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Women who blog (and why I haven't been)

Cybher 2012 logo
So, while I haven’t actively been blogging much of late, I have been focussing on blogging in a slightly different way. My multimedia project for the MA in Online Journalism I’m almost half way through is now in full swing and I’ve just launched a microsite called Ladies Wot Blog, featuring audio interviews with some lovely women bloggers.

These bloggers, bar one who I approached from an expert/academic viewpoint on women in the blogosphere, are all attending Cybher 2012, the all-inclusive conference for female bloggers, which takes place next Saturday 12 May in London. And I can’t wait! I still have a couple more interviews to conduct, one to edit and will also endeavor to do an audio report from the event, venturing into live blogging territory I guess. I’ll also take some piccies and follow up with a full blown report of the day when I return home, and possibly some more audio.

I’ve learned loads while doing this project – and continue to do so – and have had the pleasure of chatting with some fab and interesting people. Studying has never been so much fun!

So if you blog and want to hop over to my microsite and share your blogging stories, highs or lows, or just comment on some of the interviews, please feel free to do so. The more the merrier!

My day at the Guardian Open Weekend

Author’s note: I wrote most of this post the day after the event and failed to finish and publish it. So it’s a belated report of the Guardian Open Weekend but better late than never, eh?

I’ve just been wracking my brain on the premise that this blog post would start with the highlight of my day at the Guardian Open Weekend. And cupcakes popped into my head. A stall set up just outside the Guardian’s office on York Way sold cute little cupcakes emblazoned with the Guardian logo (in icing, no less) and they were yummers. But that wasn’t the highlight of the weekend, I’m just… Obesessed. With. Cake.

It was great for The Guardian to open its doors for the weekend and let us civilians in to poke around and be the ones asking the questions for a change. Not only could we glimpse the offices over the shoulders of burly bouncers who stopped us straying to where we shouldn’t, we also indulged in some great talks. There were loads of sessions I’d like to have attended and many weren’t targeted at media types. The jewellery making session – they got pliers to play with! –  appealled but I plumped for sessions on careers (very topical in my workplace right now), how to make a video (scores points and work and for the MA), how to publish your own book (a blatant ad for but interesting in case I (when) can’t get published the traditional way) and a talk about how the Guardian’s gone multimedia (interesting, relevant and showcased the Guardian’s great work).

This was a two-day event but my buddy Angie and I attended on Saturday only. So, while Ang sloped off to attend a session on gender and equality – and learned the word ‘pinkification’ – I attended “How to change your career’ led by Richard from

I love career change stories, I find them really uplifting and they remind me that life’s journey doesn’t have to be straight and narrow. One of the audio case studies played during the session was from a chap called Hugo, and it lingers in my mind still.  “Changing career has given me licence to be the same person in work as I am outside of work.” That’s what I want.

Session leader Richard shared his own career change – from international corporate to social entreprenuer – and his body language changed dramatically as he did. The anger and loathing of his old job showed through his tensed fingertips, tort face and you could see the inner rage come out in his words. Moving on to talk about how he made the change and his body relaxed, he lit up and spoke with passion.

It was interesting, to me at least, that there were at least three journalists in the room (all looking for a new career?) in what was a small ish session comprising no more than 30 people. One young woman was working as a trained lawyer didn’t want a career in law; and that the other session leader Sarah is still trying to find out what she wants to do and is embarking on a portfolio career, trying lots of different things until she finds something that fits.

So, to summarise, Careershifters recommends a five step formula:

  1. Get committed (decide to make a change and be proactive about making it happen)
  2. Get to know yourself (look at what switches you on, not what’s on your CV. Define your ideal career ingredients and take the trial and error approach  – attend classes or workshops to see what you like doing)
  3. Explore your options (use your networks to search for opportunities and set up brief meetings with people rather than firing off a CV. Decide if the strategic (planned) approach is for you; whether you want to ‘jump off the cliff’ and straight from one career to another or the parachute approach which is somewhere between the two.
  4. Make the change (put yourself amongst the right people, get the skills you need, manage your finances)
  5. Stay the course (fear of finances, fear of failure, fear of what friends and family think? Don’t let that put you off)

Session number two was about how to make a video, led by the accidental comedy duo of John Domokos and Laurence Topham. Clearly unrehearsed and unprepared these two characters – Laurence the chatty, hyperactive one and John the demure, straight-talking one – flipped from offering advice to showing clips to demo-ing the iPhone and taking questions.

All Guardian reporters – including those from a print-only background – will be trading their Blackberry for an iPhone soon in order to capture video on the fly. They gave some great examples of video interviews and mini films caught on the iPhone and how you can even edit from your smartphone.

In between trying/failing to establish who was lading the session, the pair offered some great tips on lighting, positioning, angles etc before aiming to split us into teams and briefing us to gallivant off and collect vox pops, wide angle shots and general views (GVs) so they could edit it together for a video report on the Guardian Open Weekend. And when they sent us off on our mission, it was only then they realised they needed to get the footage off us, somehow, in order to edit and use it. It was a last minute scramble to hand over an email address to send clips, and the session ended in semi confusion.

Ang and I didn’t take up the video challenge, which clashed with lunch on a noisy side street and our following two sessions – plus a browse around the event’s bookstore featuring the wares of Guardian authors – but this is what some of the others came up with..

We attended a session on how to publish your book which I was expecting to be about why you’d choose to self publish over battling for an agent and then a book deal in this day and age when the publishing industry is flagging. But nope, it was a blatant advert for, a company which helps you publish your own books, whether you’re aiming to be the next JK Rowling or wanting to create an album of photos for loved ones. A few people got up and left after 15 mins but we stuck it out to the end and it was actually interesting. There’s no need for me to fill you in though, you can head straight to for all the info.

Our day ended on very low comfy chairs listening to a handful of Guardian folk talking about how the company has gone multimedia. If you think the Guardian is just about a newspaper, you’d be very wrong, and they plough a lot of time and energy into creating awesome videos, including this incredibly moving and powerful animation; multimedia journalism at its best. They alsolaunched Streetstories, an audio-community-history project for the Kings Cross area.

It was a great day, I left knowing more about the Guardian and hopefully other folk did too. Plus the cupcakes were really rather tasty.

My Pancake Day podcast…

… in which I sound like a bit of a tosser.

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Disclaimer: I had to do this as part of my MA. As an audio experiment. Honest.

Five for Friday: achievements this week

Hooray, it’s Friday and I’ve made it through the week. Here’s why I deserve a weekend…

1) Last weekend – and I mean all of it – was spent on my latest MA assignment, as was the weekend before, and while absolutely necessary it’s meant I’ve missed out on any relaxtion-recover-from-the-working-week time and fun-stuff-with-my-family time. Last Saturday hubbles dragged the dog off on a big walkies so I could concentrate on my project in peace. While I was beavering away in the office, the two men in my life, Rich and Ralphie, spent three hours on an adventure. They returned covered in mud having fallen upon some Roman ruins, a wood and some open fields we didn’t even know existed. I was very jealous. So this weekend we’re doing three-hours walkies part two and I’m looking forward to wearing my silver wellies very much.

2) On Monday I played volleyball for the first time this year and got player of the match, and a few aches and pains to boot. I’m really enjoying my return to the sport having ‘retired’ a couple of years ago because this time the pressure’s off. No coach, no subs waiting to take my place on court, no pressure to win and stay in a division. Regional league is all about playing with five of my bestest mates – and the fact we’re winning most games is an added bonus.

3) On Wednesday I attended a data journalism course at Birmingham City Univerity. Organised by the Centre for Investigative Journalism and lead by online journalism guru (and my tutor!) Paul Bradshaw, it offered a basic guide to finding stories in data and displaying it in a cool way. I love the idea of data journalism and some of the visualisations (this one, for example, from a member of my MA class) are very, very cool. That said, I have real trouble getting my head around data and wince when I have to open an Excel file, so perhaps it’s not for me. But I will keep trying and even have some data sets in mind to look at in the future and try to display visually. I certainly don’t want to give up without at least dabbling.

4) As the above was at BCU, this gave me an opportunity to attend the university I’ve signed up with and meet some more members of my cohort. Despite enrolling last September I’d not yet visited campus and wanted to check it out. I even rode the train in from New Street with other students and trekked onto campus with them, so I felt like I belonged. It’s odd being 32 and attending university but I don’t think I stuck out too much. I also got to hang out with some of my fellow students, one of which I’d already met and another , a fellow distance learner I’d emailed several times. The others were new to me but it was great to catch up, swap stories about our backgrounds and ambitions for the future, our journalism careers to date, stories covered, and our shared insecurity over our projects. Have we done the right thing? Will we pass? What will we do if we don’t?

4) The only downside of Wednesday – data-journalism-and-hang-out-with-students-day – was that I almost fainted just before I got there. As I hopped off the station at Perry Barr I had  sharp stomach cramps which made me want to double over and scream in pain. If I didn’t know better I’d think someone was jamming a screwdriver into my middle. But I was in a public place so I came over all English, resisted anything that might have drawn attention to myself, and tried to carry on walking as normal. This resulted in me getting very hot, vision blurring and just before I passed out I managed to prop myself against a wall and take some deep breaths. A lovely student came over and asked if I was okay, handing me her unopened bottle of coke and genuinely being lovely. Whoever you were – huge thanks! 20 minutes later I felt normal again but sharp pains persisted throughout the day and by the time I made it back to Milton Keynes and fell on the sofa that evening  I felt utterly shattered.

5) My dog has more Twitter followers than my little sister. She’s very upset about this but I think it’s quite an achievement :0)

Five for Friday: Why you should check out

Ralphie the cocker spaniel in the carIf you get a spare five mins you should check out, follow Ralphie on Twitter or go and like his Facebook page. Here’s why:

1) Because it’s about dogs and dogs rock. Anyone who has one will know how much fun and frustration they serve up: a joy to be around one minute (cute puppy curled up on lap), doing amusing things the next (like growling at penguins on Frozen Planet) and then tripping you over and licking the sandwich it’s just taken you half an hour to prepare.

2) It’s named after my own dog Ralphie and he’ll get a popularity complex if people don’t like it. Our neighbours have just got a labrador puppy called Molly and Ralphie’s already peeved he’s no longer the cutest dog on the block.

3) It’s part of my Masters in Online Journalism and I desperately want to a) pass it and b) do very well. So the more support I get for it, the better. Pretty please!

4) You can play a part in contributing to the dog walking community of Milton Keynes and beyond by suggesting good walkies to add to the map, flagging up dog friendly pubs and attractions and swapping information and advice on being a dog owner. Comments, feedback and discussion are more than welcome!

5) Just because. Watch these two videos and just TRY not to laugh at the highs and lows of being a dog owner.



Graduates not getting the job they want straight away? Ah, diddums…

Pens in hair by Evil Erin via FlickrWhile the UK trend towards rising unemployment for young people has been building since 2000, I have to confess to being a tad unsympathetic.

“Lots of young people are downgrading their aspirations and taking second best. We’re seeing graduates who take on possibly not the job they hope to achieve,” says Paul Brown, director at the Princes Trust, in this article.

And when I left college I wanted to be editor of the New York Times, live in Manhattan and sip cocktails after an exciting day on the news desk. It was never going to happen.

So young people shouldn’t be defeated when they don’t get the job they aspire to straight away or if they have to settle for second best; we all have to start somewhere and that’s usually at the bottom. That’s certainly how it was for me.

What’s missing in this day an age – a time where school sports days are seen as stressful and unnecessarily competitive – is the sense of reality, the bigger picture. That if you want to become a fashion designer, a corporate director, a banker, then you have to start at the bottom and work your way up. And you have to start early.

Walking out of university with an English Literature degree and saying “hey job market, I’m reading for that career in publishing now” isn’t going to work. What experience do you have? What qualifications do you have? And best of all, have you got a combination of experience and qualifications that absolutely support the path you’re choosing to take?

I’ve read CVs from people who say they’re desperate for a career in media, yet their qualifications and experience say they’re more interested in marketing and sales. The two need to tie up.

And experience is a must. 14-year-olds should be working in some capacity, whether it’s sweeping up hair in a local salon, serving customers in the mini market or waitressing in a café; it adds to your perception of the world of work and teaches you valuable skills, whatever profession you choose to go in at a later date. And it teaches you the value of money, that sometimes you have to work quite hard for not very much.

Yes, it’s potentially stressful to think about a career when you’re just 14 but if getting onto the job market is becoming increasingly competitive – and figures seem to suggest that’s the case – then it’s so important to make sure you stand out.

This isn’t a an attempt to blow my own trumpet but read my CV and you’ll see that all I ever wanted to be was a journalist. From work experience on the Kidderminster Shuttle when I was 14, to the subjects I studied at A Level and to the trainee reporter job I started out in when I was 19, and everything I did in between to support that ambition. No one reading my CV could misinterpret that I wanted to be anything else – so not only is it about qualifications and experience but there needs to be an element of passion there too.

I’m one of the lucky ones. I knew I wanted to be a journalist from very early on – after dismissing the idea of being an FBI agent and then an Olympic runner, of course – and did everything possible to make that happen. And I didn’t see it as stressful at the time, or pressured, or even unrealistic – not even when the careers advisor almost fell off her chair laughing at the fact I thought I could become a journalist, rather than the dog groomer role a useless careers-type survey had predicted for me.

So, I made sure I did my work experience (arranged via school) at two local newspapers and, despite being painfully shy at 14 I asked the reporters there what to study at college, whether to go to university or not, and the best options for getting a job. And that’s what I did.

I also whittled off letters to lots of local newspaper editors and asked them the best way to get into journalism. And I got lots of feedback, from the people who knew, the people who’d already been in my position and were now doing the job. You can’t get any better advice than that! And I’ve been working as a journalist since I was 19 – so it worked.

It’s tough out there, no doubt about it, and I’m not suggesting every case is as cut and dried as I’m making it sound, but there are things you can do to give yourself the best possible chance and that means making connections, creating opportunities and gaining experience as early as possible. And social media is a great enabler.

PS I know this doesn’t apply to all graduates and that there are some super talented folk out there who can’t get a job and it utterly sucks. And I’m only referring to journalism here because that’s the career path I chose. It’s tough deciding what you want to spend the rest of your life doing and I am lucky, I knew from an early age and followed a path. For those who don’t know what they want to do, it’s even tougher.  So maybe the title of this blog is harsh; my lack of sympathy is only towards those who expect the world for very little effort. If only.

Picture by Evil Erin via Flickr under Creative Commons licence

PS Be grateful for opportunities presented to you, make the most of them and be prepared to start at the bottom. And NEVER get your mum to write your work experience letters for you!