Politics Assessment: The package

Here’s my package on Cornwall’s views on the so-called ‘bedroom tax’:

(It’s conveniently split into two which means you have time to go and make yourself a nice cup of tea before you listen to the second half.)

Editorial choices:

  • Longer, yet relevant quotes to allow my interview subjects to tell the story. Yes, it runs the risk of sounding rambling and boring, but I’d like to think the clips I chose are interesting, informative and where appropriate, emotive.
  • Music and SFX. I took a gamble in using music to run through my package. It’s something I’ve never done before and I was aware it could prove distracting or even cheesy. I’m pleased with the outcome, however, and think it brings out the best of the clips and adds plenty of drama. The main reason I used it was to move the story on in an interesting manner. Six minutes is a relatively long time for my audience to sit listening to the story, so I hoped this – along with the clips from the protest – would add that extra bit of interest.
  • A strong focus on how the issue will affect locals. This package is aimed at a Radio Cornwall audience, so I made sure I spoke to relevant people from the county (protesters), along with Cornish politicians who spend much of their time down here, as opposed to Westminster. I reigned the national story in from how the changes (to all welfare benefits) will affect those on benefits, to how it could impact those claiming housing benefit in Cornwall – with a particular focus on the Camborne area.

The triumphs:osborne happy

  • The interviews: They all went smoothly, and all of my subjects were helpful and provided plenty of good talking points – particularly George Eustice who spoke of elderly people who “continue to hog houses that are too big for them”.
  • The protest: As luck would have it, there was an anti-bedroom tax protest staged in Camborne in March. I went along and picked up some interviews and lots of SFX.
  • Being organised: As I’d planned my story well in advance I knew from the start who I needed to speak to and what I wanted to ask them. I then felt relatively confident that I could put together a decent package.

The catastrophes:Osborne sad

  • Sabotage by computer: An error message appeared on my computer, followed by the blue screen of death, the very second I’d just laid down my final clip. I had no choice but to force a shut down. Fortunately I’d been saving my project as I’d gone along, so I only had to re-do a small part of my piece. Annoying all the same though.
  • The M-Audio: Always a bit of a trouble-maker and the quality of the recordings isn’t great – spending ages de-essing and getting rid of static is not fun. I guess you know by now that I don’t rate it much.

Do you feel more informed about the changes to benefits as a result of listening to this radio package? Leave your comments on the form below:

‘Bedroom Tax’: The story

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Changes to housing and council tax benefit – or the ‘bedroom tax’ as it’s more commonly known – came into action on April 1.

So what does this all mean?

Many social housing tenants living in properties deemed too large for them will have their housing benefit payments cut. Under the reforms, this is likely to affect about 3,000 people in Cornwall alone.

Why is this happening?

Well, the government wants to end what it calls the “spare room subsidy” for social tenants. It hopes the “under-occupancy changes” will shave £500m off the nation’s benefits bill.

That’s fair enough, some might say. Those living in a house with spare rooms and claiming benefits should move into something smaller. But is there enough social housing in Cornwall for people to relocate? The simple answer is no. And people are worried – so much so that the internet’s abuzz with interactive surveys and quizzes which calculate just how better or worse off you’ll be. Take this “bedroom tax” calculator for example.

With thousands of people having demonstrated across the country – two protests were held in Cornwall – the reform is proving unpopular among many.

Lots of people aren’t content with the 1p off a pint peace-offering the Chancellor made in his annual Budget. Or the tax relief on childcare (apparently starting in 2015.) No, these individuals took to the streets, armed with placards and banners, chanting “axe, axe the bedroom tax,” and encouraging passing traffic to honk if they support. Plenty did.

First and foremost, I aimed to gather the opinions of protesters, as well as those who support the changes, and those who don’t. This should allow me to form a script and keep my package balanced.

I’ve spoken to protest organisers from Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance, and have interviews lined up with George Eustice, Conservative MP for Camborne, Redruth and Hayle, and Jude Robinson, Labour Councillor for Camborne North.

Will you be affected by the Government’s housing benefit reforms? Let me know what it means to you using the form below.

Politics package – choosing a story

I knew this was coming. And shortly after George Osborne announced his 2013 Budget with a number of changes to benefits, starting on April 1, there’s certainly no shortage of stories to work with.

So what do I have to do? Research, prepare, and produce a radio package on a political topic within one of the following areas:

Politics and Public Trust

There a so many ways you could go about approaching this subject. Only a month ago a variety of articles appeared in the national press asking can we ever trust Nick Clegg again? This was a direct reference to his alleged cover-up of sexual misconduct by a Lib Dem party member – something he vehemently denies.

The question here is: why are the British public “reluctant to turn out and vote in elections,” and perhaps more interestingly, “what can be done to encourage greater participation in the democratic purpose?”

The first idea that springs to mind is to do something about the rise of UKIP. Having interviewed a member of the party’s Falmouth and Truro branch for my previous assessment, and knowing that Nigel Farage is conveniently paying a visit to Callington on April 2, it would fit together quite nicely.

UKIP

Since the Coalition formed in May 2010 a poll has shown that people are ditching the Tories in favour of UKIP due to its strong desire to leave the EU. Could it be that UKIP are now more popular? Are the reputations of our main political parties in such tatters that a party labelled by our own PM as a “bunch of racists, fruitcakes and loonies” are now being taken seriously?

Public Service Cuts

Another interesting one. And as I’ve said, with changes to all number of benefits starting from April 1, it’s fair to say there’s an abundance of potential subject areas.

One that springs to mind, though, is that of the so-called ‘bedroom-tax’. Having gone along to a protest in Camborne earlier in the month and spoken to those involved, it’s certainly something that will have an impact on many Cornish people’s lives.

Cornwall’s in the top 100 list of most deprived local authorities in England, with parts of Camborne, Penzance and Bodmin ranking the worst off in the county.

Protest main

When the Government’s new policy to reduce housing benefit of any claimant deemed to have a spare room on April 1, there’s a chance some people simply won’t be able to afford to stay in their homes – so the argument goes. The next question is: if they’re forced to move, where will they go? There’s a distinct lack of social and affordable housing in Cornwall.

Environment Under Threat

Here’s the question:

The Government’s chief scientific adviser has warned that climate change is the most serious issue facing us this century and beyond. How is the Government tackling the effect climate change is having on Britain? Identify the strategies being adopted to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Right, well, I’ll admit I don’t have a direct line to the Government’s chief scientific adviser, Professor Sir John Beddington, though I do know he thinks the world is facing decades of climate chaos.

And he could be right. Locally we’ve had a frankly scary amount of flooding over the last few months alone – something which, after about seven years of living in Cornwall, I’ve never seen before. Only last week a retired woman from Looe died after heavy rain caused a landslide that reduced her home to rubble, trapping her inside.

The other option I’m considering is a piece about two new solar parks in Cornwall which are being developed by a Chinese manufacturing company.

The company has bought two sites in Cornwall – one in Mawnan Smith, and another near Truro – as part of its plans to increase its presence in the UK.

Solar farm

Cornwall and Devon have seen a boom in solar farms in the last two years, with dozens having been granted planning permission.

The venture seems to have been widely welcomed. People seem to like the idea of generating our own energy locally.

But as with anything that involves planning applications and the sale of land (often protected areas), there are plenty of people who object.

Some argue they’re being “closed in” by solar farms, others say Cornwall is being seen as a “sweetie shop for renewable energy” and it can’t go on.

Which to run with

Well, it’s a toss up between the rise of UKIP and the ‘bedroom tax’. But seeing as I’ve got some great audio from the protest, which would make for excellent sound effects, I’m really keen to go with the latter.

Here, ye! ‘Twas St Piran’s Day 2013, Truro

Tuesday 05 March marked St Piran’s Day. And what better way to spend the afternoon than reporting live from Truro’s parade – after a quick pasty, of course.

Here’s a video I did as an experiment – it was filmed and edited entirely on an iPad mini. It shows some of the highlights of the day:

 

Assessment – Radio Outtakes

Two minutes wasn’t a long time for a story which could have gone on for ten minutes.

That meant some things didn’t make it into the package. Here’s a selection of the best rejects.

The clips are pretty rough with no use of editorial wizardry, but you may find them interesting all the same:

 

 

Assessment – Radio Package Production and final thoughts

Here you go. Brace yourself:

What went well?camface happy

The interviews

Securing the interviews was a far easier task than I’d expected. Normally when I’ve asked to speak to politicians I’ve had to jump through hoops to get them to agree to see me. But not this time.

I arranged interviews with MEP Julie Girling (though she could only commit to a phono), Stephen Gilbert MP, Mairi Hayworth of UKIP, and Richard Snell from Tremough Innovation Centre. And all in one day.

Getting from one interview to another was no problem. I made sure I’d left myself enough time to switch from place to place, and I’d prepared all of my questions for the four interviewees the night before.

Each of them seemed happy to speak to me and they were all pretty open about their feelings on EU membership, which helped form solid arguments in my package. Even when I asked how they’d be voting should there be a referendum they didn’t mind telling me, removing the need for me to go all Paxo on them.

The only issue I’m having so far with my piece is where timing is concerned. Fitting four voices into a package little over two minutes long is a challenge, and I may have to consider dropping an interview.

The SFX

I’m fairly pleased with the few I managed to record. Because sound effects don’t really lend themselves to my piece, I decided to use a clip from PM David Cameron’s speech (watch it in full here) to lead the audience into the package. Then I recorded one of my links on location at Tremough Innovation Centre, just so it sounded a little more interesting. I recorded Stephen Gilbert’s assistant welcoming members of the public to a surgery at his St Austell office, and used Mairi Hayworth saying her name to introduce her.

What went wrongcamface sad

Timing

Well obviously it’s not wrong now, but during editing, figuring out how to cram four voices into a short piece was no mean feat. Seeing as each interview lasted about 15 minutes, I had an hour’s worth of audio to whittle down into two minutes.

My decision to keep all of my interviews meant I had to be ever so slightly brutal in choosing which clips to include. I eventually settled on dramatic, short and sweet ones, to add impact to my package, but without stealing too many seconds off it. Take for example, Mairi Hayworth’s. I changed her clip right at the end, because -with her introducing herself – she had almost twice as long as everyone else. Instead of having her pretty much repeat what Julie Girling had already said, I used her quote saying it’s about time we had a referendum.

The phono

I’m begrudgingly including my phono with Julie Girling in the ‘what went wrong’ section as nothing went wrong per se, it’s just the sound quality isn’t great. She was travelling in the car on her way to a meeting about guide dogs, so as you can imagine, her voice occasionally cuts out. But given her position as an MEP and my story topic, I felt it necessary to include her views in my package. And besides, the poor sound quality kind of adds another dimension to the piece!

I feel she starts the debate off quite nicely, saying something along the lines of ‘it’s bad news for Cornwall, but actually we’d have more money if we weren’t paying into the EU’. That gives the other interviewees a change to agree or disagree with what she’s laid down.

SOC

Don’t get me started on this one. It was part of the assessment criteria to add a SOC to my package.

I’m sure plenty of you will disagree, but I think it’s completely unnecessary to include one. As I was already struggling with timing, adding another couple of seconds onto my package with a pointless SOC was the last thing I wanted to do.

Listening to local and national radio stations, only rarely will you ever hear a SOC. It’s far more likely a presenter will say “that was our reporter Joe Bloggs there” at the back of a package.

After spending a good while thinking of a nice, thought-provoking out line which sums up the piece, it seems something of a shame to stick a clumsy SOC onto the end. It doesn’t fit well with my piece (or any, for that matter) and I don’t like it.

Final thoughtsDavidCameron

To be perfectly honest, I’m not overjoyed with the overall package, there’s nothing really wrong with the clips or my script, but I strongly feel the equipment I used has let me down (more on this later).

If I could have my time over again, I think I’d probably choose a different story – one with more of a distinct narrative – which would allow me to be more creative and show off my radio skills, particularly with sound effects. That said, I’d like to think my piece drives the debate forward, and displays some of those skills – after all, super-exciting SFX will not be suitable for every radio package, and it’s good to know how to deal with different types of stories for different audiences,

Anyway, on the bright side, I feel I’ve learnt lots from putting this together. For a political piece, I’d like to think it’s not too dry, and I had the opportunity to speak to the different politicians about their views on EU membership. As a short political package, I wasn’t able to cover as much ground as I’d have liked, I really feel this would have lent itself better to a 4-5 minute piece.

Assessment – Treatment of Television Package

A package on anything to do with Cornwall. That’s the task.

As you can probably imagine, there are lots of ways you can shoehorn a ‘Cornwall’ angle into any story.

I’ve decided to focus my efforts on a cat – currently at a vet’s surgery in Penzance – that got trapped on the under-carriage of a train. It travelled 1700 miles, and lived to tell the tale (no pun intended).

Polly the inter-city kitty

Polly the inter-city kitty

I’m going for a light, feel-good kind of story because I know I can get some lovely pictures, and it’s the kind of piece I like making and watching.

While my peers ridicule me for being the ‘Chief Miraculous Animal Recovery Correspondent’, I’m confident this is a story newsworthy enough for any broadcaster or print outlet.

Here’s how other news organisations have approached the story:

My take on Polly’s adventure

So far I’m pleased to report that my plan is half coming together. I’ve secured interviews with the vets responsible for treating Polly. I’m still waiting to hear back from First Great Western to see if they’ll let me interview the train manager who found her.

Here’s how I plan to make the story:

  • I want to get original footage, and challenge my camera skills by getting a range of different shots from different angles and levels – easier said than done when you’re working alone!
  • It’s essential that I speak to both the vet and the train manager – without them, the story just won’t stand up and I’ll be forced to look into doing something else.
  • I’m keen to film the reunion between Polly and her elderly owners. This would make for a real tear-jerking story. Obviously this will depend entirely on getting permission from them so I need to be prepared in case they don’t agree to it.

What can go wrong?

This brings me to one of the major problems I’m experiencing. As a trainee broadcast journalist, with no reputable corporation behind me, and no flashy press pass, it’s practically impossible to be taken seriously by those generally against any form of contact with the media (ahem…train companies). Student journalists simply lack the credibility and clout to get the stories we want from the people we need to speak to.