You just can’t get away from it. Even at a weekend. In London. At the Royal Society of Medicine. Up on the screen are four topics for an exercise on Subject-Angle-Execution or finding original angles on stories. One of the topics is ‘Hull has won the title of City of Culture 2017’. Most people choose ‘Christmas’ and suggest all sorts of entertaining ways of approaching that old chestnut. But one woman suggests an approach to the Hull story, considering what 2017 will mean to the local community by exploring the effect of City of Culture on the community in Derry, the current holder.
My own response is a riposte to the stream of predictable sniggers in the national press, a sort of ‘let them get it out of their system’ angle with a strong dose of irony thrown in. But hers is a much more refreshing approach and anyway, I don’t really want to spend the day thinking about Hull.
I was taking part in a masterclass on freelance journalism run by The Guardian newspaper. I am interested in this as part of my own professional practice, but especially wanted information to pass onto the students on the BA(Hons) Journalism and Digital Media programme at HSAD. And I’d always wondered what the Guardian workshops were like and who attended them. On the latter point, what an eclectic and interesting mix of people. I sat between a markets inspector, whose patch was Borough and Smithfield markets and a science academic and journalist. Many others already worked as freelance journalists, which indicated that they reckoned the day would hold something even for professionals. A tall blonde girl, who was quick to respond in the open sessions, was wearing one of those dresses that you see on the rails and wonder if anyone ever buys. A vivid royal blue shirtwaister buttoned up to the neck, with hemline well below the knee. Probably the least flattering garment she could have chosen, but so distinctive that I bet everyone will remember her. The real draw for me was Marina Hyde, my favourite columnist, who was doing a Q&A session at the end. But the day was packed full of useful and practical information. Sessions on Features Pitching, Dissecting Publications, the Do’s and Don’t’s of Pitching, How To Break Into Freelance Journalism, Original Writing and Top Ten Tricks and Tips were backed up by contact addresses and advice on the best method and time to follow up contacts. Sessions were timed to the minute, there were opportunities to talk to the speakers and we were provided with a great lunch. This was real value for money, well-organised and to the point, delivered by experts and with plenty of material to take away.
And Marina Hyde? More Caitlin Moran than Orla Guerin and she’s grown her hair, but the acid wit of her engagement with all things absurd, pretentious and celebrity-oriented makes her unassailable in the column writing business. So now I just need time to put all that information to good use. And as a bonus, I did manage to bag one of the speakers for our annual Journalism Day at Hull Truck Theatre on Thursday 20 March.