My neglected blog – 2011 in review

3 01 2012

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,600 times in 2011. If it were a cable car, it would take about 27 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.


2010 in review

3 01 2011

So people do actually read this…thanks whoever you are. See more of my features, blogs and interviews at be merry and enjoy the New Year!

The stats helper monkeys at mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Fresher than ever.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 2,600 times in 2010. That’s about 6 full 747s.


In 2010, there were 10 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 30 posts. There were 29 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 1mb. That’s about 2 pictures per month.

The busiest day of the year was July 7th with 99 views. The most popular post that day was Spain v England: a Champions League class apart.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were,,,, and

Some visitors came searching, mostly for spain football, wayne bridge girlfriend, child snatcher, aston villa, and vanessa peronccel.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


Spain v England: a Champions League class apart February 2009


Twitter and the twit: How the John Terry affair has granted the press their freedom February 2010


Bitter legacies or best of friends – the top 10 greatest sporting rivalries March 2010
1 comment


England’s World Cup squad as Capello sees it – the goalkeepers February 2010


Sonya Says: England must learn from mistakes or fear punishment March 2009

REVIEW: News Associates journalism training

11 08 2010

Here I hope to offer up some of my personal experiences of journalism that could help those considering disembarking society and becoming a career hack. First I review my training with News Associates.

Enough is enough. I’ve been completely side tracked. I set this blog up in the first place with the interests of journalism at heart. Specifically to give a firsthand account of the travails experienced in pursuing a career as a trainee in the media. Upstart Liverpool and Man City supporters respectively and of late David Beckham’s Achilles have distracted my attention. So back to the subject at hand…

I tumbled out of university back in 2008, a history graduate, with the big, bad world sprawled out ahead of me. My dissertation studying the portrayal of the first black heavyweight boxing champion, Jack Johnson (please refrain from picturing the beach-bum surfing, acoustic guitar strumming Hawaiian) in the black and white newspapers of twentieth century America turned my attention toward the role media has to play, both for sport, society and primarily for my career.Jack Johnson (right) no watered down lyrics in sight

I perhaps did not take full advantage of the array of opportunities provided at a well run student union. (See Stewart Maclean’s route to The Mirror and a nomination for the British Press Awards Young Journalist of the Year.) I dabbled in reporting for the paper, covering boxing and football events. Yet there is so much more scope for experience at this level and one should take every chance to practise a bit of feature writing, interviewing, sub-editing, broadcast and radio journalism as possible. Even try to take a year abroad and dabble in foreign forms of media if you are ultra keen and focused. This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the finer things in life along the way. Think Gonzo journalism in Fear and Loathing. Anyway, I didn’t grasp every opportunity. We live and learn.

So in early 2009 I enrolled on the News Associates journalism course. Acceptance on the course is fairly liberal but I did attend a one day taster workshop. Here they ask you to sit a short current affairs test to prove you aren’t brain dead (example: Who is that horrible racist man always in the news? It’s a trick question. They want you to answer Nick Griffin even though we all know the real answer is Prince Philip.) There was also a writing exercise requiring you to show you can cut down on waffle and trim a short article into a shorter article (basically just delete anywhere it says ‘that’ and don’t follow my lead on this blog).Prince Philip dashing and lovingly racist

The course is National Council for the Training of Journalism (NCTJ) accredited and ideal for developing the practical elements essential for a hard-nosed, hungry local newspaper reporter. But herein lies the key word: local. If council meetings and disgruntled neighbourhood watch residents are your thing, and you don’t mind your local celebrity being a ninety year old organ player then this course and above all the public affairs (PA) module will be right up your partially obstructed ginnel (that’s an alleyway in the quaint Yorkshire dialect! Who knew?).

Regardless of this caveat, the skills learnt with News Associates are quintessential for a long and successful career in the industry, at all levels from local to national, so don’t stop reading just yet.

  • News Associates
  • NCTJ accredited pre-entry journalism certificate
  • Wimbledon or Manchester centre
  • News writing | Media law | Public Affairs | Shorthand
  • 20 weeks fast track | 40 weeks part time
  • £3,150 – £3,500

As for PA, tedious is not even the word but it is useful, just painstakingly so. The news writing module gears you up for all the local community-centric predicaments you could get yourself into but the exam is an absolute bitch! On average only half the class passes this first time, something they conveniently chose not to divulge until you’ve handed over the cheque. Always remember to read the small print.

By contrast, the fundamental learning offered on this course is shorthand, learnt in teeline with a target of 100 words per minute, and media law. Get your head around the Sexual Offences Act, 2003, defamation and contempt of court and you’re halfway to being hired by lawyer-loathing editors up and down the country. Another essential item to walk away with is a shiny, sparkling folder containing all the fruits of your labour, emblazoned with that pride-inspiring four syllable word: PORTFOLIO.Gobbledeegook aka. shorthand

As News Ass’ managing editor James Toney says: “It’s difficult to get a foot in the newsroom without qualifications, it’s impossible without a portfolio.” Another memorable adage to live by is coined by head of journalism Andrew Moorhouse: “The future might be digital but teeline is around to stay.”

I’ll give you a further insight into how I went about accumulating this work of art on my placements in part duo shortly but firstly a couple of further things to remember about this course.

It will cost ya. Roughly £3,500 to be precise, although there seems to be an early payment discount available these days at £3,150. Why didn’t I have that option!?! And there are two locations, two timescales of study and two intakes a year I believe. They like to do things by halves. The centres are in Wimbledon SW19 London of Henman Hill and Murray’s Mound fame or in Manchester centre. I attended the centre up in Manc but there was a catchment area as far reaching as Leeds for me and the Wirral in Liverpool if you can stand the commute.

This commute was just about digestible as I chose to take the course in small bite-sized, part-time chunks. That’s 40 weeks, a full Saturday and Monday night per week with a six-week break in the middle culminating in a set of exams at the end of each term. I started in January 2009 and graduated (woohoo!) in November. The alternative is a 20 week fast track, full-time, full-paced, frenetic dose of journalism straight up with no mixer. A day out of the five is devoted to placements which help no end with the aforementioned portfolio.

Friends who have taken this full-time hit survived, just. You need to have the funds and energy to deal but they also said the intensity helped get their head’s around shorthand and peaking with the 100wpm. Those on my course on the other hand found it difficult to maintain speed and this seems to be the biggest dividing point between the two options. Both courses supposedly offer sub-editing and sports writing modules although I am yet to receive my training…suggesting potential organisational teething problems.

Richard Parsons, News Associates tutor. sterner than he looks Lastly, a further bonus of the Wimbledon office is its proximity to a fully fledged, leading sports news agency: Sportsbeat. Located directly under News Ass to be exact on the first floor. Don’t let the grimaces on their faces fool you, they are always happy to take on students for the one day a week placement; posting you out to far flung theatres of football such as AFC Wimbledon’s Kingsmeadow among others.

Ultimately it is the tutors who truly sold this course to me. They are utterly invested in your training and have a great wealth of personal experience to bring to the table; be it when they were flogging up and down the M1 to do through the night subbing shifts in an empty newsroom or when they were going toe-to-toe in an interview with their sporting hero or the latest corrupt politician. They are always available for assistance, whether for the course itself or for personal assistance. They understand the difficulties we are facing post-uni, pre-employment better than anyone.

Now if any aspiring journalists happened to stumble upon this nugget of insider information and find a morsel of use within, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch with any further questions. Hey, that’s what the comment box is for after all, not just to slate me and hurl obscenities please!

Strike at Yorkshire Post reveals trouble that awaits aspiring journalists

24 02 2009

As the Yorkshire papers start scything through their workforce, what world are new journalists stepping into?

My recent attempts to acquire the golden chalice that is work experience – in this case at the Yorkshire (Evening) Post – have been unceremoniously rebuffed to date. This in itself is a form of experience: jobs are at a premium. As if the journalistic trade wasn’t competitive enough.

As I understand it, there are many doorways leading to a job in journalism. There are journalism students spilling over from every college and university in the land. Young start-ups sneak their way in the back door after years of work experience and no qualifications. Ex-professionals drop their political surliness or hang up their football boots as they are lured into the newsroom to set up shop as specialist hacks. And now this modern age of the social media blogosphere allows any novice to up-load and publicise their un-edited opinion (mine included) saturating the market with comment and observation.

Yet, the latest news on the Yorkshire Post has rudely awakened me to the understanding that these doorways are being ruthlessly slammed shut in our faces. The jobs we all desire and fight tooth-and-nail for are drying up and being scrapped by the big wigs.

In reaction to this news, or more accurately, to save the jobs for those that have been putting in the hours and providing the copy for their papers, the National Union for Journalists have instigated the campaign, ‘Stand up for Journalism’ to blow the whistle on any ill treatment dealt out by their conglomerate owners. In this case Johnston Press firing and culling the Yorkshire Post workforce willy-nilly. And last week’s strikes outside the newspaper’s building in Leeds was a prime example of the public outcry against these job cutbacks and forced redundancies.

The NUJ’s message of solidarity was spread through the city on flyers reading:

“Journalists take a stand to defend Yorkshire papers – Local community let down by newspaper owners.

“Despite making massive profits, Johnston Press has been cutting back on journalists, putting the quality of your local paper under threat. Fewer people are now expected to do more work and it is damaging local journalism. Further cutbacks will make it harder for journalists on your paper to:” … GET A JOB!! At least that is the first problem I can infer on a personal level from this news.

Protests against Johnston Press' treatment of the staff at their newspapers

All of this spells trouble for the journalist student. I have the course but as yet, only brief stints of experience – invaluable though it has been – but if I aim to establish myself in the industry I will need many more placements and opportunities to work in bustling newsrooms. If the staff on the books at these institutions are fearing for their jobs then what is the likelihood they’ll be desperate for more recruits come the end of the year and as for offering work experience, it seems, and understandably so, that the powers that be who decide to hand out this experience have far more pressing issues to be concerned with currently.

So as the old adage goes: ‘you need experience to get experience’, how the hell am I going to get these placements I crave? And even without this ‘catch22’ situation, once I have successfully (I hope) navigated the NCTJ course, what is going to be waiting for me once I take my first brave steps into the media world???


So, off the top of my head, here are my foreseen options:

1.      Local Papers

I have made forays into this realm with work experience at the Huddersfield Examiner and will soon be plying my trade at the Wakefield Express. Yet the latter is still run by Johnston Press so jobs will be equally hard to come by as at the Yorkshire Post. Nevertheless, these are the places where raw ability can be sculpted into genuine talent and, if I apply myself on these rare opportunities of work experience, then at least I will be remembered if the unlikelihood of a job vacancy arises.


2.      National Papers

The Independent and the Guardian have drawn my attention to internships and graduate schemes. Last year in an overly ambitious attempt to get myself into the Guardian I filled in one such application yet with minimal experience to call on, I wasn’t kidding anybody when they said ‘better luck next time’. Yet as alluring as these offers would be, only a handful of the journalist graduates that I mentioned, spilling out from the national pool of writers and reporters, would find themselves accepted. Furthermore, as if to add insult to injury, the Guardian website for applications reads:


“The Guardian’s one-year training programme is designed to attract promising journalists. The scheme attracts an annual salary of up to £25,000, including six weeks paid holiday. Please note that this scheme will not run in 2009/10.”


Perfect. Just when you’ve made our mouths water and imaginations run away with the thought of getting paid teaching, you give us the proverbial ‘piss-off’ and slap in the face. Who knows when these will run again?


3.      Magazines

Similarly to many newspapers of late, opportunities here are limited as the fame and glamour attached to every professional sport means that when the celebrity sportsman finally retire from the game, they have a readymade readership waiting for their insights as specialists. E.g. Jeremy Guscott’s column on Rugby Union for the BBC, former England cricket captain Michael Atherton’s thoughts for The Times, Jim Watt’s insider knowledge of boxing for Sky Sports, then there is ex-football professionals. Andy Gray, Alan Hanson, Chris Kamara, Lee Dixon, David Pleat, Jamie Redknapp and in the past even John ‘get round the back’ Barnes has unfathomably been recruited into well paid positions. Even ex-politicians like Michael Portillo are getting a sniff. Understandably, editor’s can see how their first-hand experience outweighs that which young hacks can bring to the table.


However, this problem has had offerings of solutions propagated in the magazine market. The ‘catch 22’ scenario, of needing experience to get experience, has led to a magazine of said name to establish itself based on the writing talents of new journalist students, lacking in specific experience, but with the drive and aptitude to bring something fresh to anything worth an opinion. Their myspace page reveals the inspiration:


“A dynamic social enterprise! We champion and train aspiring professionals that want experience but can’t get experience due to their lack of experience.”


Catch 22 Magazine offers an alternative to aspiring journalists 


Taking students on a 12 week course affiliated with the London College of Communications, who gain sponsorship for this insight into the industry, and who contribute to the production of their quarterly Catch 22 Magazine as their output. This is affordable, recognisable experience producing a tangible piece of published work to present to future employees which kick-starts their career in journalism. We should all be so lucky, yet dedication and application, as well as a certain flair for writing and abundance of creativity are vital attributes to make this work.


4.      Freelance

One of my tutors on my own course at News Associates has made a profitable career out of such a discipline. A good nose for a story is pivotal to success but the fruits of working on your own terms are very appealing. Furthermore, this gives you the freedom to choose what to run with and how to write it. Examples of merely picking up a story – such as interviewing the creator of Thunderbirds and discovering his plans to write another series – then off-loading it to an unscrupulous national such as the Sun and pocketing a handsome £500 are very possible (insider course knowledge is privileged). Yet the positives are off-shot with the fear of not having a set wage and paper to make your name with. Yet this isn’t ruling freelance work out.


5.      PR and press officers

Slightly set away from a direct route in journalism is the possibility of turning your hand to something like public relations. Journalists receive countless press releases and the possibility of turning provider to other news outlets is certainly an alternative to doing the investigative work yourself. It would mean representing the company rather than speaking for the people, as journalism is fundamentally required to do, and this means a shift in mindset would be required.


Further skills and practices would have to be learned yet the basics are brought through an understanding of writing for a paper and the insider knowledge that goes with receiving these press releases. Two of my tutors have shown the possibility of making a career out of this switch at their local councils, but I feel it slightly tarnishes the whole concept of uncovering news, rather than just gullibly swallowing down information fed to you by spin masters in press offices. Then again, that only occurs with companies hiding something (i.e. the council) but representing somebody like Manchester United FC Ltd would present a wholly different situation. Merely fielding questions about how many trophies are planned to be acquired next year or where the next £30.75m signing fee will be spent.


6.      Corporate Communications

And lastly, I can envisage Corporate Comms. as an alternative solution. A recent talk by Smyth Harper, Acting Deputy Director in this field for the Greater Manchester Police revealed the possibilities. In being behind the media operation, spearheading efforts to reel in the latest scumbag on the run or campaign against knife crime has its exciting and ethically sound positives. Yet, simultaneously having to take the flack when things don’t go to plan – such as the Manchester riots when Glasgow Rangers fans came to town in May last year – would present complications that would require a very refined skill and ability to collaborate with the local media (Manchester Evening News in this case). Harper himself got into this line of work after reporting for a paper in Derry, showing that such journalism skills are invaluable. It is another example of how my learning and time on this course will stand me in good stead for a number of possibilities down the line.


So, as I have realised, there is a plentitude of directions I can take once my course finishes, even if those at the Yorkshire Post don’t see fit to offer me work experience.

Ideally I would like to believe I could find myself in the warm comforting embrace of an established national, with the paternal guidance of a graduate scheme easing me out into the scary world of reporting. Yet failing that, I am beginning to understand how the skills and tools that journalists equip themselves with are often transferable into other industries, and this is exciting in itself – knowing that there is more than just one goal at the end of it all.

A place on a paper or magazine is not the be all and end all of journalism, though the thought of my name being followed by the words Chief Correspondent or Sports Editor would be rather nice. For now at least, it uncertainly, yet proudly reads: Sam Rider, Aspiring Journalist.

Stop the Press…Releases!!

21 01 2009

So anyone ever watched All the President’s Men? The 1976 film portrays the months that led up to the revealing of the Watergate Scandal and the resignation of President Nixon; and is shot from the viewpoint of the reporters Woodward (Redford) and Bernstein (Hoffman), working tirelessly in the Washington Post newsroom, piecing together this great puzzle that gradually receives national recognition.

This week I experienced my very own personal microcosm of All the President’s Men. Playing the protagonist was yours truly. The subject, a nineteen year old from Rastrick, Kirklees (Huddersfield area to you and I). Instead of the Watergate building there was the Army Recruitment Office. And the big story/scandal was his decision to ‘sign up’ contributing to a family history of service that spanned four generations.

For some reason that I am yet to understand, my pseudonym at the Examiner was the catchy Natalie Mullin.

OK, so my experiences on a work placement at The Huddersfield Examiner may not have been ground breaking or incurred Earth shattering, but for me I was taking my first few unnoticed footsteps on a long journey that will hopefully one day lead me to national exclusives and the captivating world of investigative journalism at its purest.

What I found most revealing from my brief spell at the Examiner was the proportion of the paper that is compiled of press releases posing as ‘news’ sent out from local businesses and their press offices. It’s tricky knowing where to draw the line between reporting the information provided that your readers will be interested in and handing out free advertising for any old company.

A post script note for anyone interested – trying to get coherent quotes out of disgruntled Army vets is the closest thing I can think of to banging your head against a brick wall. Yet perhaps these things come with time, just like shorthand, which I am beginning to think that were I to master, I could practically turn my hand to the scriptures of Mandarin, Arabic and maybe even Caveman…at a stretch…its just scribbles of elephants and cheetahs isn’t it?

Are journalists above the law?

6 01 2009

Lessons in legislation for the aspiring journalist.

“As any reporter knows, the matter became sub judice the moment they were charged.” This was an excerpt taken from The Guardian’s sportswriter Richard Williams’ column today. In addressing the irresponsibility of media coverage that has recently gone to press concerning Steven Gerrard’s arrest at a Liverpool bar last week, this article raised several questions over the legal rights and responsibilities of the modern journalist.

Firstly, once the matter went under adjudication and a trial was scheduled, were reporters following the story wrong to have printed material related to the incident and persons involved or does the public have a right to know?

Civil law, as I am repeatedly reminded by any textbooks on the matter, applies to every member of the public regardless of profession. Although as I’m sure many media mogul’s out there would like to believe, the press badge does not afford journalists the opportunity to overlook or sidestep this legislation.

Yet it appears the allure of the altercation at the Lounge Bar and follow up stories to fill the headlines has meant that coverage which could influence the sub judice (under adjudication) case has not ceased. As in the similar case of Jonathan Woodgate and Lee Bowyer, accused of assault in 2001 and the printing of an interview with a relative of the victim in advance of the jury’s verdict causing a retrial, these over-exuberant reporters may just land a £75,000 fine on their editor’s desk. And unless that editor in question has had an exceedingly good night’s sleep, they may even find themselves without a job.

So are these laws imposed on the journalist to be abided by? And where is the line drawn for the freedom of our nation’s press? These examples of the English law figuratively inflicting red tape on the reporting of such incidents which draw huge public interest, arguably conflicts with the ‘right to know’ concept behind such legislation as the Freedom of Information Act of 2000. After all, at their best, the media are the eyes and ears of the general public and an essential element in maintaining parliamentary democracy. And if that at times seems hard to believe then it must be remembered that the newspaper industry is at its most flawed a business enterprise in which stories that sell the copies will be the ones that are afforded the most coverage.

It is unfortunate that public interest and democratic practise don’t always see eye to eye when it comes to what makes the headlines. Thus social responsibility and moral obligation are often an afterthought. It appears some papers driven by sales would rather rustle feathers and take the rap on the wrists than miss out on the scoop and exclusives.

Ultimately it comes down to the general public to make their own mind up as to what they chose to believe and what conclusions they may draw. In returning to the case in question for Steven Gerrard, it will be up to the social obligation of the men and women in the jury to determine the outcome of that hearing. The Liverpool footballer should be treated no differently from the next man to walk into the docks and accordingly the reporters covering the story should respect the laws in place to ensure a fair and impartial trial. Although the journalistic mavericks out there would like to think they work on a different plain to that of the general public, the laws in place are there to remind everyone of the boundaries in which our society is governed and fundamentally to ensure that everyone is working on a level playing field.

As for those aspiring journalists out there searching for the next front page headline, the laws are certainly not there to be broken. For the next time they break that legislative red tape, their editor may not have slept so well and then only the job section of the paper will be what concerns them.

News travels fast – lessons to be learned in covering a story swiftly

5 12 2008

As soon as I finished assembling my first blog and clicked the ‘publish’ key two days ago I encountered my first lesson of many in understanding the world of journalism: news travels fast.

Immediately after the blog was released for any potential public scrutiny – or at least for the reading of those who I have suggested/persuaded to look at it – did a follow up story directly affecting what I had argued made its way to the headlines of the evening newspapers and online websites.

My argument was that the Football Association is of late becoming too obsessed with interfering in matters that go above their call of duty in the game. The FA had no need to intervene and hand out reprisals for Liverpool FC’s demonstrations and show of support for their incarcerated and possibly wrongly accused supporter Michael Shields. Furthermore, I recognised problems with the manner of governing bodies who threw their weight about as soon as one member of the public showed any disapproval. And above all I felt there was no need for any agency to feel the need to ‘jump in’ on one side or another as public response should be able to speak for itself.

The follow up report I was referring to came when the FA released a statement on Wednesday afternoon. “We understand that Michael Shields’ case is a very emotive issue,” said an FA spokesman.

“Having heard the club’s explanation we will not be taking any formal action, and we are satisfied that they understand the sensitivities around football matches being used as a platform for political messages.”

I wonder whether what also happened was that the FA eventually understood the sensitivities around freedom of speech and a peaceful public protest.

Lessons learnt

News coverage has moved onFor now at least, I want to focus on the journalistic lessons I learnt in this case.

The press has always had to be first to every story. With so many different regional, national and international repositories for the news competition has fuelled this urgency. And in the last two decades or so the increase in mediums and outlets for news has accelerated this pace to breakneck speed.

During the summer I attended a journalism workshop with News Associates to experience what the course I am taking would be all about. The trainers there threw us into the deep end and exposed us to a hypothetical yet real-life-speed news story.

We were barraged with information from eye-witness and on the scene reports theoretically by phone. Informed by press releases and statements received by live-feed and e-mails. And we were able to instantly bring up any information available regarding the action zone from the encyclopedic information stored on the internet.

This exercise lasted all of 45 minutes – and that was only so we could keep up – but allowed us to compile a comprehensive news report looking at the story from every available angle ready to be released across multiple news media from newspapers to television, mobile phone and internet

What these examples have illustrated is that the modern world has forced us to keep up to speed. With the surge in social media even evident as I am typing, blogging allows even those without journalistic qualifications to be first to report the news. As a journalist or reporter this urgency will be paramount to one’s responsibility to the public and accountability to their editor.

I imagine that this learning curve I am embarking upon will be just as steep and honestly, I can’t wait.

News travels fast, and you better keep up.

Its a war zone out there