Writing for the South Wales Echo

Posted on May 21, 2012

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I’ve started writing for the hyperlocal blog, YourCardiff. I was invited to what I would loosely call an interview with Jessica Best, the journalist given the reigns for the blog. She was looking for volunteer writers and was meeting with everyone who applied. In conversation, I mentioned my food blog and my love of baking. Jess’ ears pricked up and she mentioned a Cardiff event I might be interested in covering: The Great Cardiff Cake-Off. I waited for my work rota to come in, and crossed my fingers I’d be available to cover it… and I was! Fantastic. Jess asked if I was comfortable doing photography on top of the reporting and I explained that I was planning on asking a friend, but if she could get a pro then that would be great. Her pros were unavailable, so I asked fellow student journalist, Tudor Rus, to take a few photos on the day.

Jess outlined what she wanted as the bare minimum: names of the winners, ages, locations and what their winning cake was. She also wanted me to have a quick interview with the events organiser and get how many people attended on the day and how many entered as well as a general overview. All still sounding pretty straight forward, pretty much what I’ve been taught in fact.

I then received an email asking if it would be OK to publish the story in the South Wales Echo on Monday (today). It would mean I’d have to have the story ready for Sunday afternoon and not Monday as previously planned, but then, I would have a story published in the paper. I decided this was a fair compromise and agreed to have the story, and a selection of photos ready by Sunday afternoon. The event was on the Saturday. Jess explained that she was on holiday that particular weekend, so to have the story published on the website, I’d have to email her colleague and to have it published in the paper, to email another colleague. This all still sounded relatively straight forward.

Safe to say, everything did not go according to plan. I thought it was all easy and straight forward, and I was not prepared, or ready, for a spanner in the works, let alone several.

I met Tudor as planned and we headed into the event. Tudor was a little bit snap happy, but far better to have too many pictures to go through than not enough. So I left him to it. I’d bought a few notes with me and got ready for the competition to kick off. I soon realised the sound system wasn’t quite designed for quality speech audio and could barely catch the names as they were read out, and when I could, I could rarely spell them. Tudor managed to get pictures of every cake, before he had to leave suddenly, and unexpectedly, half way through proceedings. This left me to juggle with a camera and a notebook and pen. The contestants were coming and going and I was missing the all important interviews to get their age, locations and recipes: the three things Jess had asked for. The winners were not announced until a rush at the end, and as soon as they were announced, they were out the door.

As one person, I didn’t formulate a plan where I could get a snap of each contestant with their cake in case they were announced the winner and short interview, without missing half the competition. Of course, hindsight is a beautiful thing, and without the winners being announced to the end, I could have afforded missing the actual competition. I missed the vital information Jess asked for, but a bit of quick thinking on my feet got me a video of the winner being announced. No good for the Echo, but a great addition to the YourCardiff site. And in an attempt to make up for the lost information on the winners, I recorded the interview with the organiser, so I had some audio to add to the article too. I even managed a quick interview with former rugby star Tom Shanklin, though with no idea who he was, I put my foot in it after using my phone’s internet to search for what was incorrect information.

Getting home after the event, I found the winners cakes on my camera and a decent shot of the judges to send to the Echo’s reporter Jess had given me. I then made a stab at writing an article using the pages and pages of notes I had made during the event. The 300 word article Jess had requested was at 800 words, and I could see no way of cutting it down. I rang the events organiser (my lecturer can at least take pride in the fact that I asked for a mobile number to follow-up my interview, if nothing else) and confirmed names and spellings of the competition winners and also asked if she had information on locations or ages. She unfortunately didn’t. I can’t say I was expecting her to, but I was hoping to try to cover up my glaring error that was taught to me ten times over during my postgraduate taught modules.

My story was confused. Was it a feature story or was it a news story? It kept changing its mind. It was way too long and I knew my deadline was getting closer and closer. So I submitted it as it was with the photos attached. Needless to say, my story was rewritten and no photos were added when I picked up a copy of the paper today. They might not be my words, but I learnt a huge lesson and I hold on to the comfort that if I hadn’t sent in my mess of an article, those few inches of print would belong to someone else. Next time, I won’t be so cocky and I’ll plan extensively when I go out. I’ll also pick up a copy of the paper I’m writing for and make sure the tone I’m writing in is right. I was way off the mark, and I count myself lucky that the story even appeared in the paper, because I sure feel like an idiot for thinking everything would go to plan.

This was my first official published story, it can only get better from here!

My story in the South Wales Echo: Monday 21st May 2012

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