NO LICENCE FOR YOU: Man fails driving test five seconds in



A British man has probably set the world record for quickest time in flunking a driving test after failing it five seconds in, reported the Metro newspaper yesterday.

Craig Barraza, aged 33, originally from Portlethen in Aberdeenshire but now living in Norfolk, crashed out of his driving test after pulling out of the centre of the wrong side of the road, according to Metro. The hapless learner told the paper he had a ‘complete mind blank’ once he got behind the wheel and largely forgot everything the driving instructor had taught him over his lengthy and expensive preparation lessons.



Barraza, who appeared for his exam at the King’s Lynn test centre, immediately pulled out and began driving down the wrong side of the road. Vehicles in the UK drive on the left. His error was so obvious that even the examiner who was in the front passenger seat with him at the time exclaimed “You do realise you’re on the wrong side of the road?”.

Despite immediately failing his test, Barraza still had to continue driving for another forty minutes, where it is alleged he actually drove so well that he would have passed had it not been for the ghastly error he made at first. The examiner, and Barraza’s driving instructor, Steve Fletcher, said that it was the worst blunder they had seen in 50 years of instruction.

Barraza, who is employed as an operative on a wind energy farm, is said to have spent £1,000 in total on forty lessons with Fletcher, as well as the multiple-choice question ‘theory test’ that all new British drivers are required to sit in addition to the practical.

He said: “I was only just leaving the centre to get out. We were literally just five seconds into it. I was approaching the junction to exit it and I had an absolute mind blank, questioning in my head: ‘What side of the road do we drive on?”

‘I had a 50/50 chance, and I chose to exit it in the right lane. Instant fail. Had I not been so stupid I’d have breezed through.’

‘My examiner with 20 years experience, and my instructor with 30 years both said they have never witnessed anything like it in their careers. I hadn’t even left the test centre car park.”

He added: “I’ve avoided driving because when I was 17 I stalled at a roundabout which just completely put me off. But I was more confident now.

‘I think it’s when you get older you get a bit wiser but that’s rich coming from me after failing like that. I’ve lived in the UK my whole life so there’s no excuse for not driving on the left.

‘Honestly, who fails a test quicker than that? I didn’t even get to the junction.”

Despite his huge messup, Barraza has received supportive messages from his friends after posting about the calamity on social media, however it is not mentioned if he will retake his test.

Metro, Facebook, Facebook Inc.
“Guy fails driving test in just five seconds after pulling out of centre on wrong side of road” – Tanveer Mann, Metro – News – UK/Associated Newspapers Limited (4 February 2017)
Rabia Ali.
“Jan 9 : The Driving Lesson” – Dawn Sajn, Flickr (9 January 2012)



MANOR PARK: Newham school in pole position to recieve Tesco ‘garden grant’


VIJAY SHAH via Newham Recorder

A primary school in Manor Park, east London is set to receive £12,000 towards developing gardens for their pupils as part of a charity drive by a local newspaper and the supermarket chain Tesco, the Newham Recorder reported yesterday.

Kensington Primary School, which caters to pupils aged between 3 and 11 years, was a finalist in a competition run between Tesco and the Newham Recorder as part of Tesco’s Bags of Help scheme, which has a pot of £30,000 from sales of carrier bags which will be split into three grants of £8,000, £10,000 or £12,000. Members of the public will get to decide which school or organisation will benefit from the scheme. Shoppers will be able to vote for who gets which grant at their local Tesco supermarket from the 27th February to the 6th March 2016.

English: Tesco Express local store in Trowbrid...
English: Tesco Express local store in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, UK (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Staff at the primary school plan to overhaul the outdoor spaces in order to ‘provide a vibrant and educational outdoor environment’, the Newham Recorder commented. Kensington Primary’s business manager, Shazidur Rahman, spoke with the Recorder as to why his school needed the grant.

“Something we’ve found is that a lot of the kids don’t have a local park to go to,” Rahman said.

“We want to put lots of different flowers and plants in and teach the children about them.”

Kensington Primary has already identified a number of suitable places on its premises to redevelop in order to bring the outdoors to its pupils’ doorstep and give them valuable educational and recreational opportunities which are otherwise in short supply locally.

Rahman further commented “It depends when we get the money, but we hope to start work this spring,”

“We think the school holidays might be a good time to get people in and work on the garden.”

Other than overhauling the school’s open spaces, the primary also plans to purchase large planters for the playground, special signs to indicate different types of plants, learning trails and specially commissioned wall art, all of which are intended to improve the school environment and appearance, as well as help their young pupils learn about their natural world and surroundings.

“It’s fantastic that we’re one of the shortlisted organisations,” said Rahman.

“The more money we can get, the more we can develop the school.”

The Tesco Bags of Help scheme is run all across England and Wales and involves community groups bidding for shares of £30,000 grants allocated to 390 regions identified by the supermarket nationally as one of the UK’s largest grocery outlets. The grants come from the sale of 5-pence carrier bags by Tesco stores, which the retailer has been legally obliged to charge for since October 2015.

“Manor Park school to receive grant for garden project” – Sophie Morton, Newham Recorder/London24 news network/Archant Community Media Ltd (20 February 2016)
“Kensington Primary School – Newham”, Kensington Primary School
“File:TescoExpress.jpg” – Rodhullandemu, Wikimedia Commons (9 May 2009)



Journalists and students looking to maximise their newsgathering potential from online sources can now get involved in a special short course on advanced online research techniques organised and promoted by U.K. journalism news and skills website, the Half-Eaten Mind exclusively reports today.

Online research is now an essential part of reporting in the technological age, whether it is to gather information on the history of a local pub, archives of older news articles or political speeches, or for factual research for a breaking news story. By widening their own knowledge on a given subject via the treasure trove that is online research, journalists can help pass on the benefits to their readers, stimulating minds, disseminating facts for public discourse and remaining true to the journalistic ethic of informing.

Tutored by expert journalism lecturer Alex Wood and being held at the London offices of MSN, a news and internet services giant, the special bootcamp, which runs for one day, is designed to teach students how to quickly find the information they need, as well as acquire sources online for interviews and quotes. The course will also teach the skillful navigation of social media, which while being an excellent source of breaking stories and technical knowledge, can also be a minefield in sorting the facts from the fiction, spin and lies. This course will help media people sift though the online chatter to find the informational nuggets that to craft that influential front page story.

Wood, the editor-in-chief of The Memo, a newly-launched publication on technology, finance and culture news, who is also a visiting lecturer in journalism at London’s City University, will teach attendees how to get more out of the world’s most popular search engine, Google, how to sift through social media smartly, and show how to organise a ‘toolbox’ of useful technological aids to enable media workers to become better and more effective researchers. He has several years’ experience in training and advising journalists and was previously a founding editor of Tech City News, and is a renowned go-to expert on British technology and innovation.

You will learn how to:

  • Use advanced operators on search engines to source information;
  • Turn the idea of research on its head by making the most of influencers on social;
  • Identify where your community is talking online;
  • Set up alerts to monitor your research areas;
  • Organise and file your search results;
  • Set up a toolbox with the services and platforms you need for the future;

…and more handy search tips! (via

The bootcamp will take place on the 2nd December 2015, beginning at 10 am and finishing at 5 pm at the MSN UK offices in Victoria, London. It is of particular interest to journalists, public relations staff, communications specialists, fact-checkers and anyone else who wants to unlock the best and most accurate researching potential that the internet has to offer. The training at the course will also focus on the tools and techniques that writers can use to meet their research goals, while emphasising practical hands-on journalism knowledge.

Course attendees will be provided with a buffet lunch and refreshments (tea and coffee). The course fee is £240 (inc. VAT). The location address is: MSN UK, 100 Victoria Street, London, SW1E 5JX United Kingdom.

HEM Journalism Portal, The Half-Eaten Mind, Twitter, Twitter Inc., Twitter, Twitter Inc.
“Advanced online research techniques” – – Courses/Mousetrap Media Ltd
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VICARAGE PRIMARY: Newham school says goodbye to beloved headteacher

Pupils, teachers and support staff at a Newham primary school came together recently to bid farewell and lots of future success to their headteacher as she leaves for new opportunities, the council magazine the Newham Mag reported recently. 

Yvonne Ward, who has been in the teaching profession for 35 years and was headteacher at Vicarage Primary School in East Ham for a decade, was treated to a ‘fond farewell’ by her school. Her leaving ceremony was attended by none other than the Mayor of Newham, Sir Robin Wales, alongside local councillor Quintin Peppiatt. They and Vicarage Primary School children and teachers congratulated Ward as she spent her last day as headteacher before retiring.

woodleywonderworks/Flickr via Wikimedia Commons

Vicarage Primary, which serves one of the most diverse populations in London, was recently declared as ‘outstanding’ by inspectors from the government schools inspection authority Ofsted under Ward’s watch. Under her leadership, the popular headteacher helped improve the once-flagging school to achieve Green Eco flag status for greener schools. Her other noteworthy achievements include Vicarage attaining Centre of Excellence status for inclusion of pupils from challenged backgrounds, and the school winning national awards for its teaching and provision in the subjects of physical education (PE), art, singing and basic skills. Vicarage also won gold in the Sainsbury’s School Games in the 2013/14 academic year, received a ‘higher standards level’ from the Sustainable Travel Board, and has links with Read Write Inc., the Arts Council of England and is quality accredited.

Ward also supervised a massive refurbishment programme at the school and was host to a number of community events held on school premises that involved hundreds of people.

The borough’s mayor attended a farewell garden party held in Yvonne Ward’s honour. He said at the party: “Yvonne’s and the school’s motto is Be The Best You Can Be. She definitely proved that in her years at Vicarage School and across her distinguished career. We wish her continued success and thank her for all she has achieved”.

Vicarage Primary School, located in Vicarage Lane, East Ham, is a four-form educational institution operating out of traditional Victorian brick school buildings. The children range from nursery age to Year 6 (3-16 years of age), and the school places a high emphasis on pupil educational, physical and mental development, while building strong partnerships with parents and carers.

“Farewell to popular head teacher” – The Newham Mag [Issue 323], Newham Council (28 August 2015)
“ABOUT US” – Vicarage Primary School
“VPS School Prospectus 2012-2013” – Vicarage Primary School
“File:School-education-learning-1750587-h.jpg” – woodleywonderworks, Flickr via Wikimedia Commons (1 May 2008)

UNIVERSAL CLASS: I passed Excel 2013 course with flying colours

They say learning is a lifelong process, and that you never stop being a student of the University of Life. Certainly as the years roll on, you pick up lots of little and large things that you will learn from. Sometimes the learning opportunities present themselves, and sometimes you have to seek them out.

It does not matter if you are highly educated or you were never fond of studying, everyone learns one way or the other. I hold a undergraduate degree plus very good GCSEs and A-Levels, but I still have that urge to better and distinguish myself academically and to improve my skills. As it is, we are in a highly competitive world. I graduated nearly a decade ago and in that time I have been busying myself with work. Now I have come to the stage in my life where I need to look at what is next in both my life generally and in my career.

In November 2014, I decided I needed to do something to help me improve my prospects. Although I have a relatively impressive CV, because I had been in the same job for a long while and had not studied in that time, my skills were getting a bit rusty and times had changed since my graduation in 2006. In August of that year, my sister completed her diploma in child psychology, with a little help from me. This got me thinking. Why don’t I do a short distance-learning course too? Something to add to my CV (resumé) and impress potential employers and help upskill myself at the same time. As long as it didn’t mire me in even more student debt (I already have a outstanding £15,000 loan with the Student Loan Company for my degree in journalism and media), then what was the harm in trying?

I was well aware that many boroughs in London, including my own, Newham, had a long tradition of managing courses for residents to add to their skillset in order to survive in this hectic metropolis. With this in mind, I had a look at the website of the borough where I live, Newham Council, and discovered they were offering free courses in association with a company called Universal Class. Based in Tampa, Florida, U.S.A, Universal Class Inc. is an internationally-oriented provider of educational services that offer courses in everything pretty much really, from basic accounting and life coaching, to healthcare and computing. I even spotted a course on blogging. Their slogan is “Learn Anything. Learn Anytime. Learn Anywhere”, and they claim to have 600,000+ students learning via more than 500 courses, and have delivered five million courses so far. I was very fortunate that I still had my old Newham Libraries Card in my wallet, so was able to use the card number to log into the Universal Class portal direct from the Newham Council site and create my login details. I didn’t have to pay a penny for the course either.

Out of those 500 courses, I decided to do the one on Microsoft Excel 2013. Why did I choose that?, you may ask. Well in my current job, I spend a lot of time with Excel. It’s the previous version from 2010, but I depend on it a lot to process client data in my company’s database, and I also daily add information from the database and external materials to Excel spreadsheets, so knowing your way around those little cells is essential for this job. I thought that by getting myself certified as a competent user of the latest incarnation of this office work essential, it would not only prepare me for when my office decides to upgrade their Microsoft package, but also could go on my CV as an extra achievement to maximise my employability.

I will not bore you to death with the intricate details of the course or how everything works but here is a brief explanation.

In the Excel 2013 course, you have twenty lessons to complete, starting from really basic stuff to more complicated matters involving tables, graphics and formulae. Each lesson has an optional ‘assignment’, an activity that helps you put into practice what you’ve learned in that lesson. There is also a multiple choice exam of ten questions. Once you have done all the lessons, there is a final exam which has 45 questions, again multiple choice and it will test you on the contents of the entire course. Each lesson also comes with handy links and YouTube videos to expand your knowledge in a given area. You are also assigned an instructor (tutor) who can give feedback and emails you in your UC inbox your scores for each end-of-lesson exam. There is no time limit to completing the course, so you can work at your own pace. Walk in the park!!

The lessons covered the following:

1. Introduction to MS Excel 2013 and the course.
2. Navigating Excel 2013.
3. Worksheets and workbooks.
4. Entering information into MS Excel 2013.
5. Introduction to working with cells, rows and columns.
6. Formatting data and cells.
7. Formatting rows and columns.
8. Editing cells, rows, columns and worksheets.
9. Introduction to formulas and calculations.
10. Working with formulas and functions.
11. Maintaining worksheets.
12. The What-If Analysis.
13. Adding images and graphics.
14. Charts and diagrams.
15. Creating data lists.
16. Managing data.
17. Pivot tables and charts.
18. Printing worksheets and workbooks.
19. Templates.
20. Protecting, saving and sharing workbooks.

I would work on the course over the weekends, often straight after I had written an article here on the blog. One day would be set aside to copy the notes from the lesson onto a Word document and save for my reference, as well as making additional notes from the provided links. I also used that day to do the assignment for some extra brownie points. The other day would be dedicated to revising and then doing the lesson exam. Overall it was a very comprehensive course. The exams were a little tough at times but that is what you would expect from an exam. It helped though that I was already well-versed with Excel’s earlier versions, so my existing knowledge of spreadsheet software meant some of the lessons were a breeze. I even began using some of the skills I learned from the course in my day job. I was doing well, according to my tutor, who was posting back scores ranging from 80 to 100 per cent. I had this course firmly in the bag.

Finally in April 2014, after five months of weekend studying, I was finally ready to do my finals. I decided to put it off until this Bank Holiday weekend, as I would have two days off work plus the normal weekend. I spent the whole weekend reading through the course notes, memorising everything and then tackled the exam at around 5 pm yesterday evening.

As soon as I completed the exam, I submitted it, expecting to have to wait a day for it to be marked by my tutor, Sean. Surprisingly I clicked on an arrow and immediately was informed that I had passed the course.

I passed it with flying colours.

I achieved a score of 92%.

I was very impressed!!!.

*cue train of smiley face emojis*

🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂



This was a very special achievement for me, and I feel ‘well proud’ as we East Londoners say.

Capture  - Universal Class Excel 2013 Class Complete
(c) Universal Class Inc. via V. Shah
(c) Universal Class Inc. via V. Shah
(c) Universal Class Inc. via V. Shah

I got a downloadable PDF certificate (although they put my name as ‘MR SHAH’ instead of my full name, which I’m trying to get corrected). I’ve also ordered a paper certificate from them. It cost me £9 but at least I can put the hard-copy version into my National Record of Achievement folder along with my school and college certificates and my university degree. I should get that in from America within two weeks.

I’m really happy. Although the course may not be as thorough as an average course at a further education college, it is very good value considering I am not even paying for it (apart from the small £5.99 monthly fee for using the Excel 2013 software on your PC, but you can cancel the subscription after you finish the course). I plan to return to the Universal Classrooms again this June or July as my next target is a course in administration. I have also found out from one of my LinkedIn groups that the City University of New York journalism school is offering some free courses in skills for news writing. Might give that a try too. If you’re interested, you can see them at this link .

It just goes to show that if you are smart enough to keep your eyes open, dig around the web a bit and research your opportunities, you can make a learning dream come true for you.

Newham Council –

Universal Class –

My Universal Class student’s page –


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“Universal Class: Online Courses and Continuing Education” – Universal Class
Universal Class Inc.
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OLYMPIC LEGACY: London 2012 ‘oak tree’ transformed into a primary school’s learning tool

In warmer climes, the tree makes a good spot for idle chit-chat and outdoor picnics, not forgetting to mention its natural beauty and life-giving properties, but a Surrey primary school has given a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘tree of learning’, while honouring the nation’s Olympic legacy at the same time.

Three years after London played host to the Olympic and Paralympic Games, with its spectacular opening and closing ceremonies masterfully organised by 28 Days Later and Slumdog Millionaire director Danny Boyle, Epsom Primary & Nursery School has transformed one of the artificial oak trees used at London 2012 into a learning suite for its 547 pupils.

As part of the redevelopment at the school, which caters for children aged 3-16, the oak was taken out of storage and donated by the company that made it specially for the elaborate opening ceremony three years ago in Stratford, east London. The school then undertook an educational project over fifteen months to incorporate the tree into a new ‘learning suite’ with modern interactive technology for pupils to enhance their learning. The new facility, dubbed the “Enchanted Learning & Technology Suite” drew inspiration from the Enid Blyton children’s classic stories compilation Magic Faraway Tree, a favourite of the school’s deputy head teacher, as well as Epsom School’s emblem, a green stylised tree.

On the new suite’s opening at the school in Pound Lane, Epsom on the 18th March, which was covered by the local newspaper, the Epsom Guardian , children sat on specially-designed tree stumps to read books under the Olympic learning tree. In its earlier role at the critically acclaimed Olympic Games ceremony, the tree was seen rising out of a mound of grassy earth representing Glastonbury Tor, as more than a billion people watched Danny Boyle’s ceremony to kick off the London games.Workers streamed out from beneath the roots as the tree was lifted into the air and ‘an industrial revolution transformed the rural scenery’. The oak traditionally has a long association with British culture and was revered as a sacred tree by the Celts.

The tree once again takes centre stage after it was converted into a nature-themed staircase by local architects. Pupils can ‘climb’ up the learning tree to reach a mezzanine floor where the suite is located. Once there, they can access technology such as e-readers and tablets to reinforce classroom learning or do homework. Other uses planned for the suite and its accompanying tree include as a base for after-school clubs, breakfast clubs and as a facility for drama classes and computer activities.

London 2012 banner at The Monument.
London 2012 banner at The Monument. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Michelle Pollard, the deputy head at Epsom Primary School said: 

Securing the Olympic tree was the icing on the cake for our new library project. We wanted the new room to ignite a love of reading in the school – we couldn’t have asked for a more magical design. The tree was given to the school by Souvenir Scenic Solutions, the specialist company who built it for the Olympics, we are so grateful for their support and generosity.

Simon Kenny, a specialist working with the scenery builders told how his team assembled the tree to accommodate the space within the new library as well as creating the stumps.

He said: “We were happy to donate the labour and time to the school because we want to support education in these hard times. We are very happy for the tree to have another life.

It was great to see everybody’s faces and how excited they were. The room they created is like a magic world.

The library has been created to ensure current and future generations of students at Epsom Primary School develop a love of reading and research. Additional funding for the construction of the learning and technology suite came from the School Commissioning and Early Years Education Departments at Surrey Borough Council, the local authority administering the school.

“Olympic ‘Oak Tree’ becomes ‘Tree of Learning’ at Epsom Primary School” – – Press Release/Mousetrap Media Ltd (31 March 2015)
“Recent News” – Epsom Primary School
“Olympics opening ceremony tree placed at heart of library at Epsom Primary and Nursery School” – Alice Foster,  Your Local – Epsom (24 March 2015)
“Recent News” – Epsom Primary School
“Enchanted Learning & Technology Suite” – EPS Calendar, Epsom Primary School, YouTube GB (20 March 2015)
“File:15-11-05 101 Monument.jpg” – Michael Pead, Wikimedia Commons & (5 January 2006)



BOOKSGOSOCIAL: Writers conference in Dublin this June

New and upcoming authors and writers hoping to make it big in the literary world will soon have the chance to reach for the stars thanks to a special conference to be held in Ireland this June.

The BooksGoSocial Writer’s Conference is being held at the Irish Writers Centre in the heart of the Irish capital Dublin from the 26-28 June 2014. The two-day event will see a team of experts and writing instructors guide authors in how to be discovered and to help them achieve their potential as a writer in the 21st century, according to the conference’s organiser, a book promotion service which helps authors spread the word on their latest books and e-books. Marketing advice will also be on hand for writers of fiction and non-fiction works to promote themselves via social media and advertising. There are numerous trainers who will be passing on their skills and advice, originating from not only Ireland, but also the United Kingdom and the States.

Dublin Castle, Dublin, Ireland
Dublin Castle, Dublin, Ireland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Among the writing and marketing experts expected to be keynote speakers at the event are Laurence O’Bryan, an Irish diploma teacher of digital marketing for authors. A keen blogger and published author, O’Bryan‘s work has been published all over Europe and major Anglophone countries by Harper Collins and is said to have spent a decade trying to break into the publishing industry, before making it in with the help of a blog and Twitter account. Also featuring is Margaret Murphy, who has published nine critically acclaimed psychological thrillers and teaches creative writing at several UK universities. She has won numerous awards from her crime fiction and previously worked as an educator for thirty years before her writing career took off.

Other participants getting involved at BooksGoSocial include the writers Jean Gill and Catherine Ryan Howard, journalist and public relations professional Debbie Young and editor  Jessica Page Morrell. They will be hosting special themed events and workshops on subjects such as penning emotive fiction and gripping dialogue; as well as developing valuable knowledge of areas like digital marketing, self-publication and other useful skills necessary for budding wordsmiths in the technology age. The conference will end in a prestigious awards ceremony where writers will be invited to submit examples of their work. The ceremony will take place on the Saturday. Writers will also have opportunities, within and outside the event’s schedule to read their work and receive feedback from the panel of writing experts.

Dublin has proved to be an ideal location for the BooksGoSocial conference due to its prestigious and renowned history of writing prodigies who have become literary personalities both within Ireland and beyond its shores. The capital of the Emerald Isle, fabled for its legends of Celtic warriors, giants, mysterious fairies and leprechauns, is a UNESCO City of Literature, cradle of the classical Irish writers Swift, Joyce, Beckett, Yeats, Wilde, Synge & Shaw as well as the modern masters Edna O’Brien, Roddy Doyle, Colum McCann and a dozen others.

Discounted and early bird tickets for all or part of the conference can be obtained from the BooksGoSocial website for the event:

Half-Eaten Mind, Twitter, Twitter Inc.
Laurence O’Bryan, Twitter, Twitter Inc.
“BooksGoSocial Writers’ Conference June 26-28th 2015” –
Ggggg “File:Dublin Castle.jpg” – Mike Peel, Wikimedia Commons (11 August 2005)

JOURNALISM APPRENTICESHIP: Editors, NCTJ to develop higher on-the-job journalist training

Britain‘s National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) reports that it is currently working with journalism employers from several newspapers and TV channels to develop a programme of higher apprenticeships for journalists to acquire news-writing skills on the job. Their plans were formally announced in a news release published on the council’s website this past Thursday (23 October 2014). The NCTJ along with selected employers had recently pitched their idea of a higher apprenticeship to the British government. Ministers there have now given the new qualification system the green light of approval in their efforts to tackle rising youth unemployment in the country.

A group of journalism representatives from a variety of national and regional media organisations including Archant, the BBC; BSkyB; i; The IndependentIndependent on SundayJohnston Press; the KM GroupLondon Evening Standard; the Mark Allen Group; Newsquest; MNA Media and the Telegraph Media Group, jointly submitted an application to Whitehall which has been approved as part of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition‘s ‘phase three’ trailblazer apprenticeship scheme to help unemployed and undecided youngsters obtain valuable skills that will prepare them for future careers in the media. Traditionally, British journalists were taken on as junior reporters after completing their formal education. They received on-the-job training from senior news workers and editors, but in the past fifteen years an increasing emphasis by the U.K. jobs market on university qualifications universally has seen the journalism apprenticeships of several decades ago become almost obsolete. Newer cohorts of media hopefuls tend to be university graduates who pick up training via often unpaid or expenses only work experience. Media organisations have lately been criticised for not being inclusive enough in their intake of new employees and several major news providers have reinstated internships and apprentice training courses to attract new recruits from less well-represented sections of society.

The trailblazer scheme aims to give employers more say and freedom to develop apprenticeship standards in their industry which will help deliver the practical skills needed by vocational trainees for a particular business sector.

The new journalism apprenticeship was announced the day Skills Minister Nick Boles visited the offices of international media outlet Sky, home of Sky News and Sky Television, to meet with Bella Vuillermoz, director of their training school, the Sky Academy, to discuss training opportunities for young and new journalists moving into the career away from the university pathway favoured by most recruiters in the current media environment. Boles also conversed with Nicola Hart, Sky’s head of future talent; Andy Cairns, its executive editor, and Laurie Tucker, head of training at Sky Sports News; and Joanne Butcher, chief executive of the NCTJ, who is co-ordinating the industry’s apprenticeship trailblazer projects.

In a discussion on the government’s trailblazer scheme and its wider changes to the national apprenticeship and employment programme, the NCTJ chief executive lauded the improvements to the initiative, saying that the old system had now been made more streamlined and simplified and that she was encouraged to see  greater responsibility and autonomy allocated to employers and the NCTJ in attracting more learners to the UK media industry’s training courses. She did however criticise the ongoing reliance on jargon within the programme, which may put off potential apprentices from signing up. Meanwhile, Sky’s head of training apparently joked that at a recent meeting he had struggled with the shorthand outline for ‘synoptic assessment’. Boles also had the opportunity to meet Britain’s first journalism apprentice undergoing training thanks to the trailblazer scheme, James Kilpatrick. Kilpatrick is now interning at Sky Sports News and is one of 18 apprentices on the second NCTJ apprenticeship day release course at Lambeth College in south London. James will experience all aspects of the Sky Sports News operation, starting with the digital media team, with an aim to give him and his fellow apprentices a well-rounded experience of the day-to-day life as a Sky journalist.

The higher apprenticeship by the NCTJ is following in the path of an existing standard for junior apprenticeships in journalism set up by the council in league with employers. This standard, although complete, will not come into force in England until 2015. It will be an update of the current apprenticeship qualification offered by the NCTJ to trainee reporters who wish to forego the usual graduation route. The proposed senior journalist apprenticeship will also now be written to an industry standard to be decided by the NCTJ with consultations from the media industry expected to commence  in the New Year.

Chairman of the journalism apprenticeship group, David Rowell said: “This is an exciting new development in our apprenticeship training scheme and will provide an opportunity for school leavers to progress to more senior roles.

Skills minister Nick Boles said: “I congratulate the journalism employers for the key role they are playing in developing new top-quality apprenticeships. Through the trailblazers initiative companies, in collaboration with their industry partners, will give people the skills they need to thrive and our businesses need to compete.

The full guidance document for the British government’s phase three of the trailblazer scheme for apprentices can be viewed here.

Several media organisations in the United Kingdom already run their own training programmes and apprenticeships for students, including the BBC, Sky and ITV, offering training with actual journalists in fields such as broadcasting, public relations, digital/new media and radio. The BBC’s Academy of Journalism attracts thousands of applications from would-be trainees every year, with only a small number successfully securing places. The NCTJ, which is the official body for journalism training in the U.K., offers its own qualifications and accreditations which are highly respected and sought after by journalism employers. The council currently offers a Level 3 Advanced Apprenticeship in Journalism enabling students to combine learning at sixth-form college or further education institutions with on-the-job training. It has been supported by media industry leaders for opening doors to a competitive industry for local young people as well as those who come from ethnic minority backgrounds.

“Useful Sites” – Vijay Shah, The Half-Eaten Mind
“Government accepts proposal to develop higher-level journalism apprenticeship” – National Council for the Training of Journalists (23 October 2014)
“Apprenticeships” – National Council for the Training of Journalists
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INTERVIEWING: What to do…and what not to do (Part 2)

Today we bring you the second part of the first article on journalism advice for the fledging reporter. Last Sunday we covered the dos and don’ts of preparing for and carrying out an interview, including the all-important requirements to behave professionally and support the journalistic ethics of impartiality and accuracy.

These articles are based largely on notes distributed by a lecturer during newswriting and reporting seminars I attended over ten years ago on my journey into this exciting, fulfilling and noble career path. One of the most enduring memories I have of this lecturer, Mr. Geere, was on one occasion when he told us about having a ‘nose for news’. He admitted to us that every morning while commuting to work, he would strike up a conversation with a complete stranger/fellow traveller. Although some of us students started giving each other worried and perplexed looks upon hearing our lecturer’s little confession, it did sort of make sense to me. As a journalist, you will often speak to many kinds of people, from many backgrounds. Each with their own story or perspective to narrate. It certainly must have made his journeys a tad more interesting than just sitting there staring at tube adverts for car insurance. 

Mr. Geere taught us for one semester and module. Eventually he left the University of Westminster to pursue a job as an editor working for a newspaper in Trinidad and Tobago.

Taking notes

* When noting down direct quotes from your interviewee, distinguish them visually from the rest of your jottings. You can do that by using circles around the sentence, quotation marks, stars or underlining. Taking down notes on one side of the paper sheet or pad can actually help you rearrange the material in fitting into a viable story structure.

 * Pay attention and listen carefully. Do not waste time noting down unimportant or irrelevant details. You may be able to use them to add background or flavour to the story but do not forget that you may have a word count to worry about.

* As mentioned in Part One, be careful with the spellings of names and titles. It would be a headache to have to call back to just re-confirm a spelling or job function, or even worse, end up getting it wrong when your article goes out in public.

* Get direct quotes, especially on the major points of the interview/agenda.

* Do not spend all of your precious time just looking at the source and your notepad. Have a look around, and take in your surroundings. Especially when writing features, the surroundings can add context and atmosphere to the story. This also applies to the physical appearance of the source themselves. Do you notice any particular garments or jewellery they are wearing? Any interesting features or objects in the interview location?. If you find something noteworthy, then scribble down your impressions.

Effect of reinterviewing first source
Effect of reinterviewing first source (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Concentrate on what you are seeing and hearing

Once the interview is concluded and you and your source have parted ways, take a look at your notes. Review them and supplement them with any additional information you may have not noted down before, as well as any thoughts or ideas that come to your head as you review. The best time to do this is as soon as possible after the interview in your car, hotel room or wherever. The interview will still be fresh in your mind and that is the best time to recollect everything. Then arrange your notes in order of importance.

It is unnecessary to write in complete sentences unless you are preserving a direct quote. It is far better to write your notes in bullet points or maybe diagrams if you find that helps you.

Write down all specific information that you cannot trust to retain in memory. These include objective details like ages, names, addresses. statistics and sums of money. Try to get biographical information where needed and search the net or a clippings library for newspaper clips and other previously published articles which can offer further information on a person’s or organisation’s background.

Even here, accuracy should not be forgotten. If need be, conduct a follow-up call to double-check any unclear information. Do not be afraid or feel you are being a nuisance by doing so. It is better to be safe than sorry.

Exciting writing is fuelled by exciting anecdotes, so a good interviewer is always listening out for them. It is those stories and soundbites that are the spice that brings out the flavour in a solid piece of copy. A really sharp interviewer will also be an incredibly observant one, listening out for clues to experiences from the source that could lead the way to a good anecdote. He or she will pounce on those clues and direct the source to “give me an example” or “tell me about a time when that actually happened”.

Finding anecdotes

An anecdote is simply a small story, told in conversations as a means of relaying experiences in a person’s life. They are often used to entertain the listeners. In a journalistic context, an anecdote is a smaller story that nests itself within the body of the main story, which is the article you are writing. Often, an anecdote will illustrate something about the interviewee, such as his or her loyalty, bravery, persistence or some other quality that can add to developing the human context and background in your article. A good anecdote can really bring a story alive for the reader and will possibly hold their interest instead of flipping the page…or clicking another link.

Karma Foley Interview
Karma Foley Interview (Photo credit: kino-eye)

Watch your subject

Keep an eye out for non-verbal (unspoken) forms of communication, known in the industry as ‘non-verbals’. As humans, a lot of what we say does not come out as sounds from our lips. We often let our faces and hands do the talking. Pay attention to your source’s facial gestures, hand movements, tone of voice. Non-verbals also include things such as the clothes worn by the subject, their jewellery, their tics and seating position. Indeed, about seventy per cent of the interviewee’s total communication may well be non-verbal. So, to tell the complete story, you must give the reader the complete story. Remember, you are there in person with the source, not the reader. So you want to write the story in a way that the reader can feel that they are there in the room with you. Observation can really bring your story…and the subject of your story…to life!.

Study the environment

One of the perks of being a journalist is you are not chained to a desk or site all day. There usually is a lot of travel involved and you get to see many different environments and places. Journalism is very much about being observant and possessing a bloodhound like sense of curiosity. Indeed this is why American journalists are often nicknamed ‘newshounds’. When in surroundings unfamiliar in preparation for your interview, take a look around. Things like bulletin boards, desk items, pictures on the wall, file cabinets can all offer ideas that are gold dust for a well-told story. Even things as mundane and seemingly uneventful as how sunlight streams into the room can add that all-important contextual flavour. However keep in mind how these things relate to the interviewee or story subject. Avoid using description purely for the sake of description. Telling us that the interviewee uses a particular brand of washing-up liquid is pointless unless we can relate it to an aspect of the interviewee themselves. It is also helpful to add at this stage that while there is nothing wrong with visually observing things, it is not a good idea to rifle through your interviewee’s belongings or open up their drawers looking for story material. Keep hands to self. You can always ask the interviewee about objects in the room that will add that ‘zing’ to the story. They may even let you handle them for yourself.

Hopefully this article will help you strengthen your interviewing skills and make you into a stronger reporter. You can find Part 1 in the related articles section below this part. Next week, we will cover the nitty-gritty in organising a news story. Watch this space.

“INTERVIEWING: What to do…and what not to do” – Alan Geere, BAMS Newswriting and Reporting, University of Westminster (November 2003) class handout/information sheet.
“File:HUMINT-Interview-Set1v1.png” – ‘Hcberkowitz’, Wikimedia Commons (2 November 2007) LINK
“Karma Foley Interview” – David Tamés, Flickr (23 December 2005) LINK
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INTERVIEWING: What to do…and what not to do (Part 1)

Today I bring you the first in a series of articles on newswriting and reporting. These articles tie in with the Half-Eaten Mind’s objective to provide high-quality journalism and writing in general as well as its secondary aim as a means of education. They are based on handouts from a taught module on newswriting and reporting that I studied in late 2003 as part of my university degree in journalism and media studies. I had recently discovered the original handouts and have decided to digitally retype them for your reading pleasure, along with my own further commentary. The handouts were originally produced by lecturer Alan Geere at the University of Westminster’s School of Media, Art and Design in November 2003. All credit for the original information goes to him. The first part of the very first article is out today.

The series will be of particular use to people wishing to pursue journalism as a career, but who have no idea exactly what working as a ‘roving reporter’ entails. Also, it is hoped that the articles will also prove useful in an educational context for new journalism students at news schools or universities.

Journalism Notebook
Journalism Notebook (Photo credit: planeta)


For the vast majority of journalists, the most important means of obtaining information for their news story is by conducting an interview with a source. This is a dialogue between two people involving questions from the journalist being replied with answers from the source (the interviewee). Interviews are essential for obtaining facts, figures and comments that may not be easily found from official outlets or for certain types of reporting, such as crime beats or B2B journalism. Sources, apart from imparting valuable information to flesh out a reporter’s story, also can offer informational tidbits and quotes that can help ‘spice up’ an article and give it a more human and relational angle for the news consumer. Indeed in some cases, interviews may be the only way to get a suitable angle on a flashing news story and valuable or secret sources have been the make-or-break for many an exclusive scoop.

When conducting an interview, the best thing to do is act naturally. Do not feel stressed or feel you have to behave in a restrictive and stiff manner (unless the situation demands it). An interview does not need to take place in a formal atmosphere. Many interviewees are more than happy to be spoken to at their home or in a casual setting like a park or coffee shop. It is not a test of any sort, but simply a talk with someone about a specific topic. Think of your forthcoming interview as being only slightly different to a chat with your best friend about your favourite singer, football team or any other subject you are interested in. The key difference however, is that instead of merely hearing, the reporter is both listening and writing down what the source says, or using recording equipment to make a reproduction of the source’s conversation with said reporter. The important thing to remember at this stage, is that as a reporter, you are expected to remain impartial, so keep your opinions to yourself.

Preparing for the interview

Before setting out to meet up with your source, carry out some research first, both on the source (if they are a public figure) as well as the topic/s you will be speaking to them about. You want to show the source that you are in the know or at least have been thoroughly debriefed about the news subject. Think of what questions you intend to ask. So for example, if you are about to interview a person who sells furs and is agitated by animals rights activists, it might be interesting to find out if he or she owns a dog or cat. Likewise if you are interviewing an animal rights activist to get the other side of the story, you might ask them what life experiences influenced them to join the movement.

Make doubly sure you have your questions ready, either in written form or mentally noted down. Do not expect your news source to tell you voluntarily what you want to know. The whole point of having set questions ready and running is that they give structure to the interview as well as helping you organise your thoughts. Not only that, but having a good set of questions will get you all the information and quotes you will need to build up your news story once you return to the newsdesk or classroom.

Just like a job interview, you should show up properly dressed. Remember you are representing the news organisation you are working for, and a sloppy dress sense reflects badly on you, your employer and journalists in general. Taking care in what you wear and how you wear it also shows you have respect for the source.

An interview for television.
An interview for television. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Conducting the interview

* Introduce yourself and the publication you work for. An official press card or identity card issued by your employer will help you negotiate security personnel or concerned relatives when visiting homes, offices or public venues.

* Look your subject in the eye. This may be hard for the more shy among us, but it shows you are interested in the source and what he or she has to say. Not maintaining eye contact can make you seem shifty and if the source is from a highly sensitive context, i.e. a crime informant or victim of a robbery, for example, it can make them uncomfortable. Do not fall into the trap of being so busy taking notes that all the source remembers from the interview are your flying fingers and the crown of your head. Some people may get nervous at the sight of seeing their every word written down. You can easily commit some things to memory, or to ensure accuracy, use a voice recorder. If you do use such a recorder, be sure to get the source’s permission first, and be prepared to press pause if the subject wants to say something ‘off the record’.

* Often, the first question you will be asking is the subject’s name and how to spell it. Even if you know the name and seen it spelled somewhere already, double-check as it could still be wrong. This is especially important for people with names from cultures other than your own. Even if it is a common name in your country, still double-check, as the person may use a spelling variation of their name, i.e. ‘Jon’ rather than ‘John’; ‘Suniel’ rather than ‘Sunil’, ‘Mhairi’ rather than ‘Mary’. Getting the spelling wrong can be the fastest way to lose credibility in the source’s eyes.

* Make sure to pronounce the source’s name correctly and use their first name from time to time. It helps put them at ease, shows that you care about what they have to say, and makes for a friendlier conversation and ultimately, more material for your story.

 * Not only should you double-check spellings of names, but also those of any company or town names, and any key historical dates. Do not ever be afraid to ask what you might fear is a silly question. It is better to look a bit clueless as so to speak, than get an important name, fact or date horribly wrong.

* Begin the interview with easy sociable questions to relax the interviewee. Many interviewees do not often find themselves speaking to the media as a regular course of their lives and may be somewhat at unease at what is an unfamiliar experience for them. It is your job to make them feel more comfortable. Save the tough questions for later. Steer clear of questions that appear to have predetermined or ‘closed’ answers i.e. ‘yes or no’ questions. The interviewee will not be able to express themselves fully and you risk the interview becoming a tick-box situation. You will not get any good quotes that way. Also remember to keep your questioning as impartial as possible. Do not let your opinions or biases determine the focus of your questioning.

* Ask open-ended questions that invite a lengthy answer and encourage the interviewee to speak their heart out and give healthy anecdotes and juicy quotes or opinions. For example “How did you react?” or “Why do you think that happened?“. While at the same time paying attention to what your source says, be sure to make a note of the juicier quotes and anecdotes.

* Do not ask negative questions. So avoid things like “No news, yet?“. You do not want to make it easy for the subject to just say ‘No’.

* Let the interviewee be aware that you know who they are, which is where your earlier research comes in useful. It shows you have done your homework and it saves time being wasted by the interviewee having to explain who they are, what their company does etc. This is called ‘priming’ the interviewee. So for example, it might go like this: “Mr. Jones, I understand you appeared in a movie about the takeover by people under 30. Do you believe this could actually happen?“. Other advantages of priming include helping set a context and angle for the interview, which will in turn help you select an angle for the news story. It also makes for a more fruitful and fun interviewing session.

* Accept all proffered facts and data given by the source professionally. Do not quibble, argue (even if you know the information to be inaccurate) or express shock/disappointment. Remember, your opinions on the source or who they represent are strictly private. Accept what the source tells you on the face of it.

* Do not make any promise to the source that you will promise to write or say remarks in a certain way. This will affect your journalistic impartiality. At the same time though, please respect the source’s request if they wish for certain comments to be ‘off the record’ to avoid causing offence or breaching any written/unwritten rules of confidentiality.

* Do not promise to let your source read the story before it goes live or published

* Leave the door open for another talk or follow-up interview. Many sources can have a long shelf-life in terms of newsworthiness as certain news stories are long-running and constantly evolving, such as the civil war in Syria or Anglo-Argentine tensions over the Falklands/Malvinas. Ask your contact if they would mind if you made contact later personally face-to-face or through a follow-up phone call. Obtain a phone number or Skype/IM ID for further discussions if you need to clarify any facts or gather further information.

Part Two of “INTERVIEWING: What to do…and what not to do” will be live next weekend.

“INTERVIEWING: What to do…and what not to do” – Alan Geere, BAMS Newswriting and Reporting, University of Westminster (November 2003) class handout/information sheet.
“File:Interview.jpg” – Dennis Mojado via Kkkdc, Wikimedia Commons (22 August 2006) LINK
“Journalism Notebook” – Ron Mader, Flickr (25 June 2012) LINK
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