MA Data Journalism
MA Multi platform and Mobile Journalism
What have been your career highlights so far?
There have been a number of highlights over the last decade in particular. It’s been amazing to be featured on lists like Journalism.co.uk's list of leading innovators in media, and the US Poynter Institute's list of the 35 most influential people in social media, but winning the CNN MultiChoice award for a cross-border investigation into Nigerian player trafficking has to be the greatest recognition.
That story was a particular source of pride, but even more so was an investigation into the Olympic Torch Relay that involved collaborating with people in different countries, working with The Guardian, and drawing on a wide range of journalism techniques. It’s great to be able to draw on those lessons in teaching. More recently it’s been great to be involved with the formation of the BBC England Data Unit and its sister Shared Data Unit, both based here in Birmingham.
Going out of my comfort zone has often provided other highlights too: winning funding from Channel 4’s 4iP fund to set up the investigative journalism crowdsourcing site Help Me Investigate back in 2009 gave me experience of news enterprise and innovation, and I’ve organised events from JEEcamp (journalism entrepreneurship) to Data Journalism UK.
What is your favourite thing about working at Birmingham City University?
What’s great about Birmingham City University is the range of people that I get to work with – both my colleagues, and the students that are attracted to come here. With journalism becoming such a multiplatform medium it’s always great to speak to colleagues from TV or radio production, or who understand developments in web design, or can put on events. Journalists are often accused of being stuck in a bubble and I am a massive admirer of colleagues like Diane Kemp and Bob Calver who have explored ways that journalism can better represent the communities that it serves, and involved themselves in projects to further that goal.
How did you come to your current role, what have you done before Birmingham City University?
I started out in the magazine industry, first in consumer magazines and then business-to-business publishing. I had approached the university to pay some students to do some work for us when I became aware that they were looking for a new journalism lecturer, and I decided to apply. I’ve since combined my work here with work as a freelance journalist, as a publisher, and I now work one day per week at the BBC.
What do you think sets the School of Media apart from other university media departments?
The range of expertise in the school is amazing, and it’s great to be able to point students towards people with experience of tackling different editorial challenges. It’s also a critical school and one that thinks about innovation: we are not just teaching people to mimic what other reporters are doing: we are helping them to think about better ways of doing things, of how to be better journalists and how to adapt to ongoing change.
What are your main responsibilities as Course Leader?
I teach across the whole course, so students see a lot of me! And I also meet with students on a one-to-one basis to talk about their professional development. I am responsible for designing the course and continuing to update it every year as the industry develops, and I organise visits and speakers and events such as hackdays. I also field a lot of approaches from news organisations wanting to work with students – it’s always exciting to get students working on a live project and to see the results going out live.
What are your specialist areas of expertise?
I’ve been writing about online journalism for almost 15 years now, which is a long time in this field! And I particularly specialise in data journalism.
What are your research interests?
I’ve written on a number of areas including surveillance and security, and ethics in data journalism, but most recently I have been particularly interested in the potential of artificial intelligence in journalism.
What can prospective students look forward to most when they join your course?
They can expect to be taken out of their comfort zone! I hope that students enjoy the freedom to experiment on the course, while also learning that they could do things they never knew they were capable of! Often students discover they enjoy an aspect of the job they never expected, and of course they often build long-lasting friendships and experiences they often talk about years later!
What are your top tips for students thinking about joining your course?
Be curious. Get as wide a range of experiences as you can. Don’t give up.
Why do you think it’s important to study a MA?
With the industry facing a prolonged period of change, and a competitive jobs market, it’s particularly important to stand out from the crowd. An MA isn’t just about a piece of paper – it’s one of those rare opportunities to produce amazing work, to build relationships and reputations, and to think about how you want to help shape the future of journalism. An MA graduate doesn’t just replicate what came before; they change what comes next.
What do you believe it takes to work in the media industry?
Passion. It might be passion about giving a voice to the voiceless, or finding new ways to reach and engage audiences; it might be a passion for digging up stories or for shining a spotlight on issues that need to be talked about. It might be a passion for storytelling, or a passion for holding power to account. But it’s the passion that carries you through, and makes you happy with what you do for a job.
(Image credit to Dawood Hilmandi)