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03 March 2013

Change for the Better. Eventually.

Change happens, whether we like it or not.

The commercial radio industry has changed beyond recognition from the 'ILR' of the 80s. 
Television has changed even more; if I'd told my grandma that one day we'd have a choice of several hundred channels on a TV as big as our dining table she'd have called me a "daft 'aporth".

Behind the scenes some of the biggest changes have taken place in the broadcast newsroom, and this was reflected in Leeds Trinity's 5th annual Journalism Week.

For the first time we had to put into practice the ideal of multimedia newsgathering using -tada- the Apple iPhone 5. And there's a tale to that.

Way back last November my course faced a problem.

For several years we've been using Flashmics for teaching radio. They're generally robust but, as industry folk will be aware, the HHB Flashmic has been discontinued and we can no longer obtain replacements when our charges drop them, throw them at dangerous dogs or put them in a washing machine (all of which have happened to loan kit over the years). The stock was getting low.

We tried various alternatives, none of which were satisfactory, and then noticed that an iPhone 5 cost less than a Flashmic. Light dawned. Why buy a device that will only record audio when, for less, we can buy a device that not only records audio and video but also allows us to upload from any location with a 3G signal and do the necessary interaction on social media?

So we decided to follow the iPhone route. Making change happen in higher education requires strong arguments, persistence, ingenuity and not a little cunning. Once the various powers that be were convinced of the logic of the proposal we set about sourcing the kit.

Problem: as soon as a salesperson hears the word 'University' it translates in their profit-driven brain to 'cash cow'; they stop dealing and instead read the ratecard at me (are you reading this Vodafone, Carphone Warehouse, Fones4You et al?). We finally struck a deal with O2, who then took two weeks to actually deliver the units. So add 'patience' to the list of necessary qualities.

That's when the fun starts. It's one thing to believe in new ways of working in principle. It's quite another to put them into practice.

Tutor me believes passionately in keeping our trainees at the cutting edge. Radio me worries about getting good audio, reliably, on a real story and getting it out. I don't want the technology getting in the way of the reporting. And boy oh boy does the technology distract from the story when that technology is new, not only to the students but to the tutors leading them.

So, to be truthful, I didn't go into the new iPhone world willingly. I've never taught from the textbook and I've despised the teachers who do. My radio course is taught from two decades of field experience, not from a library.

I've never used an iPhone in the field. So I found a man who has, frequently.

I'm very grateful to Nick Garnett who gave up his lunchtime on a day off to record a Skype chat with me on how he uses the device to deliver a week's worth of production, ready for transmission, whilst on the plane flying back from a European assignment. Nick's website is a goldmine of information on using the kit.

It was also nostalgic to record that Skype conversation, for technical reasons I'll not bore you with, in a cupboard. Some of my best work 'in the day' was recorded in the news booth rammed behind the IRN racks in the newsroom at Pennine ... but that's a story for another time.

So fired up with enthusiasm from Nick, and with excellent guidance and not a little prodding from my valued colleagues Lisa Bradley and Lindsay Eastwood, the day dawned and the Class of '13 set out to report the events of Journalism Week.

You can see the results here.

Journalism Week

I think they did an excellent job, and it will be easier for both trainees and staff next year building on the experience from this year's exercise. And think how exciting it is to be in at the start of something new.

Change might be scary. It might pull us out of our comfort zones and expose weaknesses we'd prefer were hidden from students, from colleagues, from ourselves. But change in news is happening, and it's going to happen even faster.

The trainees who battled last week with a cutting edge iPhone 5 will one day look back on the kit with the same nostalgia my generation feels for the Uher Report 4000 or the Canford Audio MiniDisc 'brain in a box'.

Because change can also be exhilarating. It's inevitable in news. So we might as well get used to it.

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