 5000 small and medium sized businesses’ signing a letter stating that the Conservatives’ were the right party in supporting them. I wanted a case study to almost challenge this proposal.

The café owner’s voice is hindered by extensive background noise, which doesn’t do the interview any justice but the owner delivered good quotes.

Vox pops maybe the last resort in journalism but I included them in my piece to illustrate that elections are about the electorate. Even upon researching how to conduct an election profile, they all included vox pops, so it was necessary to do the same. Rather than asking members of the public on the high street who they were going to specifically vote for, I asked them about their ‘election prediction.’ Basically revealing what the outcome of the election could be. I chose a variety of people of all different ages and genders to achieve balance in the piece.

It was necessary to add a piece to camera since I was telling the story. I feel more comfortable doing a walk and talk rather than standing on the spot. The beginning of the shot looks like I’m out of focus because I’m quite far away but as I get closer to the camera I come into natural focus and I think that bodes well.

There are a few technical issues in my piece such as poor sound levels with the Lib Dem candidate, Jackie Porter, the café owner and my piece to camera at the end. Essentially I tried to use a variety of shots in the profile particularly with the cutaways.

Weekly Reports

My first weekly report consisted of an interview with the Lib Dem Health and Social Care Minister, Norman Lamb. It was an event based at the Hampshire Record Office and Lamb gave a talk on the future of the NHS and mental health. I attended the talk and got an interview with him after. I decided to do a radio package and a text story with it. Lamb openly talks about the party putting mental health at the forefront of their election campaign and also his prospects about becoming the next leader of the Lib Dem party if they don’t perform well in the upcoming election. It was a good opportunity to interview a politician who is solely in a cabinet position.

My second weekly report was about the future of tuition fees. There was an event held at the University of Winchester: ‘General Election Q&A’s debate with the local candidates.’ I originally filmed the whole event but was barred by technical issues. Overall the debate was remarkably dull but the very last question was about tuition fees. The debate on the fees is such a controversial issue that it did take some precedence in the run up to the election. So I wanted to do a news story on the history and future of higher education with reactions from the local candidates.

My third weekly report was about the local candidates running for the seat. I wanted to make sure that the quotes I used differed from the video profile. I wrote about local and national issues concerning each candidate and party. For instance the future of the UK in the European Union has been at the expense of the Conservative party, which I allocated to Steve Brine. Also the majority of the interviews were relatively long and I wanted to develop them in a different format. Also I made a conscious decision to write my reports just so that I have the chance to improve on my news writing skills.

General Election 2015

Taking part in the General Election was an unbelievable experience, not just myself but for the whole WINOL team. Doing a live outside broadcast at the Winchester Count was a huge role to take on. OB’s are a vital procedure in elections because the news studio are relying on the OB operation to get declaration results and find any potential news stories. I wanted to take on the role considering that I covered Winchester as part of my election profile. I also wanted to move away from the studio and branch my presenting skills in a different environment. Having a gift for ad- libbing is a key skill in news broadcasting so that was something I was quite anxious about. But making semi – scripted notes in advance and glancing down at the notes when I was on air made presenting a lot easier. Winchester wasn’t the most exciting election count but it was important to make it sound fascinating. Having already established a rapport with the local candidates it was easy to get interviews with them, which could be then added to the show.

It was imminent that we were going to experience technical difficulties on the night. The Winchester OB team was hindered by poor internet connection in the press gallery. So all the Skype video calls took place outside of the press gallery because the connection was a lot quicker. Ultimately, it would have been great to do Skype calls inside the press gallery with the count as a backdrop. The declaration result wasn’t released until 8am and there was much speculation as to why it took so long because it was due between 5am – 6am and that’s what I tried to focus on in my remaining OB takes.

Regarding the election coverage, the website reached just under a 1000 views. The live stream blog received about 700 views for the entire broadcast. But between 10pm – 2am live streaming was predominately around 100 views. It’s evident that the most of the views dwindled at 5am when most of the election counts had already been announced. You could say that social media played an important part in the election with repeated shared posts on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to drive more views.

It was also a great experience being in the press gallery with the likes of ITV and the BBC. It was a platform to build contacts and to see how other journalists report on elections.

Winchester may have been a safe seat but it was an invaluable experience learning about the power of politics as well as reporting on elections.

ELECTION PROFILE: WINCHESTER

Winchester is a parliamentary seat that has been served by the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. The ancient capital and the cathedral are at the heart of the constituency. Villages surrounding the city include Alresford, Chandler’s Ford and Kings Worthy.

It’s currently represented by Steve Brine who won the seat from the Liberal Democrats in 2010 securing 21,155 votes with a majority of over 3,000. Voting turnout was 75.8%.

Tate Slyfield reports

WEEKLY REPORT 3: MEET THE CANDIDATES

CONSERVATIVES: Steve Brine

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Incumbent MP, Steve Brine is defending his seat in the 2015 general election.

Brine was elected in 2010 following a marginal victory and had beaten the Liberal Democrats by over 3,000 votes.

Brine said: “I’ve been the MP for 5 years, I’ve worked really hard and I’ve done my job. Hopefully people will reward me for that. I’m hopeful that they will.”

The Conservative candidate wants to give young people a future in Winchester. “I want them to be able to stay in Winchester and not feel that their future has to be away from the area. So that means they have to have good affordable housing and good sustainable jobs so they can stay and work in the city and I think that’s the challenge for us as government, me as an MP in the future and the local council all working together to make sure that Winchester has a viable future.”

On a national scale the European Union is a critical issue. The Conservative party has pledged that the country will face a referendum on the future of the UK’s membership in 2017. Brine said: “The last time I had a say on Europe was in 1975. We have not asked directly the people of this country about our membership since then.”

LIBERAL DEMOCRATS: Jackie Porter

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Jackie Porter is running as the Liberal Democrat candidate. She’s a long serving county councillor and has lived in the constituency for 35 years.

Porter wants to campaign on affordable housing, school places, maternity services and rural broadband in Winchester.

But one of the key issues in Winchester is affordable housing. Porter said: “If you want to stay and work in this area, you have to afford to live somewhere and I’m finding that so many young people are having to share in large houses and they can’t find a way out of that.”

Winchester has always been a battle between the Conservatives and the Lib Dems. The Lib Dems held the seat between 1997 and 2010. Could Winchester go down to the wire again? Porter said: “The Tories only have a majority of 3000, so that’s 3000 minds to change.”

Only 22% of women are in Parliament and Porter seems confident in changing that. “I would make sure that there are more women and more people of all ages. It would be fantastic if Parliament felt like more of a university and less like an ancient club.”

LABOUR: Mark Chaloner

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Mark Chaloner is a Southampton city councillor and he’s been involved with the Labour party for the last six years. He believes that Labour can offer something different for the constituency, “There are some parts of Winchester which aredeprived and have suffered due to the coalition cuts. They really need help and Labour could provide that.”

Winchester is undoubtedly an affluent area and Chaloner says, “You have a lot of wealth concentrated in the hands of a few. You have a larger city actually suffering because those people haven’t been given enough support.

Affordable housing is a major concern amongst some residents and Chaloner says, “It’s a real problem because there are not enough properties that are affordable. The younger generation here in Winchester can’t even afford to buy here. Even rental properties are sky high so people are struggling.”

Chaloner’s view on the future of the European Union is a united one, “We’re far better in than out. Leaving Europe would destabilize the economy and anything that puts the economy at risk would potentially cause huge problems for us.”

The Labour candidate hopes that “the British public are sensible enough to think that UKIP are not a real offer.”

UKIP: Martin Lyon

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Martin Lyon is a Hampshire county councillor. Originally he wanted to run as an Eastleigh candidate for UKIP but was beaten to it by Patricia Culligan.

He ran as a UKIP candidate for New Forest West in 2010 but he hopes to make more of an impact in Winchester.

Lyon says, “There has not been a real UKIP presence but I think we are going to do better than Brine really expects.”

Lyon wants his constituents to be fully aware of the number of issues that the party stands for and he thinks that Britain leaving Europe is the best option, “I think Europe wants us more than we want them. It will be a challenge to leave but I don’t think it will be scary as people think. Some people think that Europe isn’t doing what it should be doing so they want a referendum.”

The UKIP candidate believes that the party leader, Nigel Farage has carried a great weight on his shoulders, “He tells it how it is and he’s lifted the lid on a number of issues. He’s been a lone voice in the wilderness and that takes its toll.”

GREENS: Michael Wilks

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Michael Wilks is running as the Green party candidate. He was one of the early members of The Social Democratic Party and Liberal Alliance and ran as an MP in London during the 1990’s.

Wilks has lived in Winchester for eight years and now works as a forensic physician. He wants to address the importance of sustainability and environmental protection to constituents.

“Winchester has had huge excess of the European omitted levels of air pollution for nearly the last ten years. It’s outrageous that the local government isn’t doing something about that. Local buses have been reduced in scope which puts more pressure on the city in terms of finding parking places, people are using more cars which puts more pollution into the air.”

The Green Party saw a huge surge in its membership early on in the year and Wilks says, “The two big parties have seen their support ebbing away partly because they have failed to tackle important issues. It’s unlikely that we’re going to see one party getting enough overall votes to form a majority government. The most likely outcome are the Conservatives and Lib Dem coalition and very interestingly a Labour and SNP one.”

Innovation in Journalism: BuzzFeed, SunNation and the Paywall System

When you click onto BuzzFeed’s website it’s bright, banging and constantly booming. Stories range from the ‘Crash Pilot Hid His Illness From Airline’ to ‘The 13 Sweetest Reactions That Ever Happened.’ It’s a massive contrast but the key to BuzzFeed’s success is that its content covers 28 sections, whilst social media generates its web traffic. The most popular formats on its website include lists and quizzes but if you scroll at the top and click ‘OMG’ you’re likely to find ’17 Marvellous Ways to Eat a Crème Egg!’ It’s baffling but BuzzFeed speaks volumes because it has connected to a global audience where they like to share things and read fake buzz. Originally BuzzFeed was created in 2006 as viral side project by Jonah Peretti after he co – founded The Huffington Post. Its viral projects were produced whenever and focused on citizen journalism. But the American news website really came to light with the launch of animal friendly pictures and internet memes that pulled everyone’s heartstrings.

But what’s so mind – blowing about BuzzFeed is that social media drives its web traffic. In 2014, the website received 75% of its views from links on social media networking sites such as Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook. With over 2 million Twitter followers, 4.6 million likes on its Facebook page, 5.2 million subscribers on YouTube and a digital app; it’s no wonder BuzzFeed dominates the social age. It’s ideally the secret of its success; the US-based news website has designed media for the social generation. Its celebrity photos, picture stories, memes and lovable animals are shared among friends. Social media has changed the course of journalism whether that is news, features and sport. Every publication whether in print, online and broadcast relies on social media to drive its content to audiences. Over 40 million people a month view viral hits such as ‘19 Tricks Cats Use To Train Their Humans’ and 14 Pictures That Just Aren’t Okay.’ Those are just a few examples but BuzzFeed’s content just about manages to cover what people like to generally share. Social media is an effective traffic driver for BuzzFeed than actual direct visits. Websites in the past relied on direct visits but now rigorous advertising and waves of social media sites have taken that place. Most shared articles on BuzzFeed seem to reflect news, entertainment and commercial articles. Facebook is arguably one of the most popular social networking sites in the world. The network has tailored itself, not just based on long-lost friends, online chats and games of Candy Crush but every news organisation relies on Facebook and even Twitter to become their top priority when delivering news.

Another fascinating aspect of BuzzFeed is their new innovation of storytelling. What makes BuzzFeed so unique is that they have the ability to write about things that people are interested in. That may seem like a cliché but their content is so dynamic and spreads virally because it reaches a global audience where they see material that someone else in their life will care about, or will like it or hate it. Storytelling is a great way to get people engaged and BuzzFeed does that job. The website always uses positive and negative adjectives such as ‘hilarious, cutest and weirdest’ to tell their stories. These are all elements of emotive language that directly appeals to readers as well as creating conversations. The heavy use of images to tell a story and using fewer words allows readers to explore other different stories rather than spending loads of time on one article. Take for example, ’10 Heartwarming Ways Dogs Greet Their People’ will have 10 photos that explore how dogs greet their owners. The animated GIF’s, the so-called memes or technically a ‘Graphics Interchange Format’ received much popularity when BuzzFeed used it to demonstrate the London 2012 Olympic Games. Imagine still photos and a standalone headline to write a story; BuzzFeed wanted to do something much more activating to tell a story. The website continues to use social media as a way of breaking news. They use peoples’ Instagram pictures to reveal first person accounts such as ‘This Instagram Was Deleted Because It Showed A Woman’s Menstrual Blood.’ But the way BuzzFeed grasps peoples’ attention is writing about experiences. Some of their headlines are, ’21 Clever Tricks All Procrastinators Should Know’ and ’23 Ingredients You Should Always Have In Your Kitchen.’ All of these things explain why BuzzFeed has created their own journalistic uniqueness.

So BuzzFeed emerged on the internet with cute animals, memes and baby pictures that people liked to share and ultimately they still do. But now the news site has edged its way into breaking news, reporting and in-depth journalism. Peretti wants BuzzFeed to be taken seriously as a news organisation. BuzzFeed’s UK deputy political editor, Jim Waterson says, “What works for us is hiring people who understand the Internet and letting them write, rather than trying to make existing formats work on the Internet. But you can’t beat a good story.” The site is well on its way to becoming a trusted news source and most platforms of news are breaking stories on social media. BuzzFeed is putting a heavy effort into news and politics by luring top journalists and editors from other huge publications to build their UK site, as well as expanding its team on an international scale. According to BuzzFeed, the UK site generates 10 per cent of its global traffic.

BuzzFeed’s dominance in our media savvy world has led to The Sun creating a spin – off website, ‘SunNation.’ The editor of The Sun, David Dinsmore absolutely worships BuzzFeed and even compares it to its national tabloid paper. He declared BuzzFeed as “the best thing on the internet.” The new website adopted by the British tabloid has condensed politics into games, videos and opinions. The website launched a video documentary about David Cameron which saw exclusive access to Number 10 Downing Street and what goes on inside the world of a British Prime Minister. But the site in particular has been geared towards the 2015 General Election with a countdown clock for those political fanatics. But notably it’s a useful site for people who don’t necessarily comprehend politics and it could also urge people to vote in the upcoming election, which is a reporters’ duty. You could argue that the website displays partisan values because it just concentrates on political parties. But what is credible of SunNation is that the site has moved beyond the paywall system.

There is much debate over the paywall system in journalism. Newspaper publications have made their content much more sharable and accessible but some are still hidden behind the paywall such as The Sun and its sister paper, The Times. Other papers such as the MailOnline continue to thrive without a paywall. There are even types of paywalls. The ‘hard’ paywall used by The Times demands paid subscriptions before any of their material can be accessed. This is a risky business because some websites are likely to lose the majority of their online audience and advertising revenue is routinely given back to produce online content that is hopefully attractive enough for subscribers. Hard paywalls are likely to succeed if they provide extra material, target a specific audience and take advantage of their own market. The ‘soft’ paywall is best described as a meter model. This allows users to view certain articles before getting a paid subscription. For instance the Financial Times allows users to access 10 articles before becoming paid subscribers. Newspapers focusing on digital paywall systems to monetarise online journalism could suggest that advertisers and subscribers are more important than actual content. It may be a good financial incentive for journalism but remarkably not many people want to subscribe to websites to receive their daily source of news and features. People can look elsewhere for that and why would you pay for good quality journalism, when there are free news sites available? So could more websites leave the paywall behind and find digital reassurance that they can depend without it? The Times new website, ‘Red Box’ has the opposite effect to the political light – hearted SunNation. Its website delivers hardcore political journalism and has key material in the run up to the General Election.

Could we see other news sites creating their own sister websites that are free of access but still maintain a paywall site with their main publication? Time will only tell with the future of online journalism, but SunNation and Red Box already fit that bracket. But the future of news without paywall systems seems to be the better option. Look at the successes of BuzzFeed, MailOnline and Vice News that produce a good standard of journalism without so much dominance on advertising. But BuzzFeed has been asserting its influence as a worldwide trusted news organisation that has successfully joined the social age and has excelled in its digital format. It’s just a waiting game for other publications to follow suit like SunNation have done.

WEEKLY REPORT: TUITION FEES: WILL THEY BE HIGHER OR LOWER?

MP Steve Brine (Conservatives) Michael Wilks (Greens) Jackie Porter (Liberal Democrats) Mark Chaloner (Labour)
(L-R) MP Steve Brine (Conservatives) Michael Wilks (Greens) Jackie Porter (Liberal Democrats) Mark Chaloner (Labour)

The Liberal Democrats will always be remembered as the political party that broke their election campaign promise by increasing tuition fees when they wanted to eradicate them.

Labour introduced tuition fees in 1998 to fund undergraduate and postgraduate degrees with students paying up to £1000 a year.

Tuition fees used to be free because only 10% of the population would actually go to university and the government was able to fund this.

In 2004 Labour decided to increase the fees by £3,000 a year. The party broke their election promise in 2001 after they stated in their campaign that they wouldn’t increase the fees.

In 2010, the coalition government made a crucial decision to raise tuition fees to a staggering £9,000 a year. The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg broke his party’s election campaign promise which sparked many student protests across the country.

This new development in fees took effect in 2012. Ideally, students don’t have to repay their fees until they start earning over £21,000 a year. But this new system hasn’t put students off going to university as in 2013 – 496,000 students went to university. Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are 70% more likely to go to university than ever before.

But with the most unpredictable election in recent years, what are the parties’ policies on tuition fees and will they be higher or lower?

Those were one of the questions asked by a second year business student at the General Election Q&A’s debate held at the University of Winchester.

So what did the local candidates running for Winchester have to say about their parties’ education policies?

Winchester MP, Steve Brine voted for the rise in tuition fees in late 2010 and admitted that the decision was made with a “heavy heart but it was the right thing to do.” Brine who is defending his Tory seat also added, “You’re investing in your future by buying our education.”

Labour could be wooing voters by lowering the fees to £6,000 if they win the election and this could be a tempting offer to first time voters. But Labour candidate, Mark Chaloner said: “If you’ve got the fees we do not have a policy to currently change the arrangements that have already been made.”

The Lib Dems and the Conservatives have pledged in their manifestos that they want the fees to stay the same. Lib Dem candidate, Jackie Porter said at the debate, “The fees have to remain. Universities need that money for high quality education.”

The Greens had a different view on this as candidate Michael Wilks addressed to university students, “I’m not conscious of the fees, it’s the maintenance. We need to find a way of reducing the huge debt.” The Green Party have guaranteed in their manifesto to scrap higher education fees.

UKIP are planning on scrapping tuition fees for poorer students taking degrees in science, technology, mathematics and engineering. UKIP candidate Martin Lyon was not present at the debate to comment.

Reporter and Presenter for Winchester News Online @WINOL / winol.co.uk