My great experience working with Press Association news agency

We all rely on the media to keep up to date with the society and the world. With a plethora of every day information flooding towards us, how do traditional news media continue to act as ‘information gatekeepers’ to provide us with accurate, instant and topical issues for discussions and decision-making?

One way mainstream media outlets like the BBC and the Guardian will get their stories from Newswire agencies. They provide multimedia contents and services to agencies to tell stories. Some of the more recognisable agencies include Reuters and AFP.

As for the UK, the leading national news provider is Press Association (PA). The agency provides content ranging from national news, parliament, crime, sport, entertainment to feature. The agency also has local newsrooms across the UK to produce local contents.

As part of my work placement, I spent one week with PA News in London and unveiled the excitement of working in a newsroom.

On the first day of my placement, I arrived at 8.30am to do my registration at the reception. When I got my first step into the newsroom, I saw countless computers with Tweetdeck on, running with lots of incoming tweets. The news team was having an editorial meeting. I was assigned with a seat with two computer screens and a small TV screen shared with the colleague sitting next to me. I felt incredible to be one of them, monitoring countless information flowing from anywhere.

On my second day, I was assigned to shadow a court reporter to report a pre-trial of three men who were accused of being part of the proscribed neo-Nazi group, National Action. I was reminded of contempt laws and court reporting skills which I had learned from my degree. This was my first time sitting in a court case with lots of other media outlets attending. And the report from PA was used on several media platforms:

Every day, I had new stories to follow. On Wednesday, which is the weekly most exciting day in the House of Commons, I was lucky enough to attend the Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs). The 30-minute meeting is one of the main sources for political news.  PA has its own newsroom which is closed to the press gallery on the second floor of the House of Commons. I was shadowing four parliamentary news reporters. Each of them had a shorthand notebook while seated in the press gallery. They came in and out during the meeting so that they could write up the stories as quick as possible. The PMQs started at 12pm and, by 2pm, the team had produced seven stories and published on the wire. The speed they can produce copy astonishes me and I realised how professional journalists are about their work.

On Thursday, I followed another news reporter to report the first public inquiry of the Grenfell Tower fire. Those who lost their home in this tragedy gathered in Notting Hill Methodist Church to listen the live streaming. The reporter and I set up a video camera outside the church and waited for the victims to come out. Our aim was to capture the reactions of the attendees and talk to victims about how they felt after the first inquiry. There were journalists ranging from ITV, AFP, BBC Radio 5live, the Irish Times and some online media. When people started to leave the church, different journalists started to approach them. I was confused at the scene as I didn’t know who I should approach. Some people looked distressed and some of them looked angry. The reporter reminded me never take pictures or video a person if they are not willing to talk to you, but find those who would like to express their concerns to the wider public. I also met a freelance PA camera producer at the scene who had been following the whole story from the start. So, he recognised the victims and the spokesperson for the group. When some victims saw him, they just told him how they felt about the inquiry.

Journalism is about trust. Journalism is about bringing the right voice to the wider public and create a platform for discussion. If those you want to talk to refuse to be interviewed, you should leave them alone and avoid putting them in the public spotlight.

My final day in the newsroom ended with the Parsons Green London tube bombing. It started at 8.30am. The editor shouted out that there was a breaking story at Parsons Green station. A reporter was called to go to the scene to report what was happening. I was stayed in the newsroom, monitoring twitter posts, BBC breaking news and the Sky news channel. There were lots of criticisms about journalists asking to use the picture of the bomb in a white bucket tweeted by a passenger without showing any care of the passenger’s safety. I witnessed the “twitter race” on my computer and I kind of have the same feeling. As a news outlet, why doesn’t the newsroom send a journalist to verify the picture? Why don’t they take a video on their own or interview people at the scene? But, on the other side, I understand that news outlets are competing for gaining instant content and social media is a great way to do that.

For further thoughts? I think it will make this article too long to read. So, this was my eye-opening week with PA. I would say I have earned a great experience working with front-line journalists to gain original news content for the country. From now on, I am paying even more respect to professional journalists sorting out every day information for us. And, hopefully, I could be one of them, working hard and gaining trust from people.

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