A PASSIONATE discussion has taken place among journalism professionals on the subject of public affairs and local democracy reporting, as part of the National Council for the Training of Journalists’ annual Journalism Conference at Harlow College.
The break-out session was chaired by Mike Hill, course director of MA news journalism at Cardiff University, and Nicole Garnon, editor of the South Wales Argus.
One of the main issues discussed was that many students seem to be reluctant to study public affairs as part of their journalism qualification, in some cases seeing it as a separate issue not essential to their studies.
The speakers participating in the discussion were keen to contradict this viewpoint, arguing that public affairs should be seen as a base requirement, and that a move to make public affairs optional would be to the detriment of journalism.
One speaker said: “I think it is shocking, it should be a mandatory subject.”
The group discussed ways in which public affairs could be brought to life, including introducing mock debates about relevant subjects, and showing students a video of real-life examples of why public affairs matters.
The difficulty for student journalists to gain the required access to local authorities was also highlighted, and the point was made that persistence is needed as Mr Hill made the point that: “Information is a right, not a privilege.”
He also targeted the NHS for being uncooperative.
He said: “The trust in Cardiff just give you blanket ‘we don’t talk to student reporters.’ We encourage our students to at the very least make themselves a nuisance so that we can say they have refused to comment. At least we can demonstrate we’re asking.”
On the subject of local democracy, the group were positive about the introduction of BBC local democracy reporters (LDRs) to fill a gap in the reporting of these issues.
However there was some scepticism about whether the LDRs are always being used correctly, as an example was given by Mr Hill of an LDR being asked to report on a new mega-burger being offered at a restaurant in a local town.
Ms Garnon said: “The BBC will come down hard on that as the LDRs shouldn’t be used for anything else except local democracy reporting.”