Newsletter 2020

I usually find myself writing this newsletter in a holiday mood, looking back on the year’s trials and triumphs, getting ready to take a week or two off and recharge. It’s usually a jocular round-up of high-points, full of my Dad-jokes.

This year’s newsletter is a bit different.

2020 is a year we will not forget. It has been the most disruptive, chaotic and challenging year I’ve personally and professionally experienced. I find myself coming to the end of it exhausted, with only a short time before we start another uncertain academic year in times that are far from normal, new or otherwise.

We saw it coming early on BA Journalism. Two weeks before lockdown, a week before the university announced its own shut-down, we had what I now recognise was a crisis meeting of sorts. We moved our teaching online with almost immediate effect.

We’re proud that we didn’t cancel a single newsday. Katie, Derm and I devised a method of moving them online at very short notice, refining it in response to your feedback and in consultation with colleagues working in the industry. Carmen and Sean used the skeleton of that to run their own remote magazine newsdays. 

We tried to keep in touch and support you as much as we could. We tried to be mindful of the feedback you gave us about certain modules before lockdown too (adding extra support sessions in Government in the UK for example).

I cannot deny that I had some sleepless nights. I worried about those students in their first year who are already struggling to adapt to the mature and independent study style of university. I had concerns about second years attempting newsdays at the peak of lockdown. I fretted about students approaching the end of their projects, especially those producing broadcast content, as restrictions were imposed on movement and contact. 

That worry – those normal concerns that we all have – were not unfounded. However, some of the worry was tempered by pride. 

We’ve been enormously proud to see you cope with the challenges of the year with resilience, good humour and community spirit. Our 2nd year newsday work was praised by external examiners and some of the journalism project work produced was the best we’ve ever seen (or heard).

Behind the scenes

The BJTC accreditation visit now seems like a hundred years ago – because so much has changed since then… But the BJTC came and saw. It seemed like a very positive visit all round and the panel commented on our digital newsdays as a particular highlight and were floored by how thoroughly our third years took charge of their own newsday. The news meeting that day was textbook; everyone had stories, everyone had sources lined up, everyone was demonstrably enthusiastic.

The BJTC praised our students’ work and your conduct in their panel meeting with students.

We were awarded another year of accreditation and we understand that the panel took the decision to award us one year because there are effectively two versions of the course running at the moment – and they wanted to return to see an entire cohort. They will be coming back to us in December at a very different time – but I hope we will impress them as much again.

Here comes the new boss

The PR and Journalism Subject Group welcomed our new subject group leader Nick Halafihi in July this year. Nick’s had a storied career in Rugby League, with stints at Sheffield Eagles and London Crusaders as a player, then St. Helens as a coach after playing for a number of pro teams. He then joined Leeds Beckett as a Lecturer and progressed to management roles.

He comes to us from the School of Sport just at the right time – as we gear up to deliver our BA in Sports Journalism for the first run in September 2021.

Say hello, wave goodbye

While we’re really pleased to have Nick as our new boss, we have said goodbye to two colleagues who have contributed hugely to the BA in Journalism this year.

Annisa Suliman, who taught everyone at first year and who was one of our longest serving staff members, has decided to concentrate on completing her PhD and she left the university at the end of May. She will be missed by many.

Barbara Henderson, our broadcast journalism lecturer for over three years, secured a new post a bit closer to home. What was not widely known is that Barbara commuted from Berwick every week – almost 200 miles. We’re glad that she stayed with us as long as she did, as Barbara contributed greatly to the kind and supportive culture that we try to promote as much as possible on the course.

The dynamic duo – Chian with Barbara at the 2019 graduation

Work Experience

The breadth of work experience that our students manage to secure and the inventiveness they use to secure it never ceases to amaze me. Again, December 2019 seems like another world. Can you believe we had a General Election less than eight months ago? Lauren Halligan was one of our students reporting at the counts. “It was definitely one of the highlights of the third year and a very valuable piece of work experience,” said Lauren.

The General Election count at the Leeds First Direct Arena, December 2019 – photo by Lauren Halligan

She got out and about quite a bit, as she also did work experience with the Harrogate Film Festival alongside Georgia Dossis and Nathaniel Doughty – interviewing filmmakers and doing a great job of it according to the organisers.

Some of our students’ biggest work experience opportunities were casualties of Covid-19 – so it’s amazing that so many managed to complete prestigious stints with big names. Alex Armitstead and Rebecca Tee worked on the media team at Huddersfield Town Football Club and had a great time, by all accounts. Molly Clayton landed five days with ITV regional news programme Calendar (a former stomping ground for team stalwart Peter McNerney). Her mate Katie Lyons worked for the other side at Look North. We had a slew of students working in regional papers, including Vaishali Varu, Suzannah Rogerson and Oliver Wood. We also had students working on national papers, with a special mention for Henry Whitaker who landed a stint at the Telegraph. Several students aced it on radio, with Harry Graham and Ellie Dawson among those getting on-air experience. 

“3 weeks work experience turned into 16 months of doing the job as a local news reporter!” says Ellie.

Similar commitment has seen other BA Journalism students hitting the ground running before graduation this year. Suzannah Rogerson is a reporter on The Stray Ferret – headed up by former BBC Yorkshire boss, Tamsin O’Brien and Molly Clayton starts her traineeship with the Daily Mail in September. Molly really went for it.

“I applied for 12 graduate schemes this year and all but 1 was cancelled. I had 8 stages; 5 tests and 3 interviews to pass. They were all done virtually and from the comfort of home. I still can’t quite believe that I am going to be a reporter for the Daily Mail. It’s a dream come true. I think the journalism course provided me with the skills, confidence and self belief to pass the stages and get the job. I hope to make everyone proud and soon have my first byline. Karl, I also expect you to start buying the Mail!”

Molly is going to Edinburgh for her first month of training, so I’ve promised that I’ll buy the Scottish Daily Mail.

I haven’t even mentioned the gang of people who have told me they already have work lined up at digital agencies and in content creation.

Second years are no slouches either. Eliza Lita is already doing brilliant work as sub-editor for Meridian Mag and Oliver Bradley is aiming high and trying to secure work experience with the Wall Street Journal.

As I found in my own career – and the rest of the world is belatedly discovering – the Internet means that you can work from anywhere.

Awards Galore

As has been the case in previous years, many of our staff team were shortlisted in the Golden Robe awards including Annisa, Martina and yours truly. This year BA Journalism tutor and Postgraduate Course Director Sean Dodson joined the roll-call of winners on our team for “Best Feedback”. 

Sean wasn’t the only prize winner this year. Leed Beckett University is, for the first time while I’ve been here, a top 40 university. It excelled in the NSS results this year and rose to number 36 in the league tables. BA Journalism was very proud to regain 100% overall satisfaction from our students. That’s great for us and it’s great for you to be students on a course that employers will take seriously and look on favourably. You make the course what it is. 

To reflect that we also held our annual “End of the Course” awards for our graduating third year. These fun awards are voted for by third years, for third years. The full list was as follows:

Ray of Sunshine

Olly Wood

Hidden Hero

Shaun Turner

Best Presenter

Harry Graham

Magazine Editor

Lauren Halligan

Best Writer

Suzannah Rogerson

Political Journalist

Suzannah Rogerson

Music Journalist 

Aidan Kerr

Sports Journalism

Harry Graham

Journalist in the Making

Molly Clayton

Some of the Class of 2020 – in sunnier times

Goodbye, 2019/20

This is the first academic year where our graduating students don’t yet know their results as I write. 

What I can say is this; almost everyone on the course has achieved more under the circumstances than we could have hoped for. It was not an easy year – but we did not give up. We got knocked down, then we got back up again. And some of us also drank all the drinks in that song too.

As I say every year: to the students who are graduating we wish you all the very best of luck and ask that you please stay in touch. You will go on to adventures new and we, your course team, will be here for references (please ask first though), support if you need it and even careers advice. Once a Leeds Hack, always a Leeds Hack. You are part of our family. 

We cannot pretend that the tough times are over. The world is still struggling to cope with Covid-19 and the next academic year is going to be different again. For those of you embarking on your second or third year, all I can say is – this is not normal.

Why do I say that? I say it because there is a global and top-down push to carry on as though nothing out of the ordinary is happening. That is delusional behaviour. All we can do is our best at times like this. We should look after ourselves and each other, we should do what we can to stay healthy physically and mentally. We should be brave and kind and considerate of others, but we should never pretend that this is not hard on everyone, because it is. 

I leave you with a line of dialogue. These are serious times so, instead of Doctor Who or Bill and Ted, this comes from Shakespeare’s Henry VIII

“Things done well,
And with a care, exempt themselves from fear”.

2 Comments on "Newsletter 2020"

  1. Blimey. I’m not crying, you’re crying (as they say…). Well done to everyone for getting through the year, and congratulations to those who haven’t just got through but have got jobs or work experience in such challenging circumstances. I’ve already had professional dealings with one of you and look forward to many more to come!! And Molly, well done and good luck (I won’t be buying it but I’ll look for your name in the copy at Radio York 😉

  2. barbarahenderson | 30 July 2020 at 17:57 | Reply

    Tearing up here! Fantastic to see such brilliant NSS results and such wonderful entries into the world of work by our wonderful students. Wishing you all the best of luck – and yes, still missing you and Leeds, like mad.

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