The Learning Curve (Week 1)

What’s the Message?

My over-fondness of commas and description must end!  Short sentences and facts are, I have learned, the new order of the days… Days one and two – that is – of The Big Issue six-week online journalism course, held at the St Giles Trust, Hackney.

The seven of us started learning from the moment we sat down – writing tips like those above, and important lessons like: “know your audience”, and “get your message straight”. The initial medium for these lessons was promotional/advertising bumph from various social enterprises. Our method was to analyse the content (visual and written). The tool was Harold Lasswel’s 1949 succinct model questions: Who says what, in which channel, to whom and with what effect?

In at the Deep End

Then it was straight to turning recent Social Enterprise news releases into our own 50/75 word digest pieces (NIBs (news in brief items)). You may read them online at Answers From the Big Issue. “NIBs” – already we are initiated into trade jargon!

We were interviewed and selected for this course.  Our motivation is high.  Each of us has worked with a mentor to list realistic personal objectives: how we hope to benefit ourselves/others through this training.  As you may read elsewhere among these blog-posts, we are variously socially excluded – perhaps homeless, perhaps recently released from custody or disadvantaged in some other way.  Partly as a relaxation and confidence-building exercise, we introduced one another to the group on day one, rather than our own selves.  The training is structured to include a good mix of individual and collaborative work.

Frank and Miranda

We explored Answers From the Big Issue’s potential audience: who might our readers be? We constructed two imaginary readers: Frank – an ex-serviceman, recently housed in a single flat after a period on the streets, and Miranda, a married social worker with two young children who commutes from the suburbs to work. Frank has an estranged partner and a child – but he sees them relatively often, especially the child. Frank and Miranda became for us the avatars of our online audience. Charles Howgego, online editor with The Big Issue, thought Frank and Miranda suitably representative as abstract audience members. When we write for the course/Answers, our question will now be “What would Frank/Miranda understand of this?” Feedback from the course givers was constant, relevant and constructive.

Hold the Front Page!

Naturally, a big part of journalism is meeting deadlines. There isn’t really much room for compromise in this. Luckily, it is early in the training, so I may be able to sneak this blog in late without too much flak. That said, the course givers – and they are brilliant, professional, dedicated people, are very careful to “know” their student “audience”. We live in situations where a broken washing machine (if you have one) is a near apocalyptic catastrophe, not merely an annoyance – if we have internet access at all, it might be through a shop on the high street. If it is with a laptop/PC it may depend on dodgy dongles, and childcare, well… Seemingly small setbacks are magnified into major problems for want of resources. Bringing/buying lunch can even be a challenge. Tuesdays are half days on this course, but Charles makes a mean sandwich and his volunteering spirit saved our Wednesday lunchtime.

Despite having been taught how to upload this little piece to the Blog, I’m actually e-mailing it to the grown ups first for checking… One step at a time, eh.

By Andre


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