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Brighton Journalist Works student Taylor Geall learned a great deal about writing when his Argus page three story was turned into a feature in The Independent.
The finalÂ third of my NCTJ is closing in on me this week, and as per usualÂ I was keeping my head down and climbing the steepÂ learning curve that is a fast-track diploma when I walked head first into a cliff face.
Here’s what happened.
I’ve blogged about it here before, but the first story I wrote for the Argus was about a Brighton-based illustrator who was reimagining the Argus’s famous billboards from the newsagent beneath his flat.
VOMITING BUG SHUTS HOSPITAL was the billboard that sparked the whole thing. He drewÂ this. You get the idea.
Anyway, I wrote a bog-standard, run-of-the-millÂ newsÂ piece (mistake no.1).
It wasn’t a bad piece. It featured phrases like: “The images have received praise from more than 1,000 people”, and “Mr Bloodâ€™s illustrations can be found on his Instagram”‘, which was fine, because – and here’s what I’ve learned –Â that’s what news sounds like.
Boring, right? Wrong. The Argus news desk loved it.
Within 30Â seconds of me mentioning it to them they had booked one of theirÂ photographers to go and getÂ a better photo. A few days later it appeared on page three.
I was over the moon, obviously. Week number two (or three) and I was on page three of the Argus. “Congratulations on your story, by the way”, people were saying.Â I thought my job was done (mistake no.2).
A few days after the story was published the artist I had interviewed contacted me and said that someone from the Independent was interested in doing a story on him off the back of my story.
“Great”, I said.Â One of the nationals is running with my story, I thought.
Jack Mills was the freelance journalist who wrote the piece for the Independent. I had clipped the story with my trowel; Mills had hired in archeologists and a JCB and made the story saleable – something a newspaper might pay for.
Mr MillsÂ had urged Blood to run an exhibition on the sketches, upon which he would hang his feature.
He interviewed Anna Carlson who runs a Flickr groupÂ based on the Argus’s billboards; he interviewed people involved with the billboards, Martin Cooper and Kate Parkin.
Essentially, Mills dug up everything interesting that I had missed.
He wrote phrases like, “the sometimes dark, mostly hilarious, news billboards of Brighton newspaper The Argus are as famous in the seaside city as its molar-shattering rock candy or rusty arcades”, and “known for their sexed-up six-word soundbites, the A-boards seen outside local newsagents have been the subject of Buzzfeed listicles, short films, dedicated Facebook groups”.
That sort or writing is exactly what news writingÂ doesn’tÂ sound like.
My mistake was in not realising that this story had feature potential.
We are here learning anonymous news copy – which has its place – and I mistakenly applied that writing style to something that had much more potential as a feature.
Mills’s article is really cool, really interesting – and it’s taught me a metric ton of a lesson.
Double, noÂ triple-check that the story you’re working on doesn’t have something much more interestingÂ buried beneath it.