Megan Downing


03 November 2014 16:37

SPA Southwest Conference: training the journalists of the future


This weekend, SUSU played host to the first Student Publication Association Regional Conference. As South West Regional Officer for the Student Publication Association (SPA), I thought it would be a great start to host the first of its kind here in Southampton. The idea originated from the student volunteers at the Wessex Scene, namely Kerry Sclater and Tahlie Cooper. Working alongside these two (amazing) students, we managed to collectively curate a weekend of sessions tailored to helping student journalists.

Saturday 1st November started with a swap shop to get people looking at each other’s publications. With delegates from Southampton based publications, the Wessex Scene and The Edge and also delegates from The Epigram that is based in Bristol, it was really good to compare and contrast the different publication and share good practice.

Following the swap shop we had a Keynote Speaker session with Joe Curtis from the Southern Daily Echo. His journey to where he is today, Health Reporter for the publication, meant that he could provide the advice and guidance the delegates of the conference really wanted. It was a great session with lots of ‘real life’ advice from someone who is in the industry. Also, demonstrating journalism in action, a photographer from the Southern Daily Echo came down to take some shots for a story on the conference, so watch this space as I will be sharing the story if we are featured.

After this session we moved into a discussion about the current issues facing student media. As most of you are probably aware, there have been some stories cropping up across the country about student journalists being restricted in their journalistic freedom. This influenced a lot of the debate in this session as we discussed topics such as censorship, working with unions and universities and the independent vs. affiliated debate. Big thanks to Guy Drury for helping us coordinate these debates and contribute to the discussion.

The afternoon of the first day of the conference consisted of a News Training session, facilitated and presented by yours truly. This is the first time I have attempted to impart some of the knowledge I have gained through my years as a student journalist into a structured training session. The aim of the session was to arm students with a set of key skills that they should be always thinking about when writing news. The theory heavy session covered topics such as the Inverted Pyramid, News Values and the 5Ws. Although, the session didn’t consist of me harping on about theory for an hour; I in fact gave the delegates the task of picking apart some BBC news stories to spot good (or bad) use of the theory learnt in the session.

The next day of sessions, led by Tahlie Cooper and Kerry Sclater started with an active Breaking News training session. This included groups of students having to build a news story as it unfolded. Next on the agenda was an experience panel led by Wessex Scene alumni, Dimple Vijaykumar and Jo Fisher, both of which have gone into the creative industries as a result of their time in student media. This session was particularly helpful for the student volunteers in the discussions about standing out in the ever competitive job market. The current editor of the Wessex Scene, Tahlie Cooper also sat on the panel so this gave the students a tangible link between student media and the creative industries.

Overall the weekend was a great start for Student Publication Association regional conferences, as well as allowing student volunteers here at SUSU to have to opportunity to curate a training weekend on such a scale. I’m excited for the future of the SPA as well as the future of student media, and a big thanks goes out to all of the delegates of the conference and all those that helped me and my team run the weekend. Here’s to more of the same!

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