WINOL Critical Reflection – Semester 2

WINOL 2013/14 (Semester Two)
Critical Reflection
Alex Delaney

Winchester News Online is an award-winning, ever-evolving news broadcast, that aims to meet the same standards as professional broadcasters. WINOL uses multiple devices to tell the news: our weekly news broadcast, text stories, and multiple Twitter accounts (to cater for different audiences). WINOL is leading independent student journalism, consistently receiving awards and nominations; the drive to be the best, the most innovative, constantly improve on the already high standard, is the motivation for us to produce the best work possible. This has been reflected in everything we have tried to accomplish this year.

The website is constantly being redesigned, and at a cursory glance it’s obvious that WINOL is miles ahead other student outputs. WINOL has had 17,069 visitors so far in 2014, averaging 185 a day, with viewers spending an average of 6.59 minutes, and has an Alexa Traffic Ranking of 91,155 in the UK. I believe this high number of visitors is owing to the emphasis that has been placed this year on improving the quality of the website: all text stories must have a good picture, a good headline, and be well tagged to boost SEO (helped by tips from Paul Wood). These requirements have been pushed more this year than previously, and the result is that we now have a great looking site full of good quality content.

There’s been a marked improvement to the features side of the site this year: with weekly features on music, fashion, art, and reviews. The standard of the features has been fantastic; for example, WINOL covered London Fashion Week, and we had an exclusive interview with Frank Turner. Both stories are interesting to a wide audience, and show the access WINOL has.

Sport has also improved this year despite having a much smaller team. There are more graphics in the match highlights, and they generally feel a bit more professional. The majority of the bulletin’s views come from the match highlights, so making sure they are to a high standard is vital.

Producing the weekly bulletin has been more challenging this year, due to the reduced size of the team, but for the most part I think we’ve managed well. Every week the team produced a bulletin, albeit sometimes light on stories. The quality of packages from my year group has improved since last semester, which is expected given the extra time and experience. This year my role was Chief Reporter, which holds a lot more responsibility, and is much more challenging, than my role as Political Correspondent last semester; but it allows more variation in stories I can cover. Overall I have enjoyed this role more.

The Chief Reporter is relied upon to provide at least one story every week, and also be aware of breaking stories the day/day before the bulletin goes out. My aim for this year was to have an interesting, well-produced package in the bulletin every week. With the exception of one week I missed through illness, and one week where I was working on a project (the budget special), I met this aim.

My first story as Chief Reporter sort of fell into my lap. The university’s archaeology department, and a local community group, revealed that they had discovered a bone that could belong to the lost remains of King Alfred the Great, considered legendary in Winchester. I set up interviews with the lead archaeologists, and contacted the BBC for permission to use footage from a documentary they were producing about the search for his remains. I got a text story on the website an hour after the discovery was announced, before any other local news source; which has received over 2,000 views. My first week demonstrated exactly what being Chief Reporter meant; despite already leading the bulletin, I also went to the New Forest to cover a breaking story, which was used as in OOV. In covering this story I developed a good contact with one of the university’s press team; I keep in regular contact, and she has helped me on a number of occasions. She also emails me with any news she thinks I may be interested in covering.

This story was a pretty cut and dry story; easy to make a package for, but I covered a range of different stories over the year, which required different approaches. I have had to adapt and research many different areas, instead of specialising in one, but it has been greatly rewarding. For example, I covered a breaking story that a dog breeder had shot dead his girlfriend, her daughter, and 4 dogs. As soon as I heard the news I had to get equipment, get to the farm, film GVs and a PTC, and write the script on the way; making sure it was completely legally sound and that I was saying nothing that could be contempt of court. I was confident in my knowledge of the law in this area, but this was my first real test putting it into practice. Being at a crime scene with forensic investigators, where two people had been killed hours before, was a wake-up call that WINOL is real (particularly seeing one of the victims’ sister grieving). It may not feel like it sometimes, and it may not be viewed by as many people as professional news broadcasts, but the stories we cover are real and actually affect people. This week was a truly shaping experience for me and encouraged me to make sure I put the most I could into my packages.

I also used the green screen in the studio, and created graphics with Chris, for one of my packages. Using the green screen was a first for me and it is a valuable skill that I am glad I now possess. I have since used graphics in subsequent packages, and helped produce some for the budget special, and a highlights package for FC United. Although it was my first time, if I were to do it again I would like to spend more time working on the graphic, with the extra experience I now have making them, to make the package look much more professional.

My biggest achievement of the year was helping to produce the budget special. I worked with an MA student, Lucy Britt, and Chris to draw up a basic plan, then Lucy and I worked together over the next two weeks to create a final plan and running order for the bulletin. We had to decide what elements we wanted to have, what we could realistically get, how it was going to work on the day, and co-ordinate what the other students were going to be doing. Lucy and I created a powerpoint presentation which we then gave to the group, assigning everyone a role and making sure they all knew and understood what they had to do. In addition to planning the budget special, I also had to organise guests for two live in-studio discussions, and produce a wrap-up package with graphics. There is very little I would change if I were to do this again; it was easily the most stressful experience I have had this year, and the most work, but I achieved everything I set out to do. The in-studios went well and I now feel confident in my ability to chair discussions on important issues, I produced a package, and managed to help resolve a number of problems on the day. It was a very rewarding experience to have so much responsibility, and I am proud of what we produced. There are dozens of problems and things which didn’t quite work, but the ambition, innovation and teamwork involved was fantastic.

This year I have also covered an environmental story (which I heard about from a contact I have maintained from last year), provided three stories for others, a package and two OOVs (that I got from attending a local council meeting), and another crime story. I also produced a court report, which wasn’t used in the bulletin but was a valuable experience. I am happy with the number of different beats I have tackled this year, and feel I have improved since last year.

Outside of the bulletin, I did a feature interview with local MP Steve Brine for the website which has received over 100 views.

There are a few areas in which WINOL could be improved. The output has been a little low, but that will improve next year with the addition of the much larger team. There is still the problem of not knowing who our audience is: are we Winchester news? Are we all of Hampshire? Are students and young people our target audience, or older people? The problem is that we are Winchester News Online, but not enough happens in Winchester to produce an interesting bulletin; and as we are so close to Southampton, and other areas of Hampshire it makes sense to cover stories there. But this leads to the problem of having a vague target audience. Also we are a student broadcast but cover non-student stories, also confusing who our audience is.

It’s also sometimes unclear as to what our style is; the website news stories are written in a broadsheet fashion, but the bulletin is fairly tabloid, with cheesy puns in packages and headlines. Is this confusion an unintentional result of combing the different approaches of students, and the lecturers? Or is this hybrid-style something that is becoming more common in journalism and WINOL is simply replicating it?

Finally, I think our graphics/credits etc are in need of updating. While the standard of journalism on WINOL is far better than other student outputs; there are other student outputs which look much sharper, making WINOL look a little outdated and amateur; letting down the professionalism of the work that goes into it.

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