Hertfordshire and Beyond: Day 3 with the Hertfordshire Mercury

[Shelby Loasby | News Sub Editor]

“Journal of a Journalist”

The second day at the Mercury was a desk-day; I was sat behind the computer busy typing up articles and researching stories. Whilst that may not sound like a particularly exciting day, it was great experience of a normal day at the office and gave me a chance to work on my writing style.

DAY 3: Thursday 28th May

Day three was completely different. I started the day early and went out on patch with reporter Sam Meadows. He was working on a story about two long-standing local shops closing down in Waltham Abbey.

When we arrived on Sun Street we went to have a chat with the local grocers to ask them if the rumours were true. Whilst the boss was not in, an employee provided Sam with a date of closure and a contact number for the boss.

The local butchers next door was also rumoured to be shutting down and we managed to grab a few words with the manager. He told the Mercury why they were leaving, blaming it on the fact that customers would rather shop at newly opened supermarkets.

Sam Meadows - Hertfordshire Mercury
Sam Meadows | Hertfordshire Mercury – Sun Street

Shadowing Sam on his Waltham Abbey story was a great opportunity to see a journalist at work on the field. Approaching people, asking them questions that could be tricky, and obtaining a quote for the paper is essential work that does not always go smoothly.

After Sun Street, Sam drove us back to the Mercury, taking the long route so as to show me the patch he covers for the paper, including; Waltham Abbey, Hoddesdon, Cheshunt, and other surrounding areas. As we approached Cheshunt, I mentioned the story I was working on about the London Overground, which Sam saw as ample opportunity to go and talk to some members of the public.

We stopped at Cheshunt Station in the hopes of talking with some commuters about their opinions of the London Overground takeover.

Cheshunt Station | geograph
Cheshunt Station | geograph

NOTE TO SELF: Do not try to stop and talk to people whilst they are at a train station. They are too busy buying tickets and running late for trains to talk to a nervous, work experience reporter.

This was unsuccessful, so we decided to check in with the coffee shop opposite the train station. After failing at the station, I was desperate for some quotes, and approached the manager with confidence. I introduced myself, and Sam as my colleague, and started asking for his opinion on the takeover. The manager engaged, along with a regular customer in the coffee shop, and I obtained some great quotes for my story. (Luckily Sam has learned Shorthand so was able to quickly take down what they were saying whilst I asked the questions).

After a successful conversation, the manager gave us a couple of free coffees and reminded me of the perks of being a journalist – COFFEE

Coffee Meme
Coffee Meme

When we got back to the newsroom, I set myself to work on the ‘train story’. I typed up the quotes from the Cheshunt coffee shop and continued to contact various press offices and MPs; just as I had done the day before.

One of the other reporters for the Mercury, Paddy Dinham, then gave me another vox pot challenge, for next week’s paper, on the topic of Fox-Hunting. With the Hertford MP wanting to repeal the ban on Fox-Hunting, the Mercury were doing a story. My job was to go out and ask people their opinion on Fox-Hunting, along with their name, age, place of residence, and photo.

Going back out to Hertford Town for my second vox pot was daunting. It took me so long the first time, and I knew people didn’t like talking to the paper that much. However, I kept a positive attitude and approached as many people as I could. After about 40mins I had gathered 5 quotes from a range of different people.

It seemed that most people disagreed with Fox-Hunting, particularly due to their belief that foxes had a purpose, and being hunted and killed was not the reason they were on Earth. Others thought the ban should never have been lifted, as the balance of nature had been determined by hunting the ‘pests’, and banning it changed everything.

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Talking to people about their views had proved to be a skill to master. Although I had only done two vox pots, I felt like I had started to get the hang of it, and felt more confident in how to approach people on important matters.

Once I got back to the newsroom I typed up the quotes, compiled the photos and names, and sent them on to Paddy.

The Hertfordshire Mercury and the Newsroom
The Hertfordshire Mercury and the Newsroom

As it was Thursday, the Mercury’s deadlines for the week were finished and it was time for their weekly meeting. I was invited along to sit in and listen, and to also receive feedback on the latest issues of UniVerse and BlueMoon.

I had given the Mercury’s editor, Julie Palmer, copies of our ‘End of Year packs’ on day two. Julie and the Mercury team seemed to love our cheeky condoms and bottle toppers to stop drinks from being spiked. In terms of feedback, Julie was pleased with the new design of UniVerse 10 and appreciated the fact that we had taken on her criticisms and had turned the newspaper around. She also said:

“As always, I love the magazine. Keep that going. It’s fantastic.”

It goes to show that our publications are doing well and are receiving praise from industry professionals!

The meeting continued at its usual pace and saw the team reviewing their latest copies of the Midweek and the Mercury, as well as checking up on what everyone was covering. (Similar to our own Print meetings). They also discussed  who had tweeted the most, and who had written the most stories that week – a competition that appeared to have been ongoing. It was great to see the ‘office bants’ and reassuring to know that it wasn’t all just work work work.

After the meeting I went back to work on the ‘train story’  again, before sending it over to reporter Ewan Fossett to check and edit. Unfortunately my writing style did not quite match what the Mercury expected and Ewan was able to offer me some tips and advice on how to make a news story short, snappy and readable for an audience on-the-go.

The rest of the day I spent re-writing the article under Ewan’s guidance. The aim was to reduce the article from my 1000-word detailed story, into a 400-500 word bite-sized article. My work was cut out for me, and was something I would have to continue the next day.

TIP OF THE DAY: When writing a news article, ensure that the ‘Standfirst’ (first sentence), is 16-25 words long and tells the reader exactly what the tone of the article is, using active and engaging words. Also ensure that the most important information, accompanied by a quote, comes next.

It is also worth mentioning that my journey home this day was terrible. I got on the right bus at Hertford Bus Station, but it was going the wrong way. Before I knew it I had to go all the way to the end of the line at Broxbourne train station, to then come all the way back to Hertford before heading back to Hatfield. A 40minute bus journey home ended up taking almost two hours. So the second TIP OF THE DAY is:

CHECK BUSES! MAKE SURE YOU KNOW WHERE YOU ARE GOING AND WHAT YOU ARE DOING. I cannot stress this tip enough!

P.S. For any of you still following my fashion choices for work experience. How did I do on Day 3? (Please excuse the mess and the shameless mirror selfie)

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Check back in with the website tomorrow for my last installment of my week with the Hertfordshire Mercury!

If you’ve got a story to share for the Hertfordshire and Beyond blog series please email pint.editor@tridentmedia.org.

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Hertfordshire and Beyond: Day 3 with the Hertfordshire Mercury