NCTJ-trained journalist on British Press Awards shortlist for reports from Baltimore

Picture: Mark Hughes, NCTJ-trained journalist shortlisted for a British Press Award.

An NCTJ-trained journalist has been shortlisted for a prestigious British Press Award after completing a unique assignment inspired by the US television show The Wire.

Mark Hughes, crime correspondent at the Independent, travelled to Baltimore, Maryland, the US setting for The Wire, to learn about drug crime in that city. In a job swap, journalist Justin Fenton, crime correspondent with the Baltimore Sun, travelled to London to report on crime in the British capital.

Mark, who completed the NCTJ-accredited BA (Hons) Journalism course at University of Central Lancashire, travelled to Baltimore in November 2009. Both his and Justin’s reports have now been shortlisted for the Cudlipp Award at the British Press Awards on 23 March.

Mark said: “I saw a lot of the problems Baltimore is facing, I rode along with the police, I spoke to them about their jobs and I saw a lot of murder scenes.

“One day I spoke with the actress Sonja Sohn, who plays Detective Kima Greggs in The Wire. She has put her career on hold for a year and is helping to run a community outreach programme for people affected by drugs, called ReWired for Change.

“The centre of Baltimore is very clean, much like the City of London. It’s the outlying areas where the drug problems are, where the heavy industry has declined, such as the central dock which fans of The Wire will know from the second series.”

Commenting on his NCTJ training, Mark identified one way which his course had put him ahead of the press pack.

“Over in America, nobody had shorthand. On the first day I went to central booking which is where details of all the arrests over the weekend are given out. I took down details in shorthand and the American journalists were really surprised, they were amazed by it, some had never even seen it before.

“I found this really surprising, as in my job I have to take down so much information in such a short space of time, I don’t see how I could do it without shorthand.”

Mark advised all young journalists to try out new ideas for stories on news editors.

“I’m a big fan of The Wire and it was an idea I approached my news editor about. I think it is important to have these ideas to stay ahead of the game and in this case it really worked. Always try out new ideas on your news editor, they may say no, but it is important to try them out.”

After completing the NCTJ-accredited course at UCLan, Mark started work as a trainee reporter with the News and Star in Carlisle. He then won the Student Journalist of the Year award at the Press Gazette Student Journalism Awards 2007. Simon Kelner, then editor-in-chief of the Independent, asked him to become northern correspondent, before taking up the post of crime correspondent.