Journalism skills: covering a council debate

Grace, 24, is studying with Brighton Journalist Works. She graduated from York St. John inGrace Clarke 2012 with a degree in English language, and got a job as a waitress in a famous tearoom. While working, Grace kept writing for local websites whenever she got a chance, and used her holidays to do work experience with The Times, The Mail on Sunday and Time Out Magazine. She eventually decided serving tea was not the life for her, so she saved up and moved to the seaside. Grace’s dream is to be a columnist, but at the minute she is setting her sights on feature writing.

On what I assume was the rainiest night since records began, when any sane person would have been huddled by a radiator or putting the finishing touches to their ark, Journalist Works’ finest political minds shuffled into Hove Town Hall to live tweet a council tax debate.

The Argus, Brighton’s local paper, had organised the event and we were invited along to help with the coverage. They were debating whether or not there should be a 4.75% increase in council tax to protect adult services. The Green party are in favour, Conservatives demand a freeze, and Labour say a 2% increase is enough.

Each of the political correspondents, as they shall be referred to from now on, had to find people of particular political persuasions who were happy to have their opinions tweeted. These would then be used on The Argus’s website where they were running a live blog of the evening.

A visible wave of terror swept the group at about quarter to seven when nobody had managed to secure a victim. They needn’t have worried, this was a debate after all and if there’s one thing I’ve learnt it’s that when it comes to politics people are more than happy to share their views.

The debate started with a brief introduction from each party councillor and was then handed over to the floor. What ensued was a feature length slagging match. It was difficult to hear the Conservative councillor’s answers over an angry crowd shouting: “bailing out the bankers.” Timid pensioners were told to “speak up” and to “get to the point.” It was all very exciting, everybody was tweeting furiously.

The debate came to an end – I think I’m with the Green Party, but I’ve only lived here a month and I’d like to assess the efficiency of the refuse and recycling collection before I make a firm decision – though the night was still young for the political correspondents who had to collect vox pops for the next day’s paper. The deadline was half nine and it was already twenty to, so this was truly a race against time.

We hurtled back to the cars – losing a reporter and gaining a parking ticket on the way – and sped back to the newsroom. The correspondents huddled around computers, desperately pulling together their quotes. It was such a relief when I heard the familiar “woosh” of a sent email. The day was over, thirteen hours after it had begun, and it was finally time to go home for a cup of tea and to tend to my rain induced trench foot.