On the prowl in my patch. But how do I start my hunt for news?
September 27, 2010 2 Comments
So, a busy first week at City University was concluded with an exhaustive and contemplative Friday afternoon. The previous day, myself and The Student, along with our other classmates on the Newspaper Journalism MA, had been given our patch to report on for the coming term. The deal; the group was split into pairs and assigned a ward in either Islington or Hackney. The remit; to compile a ‘Patch File’ of between 30 to 40 pages including six news stories and three key interviews.
The Student got lucky by landing Clerkenwell, the ward closest to the University itself, or in fact the ward the University is in (both of those statements could be wrong, my London geography still isn’t top-notch). Either way, he wouldn’t have to worry about travelling to his turf. I on the other hand was assigned Queensbridge ward, in Hackney, not the furthest of the wards from the University but a decent trip.
After a hectic, tiring but enjoyable week, our tutors decided that we would only have to submit an initial patch report, with potential follow-up stories, by Friday 5pm. Giving myself the afternoon to gain my initial impressions I felt I had left a lot of time to get everything I needed.
True to my status as a stingy Northerner I spurned any notions of public transport and decided to walk the 3 miles to my patch. I smirked as the afternoon rain began to bounce down and the swathes of soft southerners ran for cover, hulking men prancing in between puddles like amateur ballerinas. I just stuck my hands in my pockets and walked on. Man, I am just too tough for this place. Thirty minutes. Not a bad stroll. (Certainly made worse by the £3 pumps I was wearing.) Only problem was that I now had to get around the patch, get my information and get back to a computer to write it up. In three hours.
So off I went, map in hand, trying desperately not to look like a very, very lost tourist and I was struck by a sense of confusion and lack of direction. What the hell am I looking for? As I wandered the streets of Hackney I began to worry that I wasn’t stumbling across a mass of vandalism, or police taping or even a fire in a block of flats as I had done on my selection day for City. Then as I walked down a street which had a newly developed estate I remembered what a cracking journalist had told me a few years ago at the Guardian Student Media Conference (he gave memorable advice but apparently didn’t have a memorable name) when he said that often to find the news story you have to stop looking so hard and expecting something to hit you straight in the face.
Instead, take a step back and ask yourself questions.
So a swanky new block of flats, seen a few of those in the area along with some clearly recently rejuvenated parks and community areas. How new are they? What about the other more run down parts of the ward? Why haven’t they had a sprucing up? I wonder if this is a grievance in the community? And slowly, you begin to form ideas, potentials alleyways of investigation. Some of these alleys may lead to a very dull destination. Others may open out a whole centre of stories and features.
The Student for example, when plodding his patch, spotted a slightly dated looking strip bar, then noticed a new burlesque bar opening down the road. A few enquiries and he finds out the two will be competing with each other, and that the new one will give him free entry to see what it’s like. Free entry into a new bar and the potential for a turf war of the more exotic kind right on his patch.
As the two of us and our fellow students scour our patches for news we will have to learn not to expect things to catch our eye like the battle of two adult bars competing against each other. Often we will find a new angle to a current story by asking what is missing or by simply not accepting things as we see them in front us.
For this task I am going to need a contemplative outlook and I am going to have to ask lots of questions to myself and others. And, if I want to stay clear of public transport, I might want a new pair of shoes.