Belfast ‘News Academy’ Conference

On the afternoon of Thursday 26th November 2015, a group of Sixth Form pupils from Grosvenor were given the opportunity to partake in the inaugural ‘News Academy Conference’, held at Hazelwood Integrated College.

‘News Academy’ is an organisation which was initiated by global Media leader Rupert Murdoch to “invest in the future of journalism” and inspire the next generation of budding journalists. A group of professional journalists from the most popular newspapers in the country came together to form the panel. The speakers included: Kieran McDaid, Deputy Editor, The Irish Sun; Jason Johnson, NI Correspondent, The Irish Sun; Mark McIntosh, NI Sports Correspondent, The Irish Sun; Eithne Shortall, Arts Reporter, the Sunday Times, and John Mooney, Crime Correspondent, The Sunday Times.

The day opened with a heated debate about ‘citizen journalism’. Are those that sit with Twitter at their fingertips, who tweet tactless tweets and ‘cash in’ on the hard work of those on the front line, really journalists? Should there be barriers to freedom of speech? Are we doing enough to protect our freedom of speech as politicians are consistently trying to build barriers and implement filters across social media? Furthermore, the young journalists were keen to discuss offensive headlines and many recalled headlines which had been damaging to communities. The impact of the recent headline ‘1 in 5 Brit Muslims’ Sympathy for Jihadis’ was discussed, however, the panel was quick to defend the headline, arguing that the purpose is to grip an audience, to draw them in so that they may read the article and come to conclusions themselves. This session was summed up appropriately as, when posed the question by the panel; ‘aren't we here to protect professional journalism?’, one pupil replied ‘no, we’re here to protect fair journalism.’ Well said!

Throughout the second session, young journalists were placed into groups and given an opportunity to put forward questions to the members of the panel. Some highlights included insight from Mark McIntosh, NI Sport Correspondent from ‘The Irish Sun’ who talked about the importance of the relationship between journalists, agents and athletes.  He believes that such relationships are key and that athletes and agents rely on journalists in the same way journalists must rely on them for information.

Finally John Mooney, Crime Correspondent for ‘The Sunday Times’, recalled some very exciting events from his career, where he had uncovered serious criminal activities on the streets of Belfast and Dublin which had to be handed over to the police. He had some very profound words of advice for our budding journalists: journalism is about finding a story that people would want to read, it's about taking risks and going into sometimes dangerous and sensitive situations to gather information, then putting it together in a form which people will want to read. Real journalists are not those who hide behind computer monitors or touch screens, throwing words into the online realm which are just pointless responses to events happening in the world. Real journalists bring new information to people; they tell people things that they have never heard before. The things journalists reveal should, often, change the way people live their lives. Such words of inspiration!

In conclusion, the day provided our young journalists with some inspiration, and more importantly, some very valuable information which they can carry with them in the future. Finally, as John Mooney himself concluded, journalism is changing and is being transformed. Into what, we don’t know yet. It's up to the journalist to find their audience and bring them the information that they need and want to hear and doing what they can to make a living from it. It's not a profession; it's a vocation that you live. It's a responsibility to a public that you feel you can never escape. If you already feel that responsibility, then you are probably already a journalist.

Back row (left to right): David Calvert (U6), Nathan Thompson (U6), Aaron Fleming (U6), Matthew Beggs (U6), Molua Young (L6), Saran Monson (L6), Luke Johnston (L6), Laurie Gregory (L6), Keith Yates (L6).

Front row (left to right): Kieran McDaid (Deputy Editor, The Irish Sun), Jason Johnson (NI Correspondent, The Irish Sun), Newtown Emerson (Sunday Times Ireland columnist), Bernie Mullen (journalism tutor) and Sarah Travers (ex BBC News Broadcaster).