A week in the life of a Community News Project reporter

Rebecca Beardmore, community reporter with the Blackpool Gazette, has compiled a diary of a week in her life – highlighting how she is juggling work commitments with her Diploma in Journalism studies, while simultaneously working from home during the coronavirus pandemic and looking after three children.

Wednesday, 29 April

Since the Covid-19 lockdown began, my working life has changed significantly. No longer allowed to go into the office, everyone is working from home. For me, this means working around my partner (who makes an incredible amount of phone calls and hosts numerous Zoom meetings a day) and my three children who are two, seven and ten.

The two eldest boys need to be home-schooled, so I’m juggling lesson planning with news gathering, studying for NCTJ diploma exams, and of course interviewing and writing stories for the Blackpool Gazette. It’s a challenging time, but necessary to play our role in helping to protect the NHS.

In October 2019, I began studying at The Sheffield College for the NCTJ Diploma in Journalism. This involved a 4am commute once a month from my home in Cleveleys, every fortnight leading up to exams, with remote sessions every Thursday. Since lockdown, our tutor Sam has introduced daily shorthand lessons at 8am and 5pm, to help us achieve the 60 words per minute needed to pass our diplomas.

Today started with the shorthand lesson and a mock. I then check my Facebook page inbox for stories, which have come in droves since the lockdown, with positive tales of people doing good things in the communities I represent: Bispham, Thornton and Cleveleys. The rest of the day is spent interviewing, then writing up stories, which are sent over to my editor for publication in the print paper and uploaded directly to the Gazette’s website by me.

Thursday, 30 April

Last week I wrote a story for a six-year-old in the community who had set up a Facebook page reading stories to other children during lockdown. Today her mum sent me a photo of her holding our paper, thrilled to see her article in there. There is such immense job satisfaction after seeing how proud a child is after having their achievements documented!

Being a community news reporter means I get to the heart of different communities, whether that is highlighting an issue particular people worry about, or celebrating the achievements of charities, children and many more.

One of the benefits I have found in setting up a specific Facebook page for my professional role is that it gives me the opportunity to build trust between my news outlet and the community. I receive messages to my page daily from local people asking me to write about their achievements, or letting me know about things they feel need to be addressed. This not only makes news gathering every morning easier, it means you can get a feel for the issues your community is facing as they happen.

Today I produced two stories, one about a community choir which had performed online to lift spirits during the pandemic, and another about a young mum who, with her baby daughter, was using Facebook to suggest messy play ideas for other parents who may be feeling the pressure of home-schooling.

Friday, 1 May

Fridays are the busiest day of the week, with two papers to fill. I write straight to web, but my stories feature in the paper pretty much every day, so I help to find stories for both Saturday and Monday’s editions.

After an 8am shorthand lesson on Google Meet, I transcribe the shorthand passage I’ve just heard, send it over to my tutor for marking and then jump onto another remote meeting with my team. We discuss the day’s news list, and any unallocated pages are accounted for by the team members with stories pending. I don’t know if it was because the kids had fewer school tasks to do, because I walked our dog at 6am, or excess caffeine, but I managed to get four page leads done today despite the chaos and Peppa Pig re-runs at home.

Extra bonus: only three out of four are coronavirus-related. A quintessential community story about a volunteer group winning a funding grant to upkeep a local park brought readers some light relief from the pandemic. 

Other stories include the creation of knitted nurses to raise money for the local hospital, a photographer raising money for food banks with her photos and speaking to an author, whose life was saved by Blackpool medics, about his upcoming book. The content I produce since the pandemic started has been very virus-centred: we know from our analytics that readers are searching for such content all the time.

Monday, 4 May

Today was a day-off, in lieu of working the Easter bank holiday Monday, but more often than not my days off involve some work and today was no exception. Admittedly, journalism isn’t the easiest to switch off from – especially when you work a lot on social media and are contactable directly.

The day starts with another 6am dog walk, which I find really helps with mental health when we’re stuck at home. The good weather and living next to the beach isn’t too bad either.  Then after responding to emails and Facebook messages, I began revising for my upcoming exams.

Back in March, I took exams in essential journalism, video journalism, shorthand and public affairs. Spending a week away in Sheffield with my course mates was a great laugh, despite the serious revision and constant shorthand transcription.

I have another shorthand exam coming up next week, along with media law and court reporting the week after, but this time the exams will be held remotely thanks to the pandemic. I spend the majority of the day glued to my copy of McNae’s, scrolling through slides made by our college tutor and attempt to remember defamation and its defences by heart.

This revision was, of course, powered by copious coffees and accompanied with demands for food from my seven-year-old on the hour, every hour. In the evening, I sit down for two and a half hours to complete a mock law exam, eventually putting the laptop away at around 10pm.  

Tuesday, 5 May

Another day beginning with a 6am walk, an 8am shorthand lesson, and a 9.30am team meeting. I spend as much time as possible in the morning going over shorthand dictations, because the only way to improve speed is to go over, and over, and over them.

I had a huge backlog of stories from over the weekend and my day off, but I’m asked by my line manager to cover a story involving an old school friend of mine for a potential splash. The story involves her child raising money for his dad, who at 32 has been diagnosed with stage four cancer.

Such stories are bittersweet – there is pride in being in the position to help to raise awareness for good causes, but it often comes with an emotional plea and phone interview which can really leave an impact when shrouded in sadness.

After producing the story, interviewing various family members and sharing in various local Facebook groups, I turn my attention to my NCTJ diploma e-portfolio. Not only does this assess my work, but it’s an opportunity for me to reflect on the pieces I feel most proud of and want to include as a display of my training.

There are community health stories, high street issues, and even 2019’s coveted Christmas Eve feel-good splash in there. The diploma training I’ve received from the NCTJ has set me up for a lifelong career as a news journalist, now onto the senior level qualification – the NQJ!