Brighton Future of News blog

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Making their way in journalism – the @wannabehacks #bfong

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Brighton Future of News Group April meeting with Ben Whitelaw and Alice Vincent, the student and the maverick at Wannabe Hacks.

Ben: “It’s coming to events like this you realise you’ve done something different.”

It started with five lads from Birmingham University who all wanted to work in journalism. They looked around for courses and sought advice. It was difficult to find a single view. Many older journalists had a different route into journalism.

Three guys had places at City University, and one had an internship and the other was freelancing.

They decided to start up a website. Looked into court reporting. Great advice from people including Paul Bradshaw and thought it would be good to write up stories and sell them via the website.

“It was too much hard work to sit in court without shorthand or media law.”

Got the Mad Men style images from a friend, and sought advice on how to make the website work. Martin Belam of the Guardian said not to worry about the way it looked but go for it.

In the week the trio started at City they had a feature in The Guardian and had 1,000 impressions on their two-year-old blog.

Ned, the detective, had to drop out, but they were joined by Alice, who was working in New York.

“It’s been a fast eight months”, Ben said.

Alice Vincent, the Maverick,  “I checked them out and thought it was interesting.”

She got in touch with Matt, the Freelancer, and asked him how he managed while fresh out of uni. Asked to be a guest writer from New York as she was off.

The first post Alice wrote was about working at NYLon.

“It blew my mind, after several work experience placements in London, once working with Lady Gaga’s stylist.”

Alice was able to write a review of a novel and really get on with it.

She was called in to join the hacks, “It’s kept me sane, even though I’ve been employed for three weeks.”

Worked in a shop for a while, but writing for an online publication kept her sane.

“We get a daily thread of emails. It’s really nice to feel part of a community.”

“I’m always amazed by the amount of people who Tweet us about stuff.”

“It’s great to hear from other journalists who don’t know what they’re doing but, don’t know shorthand, we’re all in the same situation.”

Alice has been working at for three weeks.

Ben has passed his law exams at City and also has his 100 wpm shorthand.

“What we say to young journalists when they ask how we do it, we’re five journalists writing a blog together, we’re a mini collective with more force behind us.”

Alice: “Hacks isn’t a vanity project. It’s not selfish.”

“Ben’s posts always get the most hits, but he doesn’t milk it.”

As a team they appreciate each other’s writing. They support each other and share ideas and contacts.

Ben: “We didn’t think we’d get a job out of this, we did it to keep ourselves busy and learn from it.”

“Hopefully it will help people. You don’t know if it helps but the work Alice has done has probably helped her get work at” Ben said.

“I’ve applied for a job working at the Independent, but they chose someone with little experience.”

“Not doing it to get the job, but because you love it and have fun talking to people.”

One girl wrote about taking cake in to the BBC. Taking cake into work is a good idea.

Ben finds himself writing at 1am.

Alice used to babysit for the chief sports writer at the Telegraph.

Best advice he gave was “you will lose your 20s”.

“You come home from doing your job, you get home, you’re writing, but you love it, it’s not a chore.”

Tom and Ben went to Kingston University to talk about Wannabe Hacks. They held an event where 80 people turned up.

“You get to meet interesting people. Meeting people comes full circle.”

They have received praise from and FleetStreetBlues placed them as the second best journalism blog when it was just five months old.

Everyone’s very busy. Limited time for podcasting through work. Getting together renews their enthusiasm and ideas. It’s hard work.

Alice’s first post was slated by Fleet Street Blues, but “we’re still waiting for our point to hit the wall.”

Met a woman who worked at 5Live, encouragement to continues means they are doing to see how they can continue with it and see if they can develop into a business.

Different approaches to the job works well together. Nick Petrie (the intern) comes up with some of the great ideas.

Have to be practical with the big ideas. Hogwarts for Journalists is a long way off.

On May 20 the team is having its second meet up. There will be cup cakes from Cute as a Cupcake.

Questions time:

Cathy Watson: “How did you get your first 1,000 visitors.”

Ben: “Got in touch with the editor of Media Guardian, and wrote a piece about the student media awards.

“Wrote 700 words, cut to 300, with a little pictures of us and a bit about what we’d done.

“It was perfect for me and Tom (the Chancer) on our first day at City.

“Hope a few came back to us.”

Now they average between 3-500 visitors a day. A busy day is about 1,000.

“Tom working on the Guardian sports desk this week, but preferred work experience at The Forester.”

Deputy sport editor told him he’d read his post. Apparently they were quite surprised.

“Tom stuck up for himself, saying he had seen enough. It had gone”

They have organised themed weeks, production, magazine, local journalism etc.

Alice was surprised her interview with the editor of NYLon didn’t have as many hits as a piece by two students writing about women’s magazines.

Cathy Watson: Do you have a Facebook page?


Here it is

They want to encourage younger journalists.

Alice has wanted to be a journalist since she was 16.

“There is a market out there to target 16-year-olds who want to be a journalist”.

Ben says they’re trying to get more people using Facebook using polls.

They also have a Tumblr account.

Rich Hook:  How do you choose the hacks?

Ben: ” It was just five mates at university together moving to London.”

At City they already had the site. Some have taken the piss. Others have written pieces they know more about.

“Some are too proud to say they don’t want to become a hack. Others have seen it really helps raise your profile.”

Alice: “We have a really open policy for guest blogs.

“Style blogger the Sartorialist criticised a slim woman for being ‘chunky’.”

Alice sent a call out. They also ask for a pitch.

Rich – Some people seem to be afraid to put their work out there.

Ben “Today I wrote a piece about passing 100 wpm, some people thought it was a bit ‘preachy’.”

Rich – There must have been a time before it blew up.

Ben: “At the start, when someone tweets or comments they don’t agree, then worry.

“It’s not a bad thing. It’s more of a two way thing, it’s not just writing a news story or piece about shorthand for other’s to absorb, but people can say they disagree.”

“Journalism is becoming more about dialogue.”

Alice: “First time you write something controversial and get a reaction it’s great.

Ben congratulated Rich of the Brighton Lite team for getting something out there.

Personal posts are often the most popular.

Paul Watson: “There is no reason why you couldn’t set up as a Hogwarts Academy, other companies around the country do so.”

Alice: “We’re not established enough, but getting a team of tutors on board would be great.”

Paul: “You have the early stages of the brand.”

Rich: “Hacks finishing school.”

Alice: “One day when we’re all working, we want to get other people to take it on.”

Ben: “In a few month’s time our experiences will be irrelevant.”

“We want it to be an organic project to be passed on.”

Laura Oliver talks about Ed Walker, who passed on Blog Preston to other students. He created it to learn at university, got a job with WalesOnLine and now it is an award-winning blog.

There is discussion about advertising, sponsorship etc.

Ben says they have got some advertising from City.

They don’t know about advertising, but are learning as they go.

Have thought about charging for video, or helping people set up WordPress.

Today Ben read about small businesses going to evening classes learning how to use Twitter.

They have plans for an eBook.

“If it’s 50p for a chapter, it shows how it can be done.”

Sarah Marshall: “How have you divided up the tasks?”

Alice said Ben is the nicest person in the team, so he asks people nicely for money.

Ben: “It’s time consuming.”

Ben organised the pub, Tom organised the newsletter.

Whomever comes up with the idea gets to do it.

Sarah Marshall: “Do you sub each other’s stuff?”

They used to but they tidy up each other’s work. It’s not efficient, no post pending, it’s a bit rough and ready.”

Praise for Joseph Stashko as someone to watch, for young journalists.

Ben describes Joseph as a good story teller who introduced him to Storyfy.

Paul Watson then explains his own experience with Storyfy, which he used at last months’ BFONG and also has a long-running Uckfield spring blog.

They’re also looking at Bundlr, where you can highlight things and drag them together on a theme.

They blag and muddle their way through.

“Because we don’t know that much.”

We’re not an authority, we’re just wannabes.

Laura Oliver praises the Wannabes and Joseph Stashko as professional people who take it seriously and are efficient.


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