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A day in the life of a political journalist

Patricia Cruz

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Political journalist Adam Payne shared his experience of building contacts and developing his career as a lobby reporter during an exciting time in British politics.

Adam is a senior correspondent at Politics Home, soon to be their new political editor, covering everything from Brexit and Westminster politics to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Having studied with in Manchester, he previously worked for Business Insider for five years before joining Politics Home where he has covered the recent Tory party infighting, Boris Johnson’s leadership, and Partygate.

At our online guest talk, he described the highs and lows of political reporting and shared advice for those wanting to follow in his footsteps.

How did you launch your career as a political journalist?

I made Brexit my beat very early on. When the Brexit referendum result came in, it was the most amazing sense of shock. There were clear political ramifications, but no-one knew what that meant.

The level of public and political knowledge about the EU and the UK’s relationship with it was quite low, so I decided there was a gap in the market and had some success with it.

I was by no means an EU expert – I was learning as I went and learning the jargon.

Is fact-checking a big part of your role?

So much reporting on the EU was hyper-partisan and ideological. I tried to report in a way that was fact-based, seeking to correct myths and falsehoods.

The political climate in this country has been quite toxic and we entered an era when seeking out the truth became more difficult, linked to the Trump phenomenon in the US.

How do you provide balanced reporting?

The vast majority of people who want to go into political journalism are very opinionated.

At you get taught to write free of opinion of agenda, it’s a professional skill and there are checks and balances to ensure you’re not loading your copy with opinion.

Social media is a massive part of journalism and it’s harder to not be opinionated there – my Twitter profile is an extension of my presence on the Politics Home website.

How do you develop sources as a political journalist?

At the beginning I felt huge feelings of imposter syndrome, but you’ve got to start somewhere, emailing MP’s offices and sharing contact numbers with colleagues.

Go for a coffee and develop a relationship with one MP, and then over many months and years it’s an organic process of building up your contact book.

Managing relationships is a big part of political journalism. You’ve got to build that trust – if you have a conversation with them and it’s off-the-record, you should absolutely honour that.

Who are the biggest names you’ve spoken to?

Downing Street hosts drinks for journalists twice a year and I’ve met Boris Johnson several times. I’ve interviewed Keir Starmer, Michael Gove, Liz Truss, Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn and more.

As a political journalist you’re right at the heart of history, talking to people with incredible decision-making authority. You are very much at the centre for an incredibly important time for our country.

Which story you are most proud of writing?

Two years ago, I was leaked a letter from Liz Truss to Rishi Sunak and Michael Gove about how Brexit preparations were not ready.

That story went massive, all the newspapers picked it up, it was mentioned in Parliament, and I went on radio and TV to talk about it.

In your life you’ll have two or three big stories, and that was definitely one of them.

Do you get to travel as a political journalist?

While covering Brexit I was lucky enough to go out to Brussels and various European Councils, and I got to meet Angela Merkel.

I also spent a week in Northern Ireland doing a piece on communities who were incredibly worried about Brexit and its potential impact.

It felt real and like I’d given a voice to people. It was an amazing experience. If you get an opportunity to travel and go look for the story, I’d absolutely recommend it.

How do you balance work life and personal life?

As journalists you have unfiltered exposure to really bad news. There were points in the pandemic I had to take time off work because the relentlessness of the news was tough.

Most newsrooms now will understand and allow you to take a break if you need it. It’s important to establish your personal boundaries, otherwise you’ll be knackered – and really bad company!

What were your biggest takeaways from your course?

gave me a sense of how much of a skill journalism is, particularly in an era when journalists have quite a bad reputation. To be able to write a news story quickly and cleanly is quite hard.

Before doing the course, the thought of ringing an MP out of the blue would make me shake with anxiety – we were given practical experience that gave me the confidence to be a journalist dealing with people.

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What are your top tips for aspiring journalists?

Establishing a beat and devoting most of my energies to it is probably why I am here today.

It’s very easy to feel like you don’t belong and that you’re not qualified and not worthy. It took me a while to muster the courage to grab a microphone at a press conference and ask a question.

If you’re ever at an event and you’re surrounded by high profile people, don’t feel like they have more rights than you – you have earnt your right to be there. Be confident, back yourself.

Any political journalists needs to learn how to be a good news reporter first. Come along to our free journalism workshops to try your hand at news reporting and write a breaking news story.

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Journalism

Article: Trust and Journalistic Transparency Online

Patricia Cruz

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The study “Trust and Journalistic Transparency Online” by Michael Koliska from Georgetown University experimented on news consumers’ trust as brought on by transparency, and further, in the second experiment, explored the reasons for the findings in the first.

Transparency in journalism is defined as opening up the journalistic processes (production, decision making) to outsiders, i.e. making journalism more transparent. Karlsson (2010, 2020) further divides transparency into disclosure, participatory, and ambient transparency. 

Defining trust, on the other hand, in journalism has been tricky, as it has been associated with credibility. Kohring and Matthes (2007) define the four elements of trust: 1. trust in topic selectivity; 2. trust in fact selectivity; 3. trust in accuracy of descriptions, and 4. trust in journalistic assessment. 

This study recruited its participants from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk) platform. There were a total of 1092 participants. They were presented with a news story about nanoparticles – a topic that was unfamiliar to most and therefore had a low risk of partisan opinions. The article was presented in six different webpages that had differing transparency items in them.

There were 11 different trust items in the first experiment. Based on the results, the hypotheses were rejected. They were H1: A a) production transparency news item and a b) producer transparency news item will be trusted more than a non-transparent item. H2: A full transparency (both production and producer transparency) news item will be trusted more than a) a non-transparent article, b) a production transparency article, and c) a producer transparency article. And H3a: A full transparency news item will be trusted more than a full transparent article that includes biased information about the producer. H3b: A producer transparency news item with neutral personal information will be trusted more than a producer transparency article with biased information.

Nevertheless, the participants agreed that the journalist was trustworthy and that they sometimes trusted the news media. On results, it was speculated that the participants did not recognize the transparency features as cognitive heuristics and did not interact much with the transparency items. 

The second experiment was similar. There were a total of 379 participants, who were not the same as in the first one. They were assigned to read the same article as in the first about nanoparticles, placed again on five different webpages with varying transparency features.  

Further on, the participants were asked to recall the transparency features (such as hyperlinks, author bio, editorial explanations etc.) and to recall specific information from the article and the transparency features. 

The participants recalled items such as the photo (84% of the ones assigned to the webpage with a photo) only 34% could correctly identify the journalist. Similarly, 53% of those who had seen an editorial explanation recalled it, but only 26% could recall a detail from it. Participants also had trouble recalling the individual transparency features they were exposed to.

It was noted that the participants had better recall on items that were part of the actual story than the ‘digitally outsourced’ transparency items. It is possible that this information is not adequately processed or they failed to acknowledge the utility of this information. 

In conclusion, it still remains unclear how the link between transparency and audience’s trust is created. The question remains on whether news consumers recognize transparency features as markers of journalistic quality.

The article “Trust and Journalistic Transparency Online” by Michael Koliska is in Journalism Studies. (open access). 

Picture: scrabble tiles spelling trust by Ronda Dorsey.

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News ideology and media storms in France and Israel

Patricia Cruz

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The article “What Happens in the Eye of the Storm? News Ideology During Media Storms” by Doron Shultziner from Hadassah Academic College looked at the nexus of news ideology and media storms using two media storms to analyze the topic: the Yellow Vests Movement (2018) in France and the Occupy Movement (2011) in Israel.

Media storms are defined as events or topics that take up a substantial part of the coverage for a period of time. They typically peak after few weeks in the beginning and then begin to fade. They have been studied widely with various terms being applied to them like “media event” or “media hypes”.

In the past 15 years, there has been an increase in the amount of studies on media ideology. Measured against the hypothetical gold standard of pure objectivity, media bias can be seen when coverage varies from source to another in different weighings and so on, with professional considerations having been overtaken by ideological ones.

The ideology is often seen in framing – as in this case, left-wing media tends to frame the protests positively and right-wing negatively. This was one of the topics in this study.
There were two data sets for the study: the Israeli one and the French one. The Israeli dataset consisted of coverage from Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel Hayom, Maariv, Haaretz, Makor Rishon (a national-religious newspaper), and Yated Neeman (an ultra-religious newspaper). Israel Hayom, Makor Rishon, and Yated Neeman are right-wing, the rest are left wing.

The French dataset consisted of coverage from Le Figaro, Le Monde, Libération, and L’Obs – listed here from right to left ideologically. The articles from both datasets were coded either positive, negative, or neutral based on several criteria.

The results show that media storms are a multi-media phenomenon, affecting a number of newspapers at once. The findings also demonstrate a media bias: if professional considerations were the only thing that mattered, the coverage in left- and right-wing media would have resembled each other.

Instead, there was a trend of negative coverage in right-wing media and positive in left – and what is more, the lines of coverage moved to opposite directions, showing increased polarization. There were differences between the storms: in the Israel case the newspapers chose their sides early and there was no significant move, but in France the lines diverged as the media storm went on.

News ideology also operated through production bias mechanisms, such as sizing of articles or their placement in the newspaper (front page or somewhere else). Due to the differences of the two cases, the hypotheses regarding the decline stage of the storm were hard to assess.

The author notes that the study has implications for future research. It proposes that media storms may be high-risk events that even challenge the ideology and interests of the news organizations. As important, politically charged events become media storms, they may become political storms instead.

The article “What Happens in the Eye of the Storm? News Ideology During Media Storms” by Doron Shultziner is in International Journal of Communication. (free access).

Picture: Storm Approaching by Johannes Plenio @jplenio.
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Covering women’s sport: My sports journalism career highlights

Patricia Cruz

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There has never been a better time to work in women’s sport and for early-career sports reporters, the opportunities are endless.

Here, multimedia sports reporter Milly McEvoy shares how she has covered everything from the Olympics and Paralympics to international women’s cricket and football tournaments, only a year after finishing her sports journalism course.

In June 2021, fresh off finishing my Multimedia Sports Journalism qualification with in Manchester, I made the move down to London to join Sportsbeat as a reporter.

It feels like a lifetime ago, but what has come in between also feels like a blur – it has involved international rugby and football, the British Athletics Championships and domestic cricket and netball (and lots more) in person. 

I have also covered the Summer Olympics and Paralympics, Wimbledon, the Commonwealth Games, remotely and I have had the opportunity to interview sportspeople involved from the grassroots to the top of the game. 

On top of all that, I spent two months covering the Women’s Cricket World Cup in New Zealand. 

As I came to the end of my history degree in 2020, I already knew I wanted to be a sports journalist, but I started thinking about what form that would take. 

I quickly settled on women’s sport. 

I had always kept an eye on women’s sport, and proudly say the first sporting event I ever attended was a Women’s Euros football match in 2005, but my interest in sport came from what was easily available – and even two years ago most women’s sport wasn’t. 

2020 was a slippery slope to full-on obsession including listening to the 2020 Women’s T20 World Cup final on 8 March in the early morning on the radio. 

Even across the airwaves, the sound of 86,174 people packing into the MCG showed to me that there was plenty of appetite for women’s sport, people just need to be able to see it – and read about it. 

Fast forward two years and Australia were winning another World Cup, but this time, I was there to see it with my own eyes before heading to the press conference to speak with captain Meg Lanning. 

What had led to that point at around 9pm on 3 April 2022 was two months covering one of the most exciting tournaments cricket has ever seen, and I’m luckily not yet jaded enough to have cursed having to rewrite my match reports as momentum swung wildly in several games. 

I learnt so much from covering that World Cup producing over 120 previews, reports, reaction pieces and features, but my favourite one was the last thing I did in Aotearoa, speaking with a slightly hungover Grace Harris the day after she had won the World Cup. 

Having returned to the UK, I enjoyed a full circle moment in July as I covered the Women’s Euros, and just like the 2020 T20 World Cup, I watched from afar as 87,192 fans cheered the home team to victory. 

Except, this time I was writing the match report for the Lionesses and I couldn’t get into the Wembley press box because there were so many people eager to cover women’s sports. 

It feels like England’s win will be a turning point for women’s sport, one that is long overdue, and I am excited to be part of what is to come and grateful and proud to have been a small part of what has already been. 

You can find out more about our multimedia sports journalism course here.

For a taster of our award-winning journalism training, sign up for one of our free workshops here.

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