When Hong Kong’s Financial Secretary, John Tsang Chun-wah, arrived at the Legislative Council to give his 2011 budget speech this year, JMSC students were part of the press pack.
The JMSC’s Master of Journalism Advanced Online Journalism Class covered the event, in real time, competing head to head with the professionals. Their reports, using tools such as CoveritLive and Qik, can be seen on the JMSC’s Vox Asia website and also on Twitter.
Diane Stormont, a Senior Teaching Consultant at the JMSC, instructs this class and chose the February 23 event as an opportunity for the students to experience the immediacy of live news — and show what they can do.
“The idea was to give students experience of covering a real, fast-moving news event live — as if they were working for an international news agency — using all the tools they have familiarised themselves with during their on-line courses at the JMSC,” Stormont said.
“Live coverage is incredibly challenging — it is probably the most stressful and demanding form of journalism,” she continued. “It requires concentration and focus and strong teamwork to produce an accurate, fast and rounded file.”
Zhou Ping, Shari Nijman and Mandy Lai were assigned as editors for the day. They had to decide where to deploy people, what their tasks were and to redeploy them as necessary as the event unfolded. The student-editors also assigned students to prepare fact sheets and assemble file photos and graphics in advance.
“There were two parts to our work,” said Zhou, one of the editors.
“Before the budget speech started, we had writers and editors in the Digital Media lab post instant messages on Twitter following live video and pictures, which were updated online by other classmates outside the Legislative Council.
“When the speech started, editors and writers watched the live broadcast on TV and got ready to report short stories as soon as any new policy was announced,” Zhouadded. “The outside team came back to join the reporting.”
“I was quite disoriented at the beginning, especially when there was breaking news – should I tweet it, ask a writer to blog it or just keep on watching?” said Lai, another editor.
“Having an editor who doesn’t know what to do is the worst thing in a newsroom. But later on I became better in prioritising the tasks and thing went smoothly, thanks to Diane’s guidance. I think the best part was when I saw the list of articles published on the website.”
Richard Schuster was assigned to live video input together with Holly Ip.
“With the help of Diane Stormont, we signed up for some online video streaming services, downloaded the necessary applications to our smartphones and tested if they fit the requirements of the project.”
“We eventually found qik.com that could stream video without delaying the sound for free. On the day of the budget announcement, Holly was focusing on the protesters and I was trying to get a good spot to film the arrival of the financial secretary,” he continued.
Instructor Kevin Lau was watching trends on Twitter — he had earlier chosen the #hkbudget hashtag and started the ball rolling a week or so before the budget to “embed” Vox Asia and the #hkbudget in the “Twittershphere”.
Eldes Tran and Adrian Wong served as point people for the coveritlive.com section — live blogging, sub-editing and re-tweeting, plus uploading pictures and live video coverage.
Other students were assigned as reporters, photographers, videographers and live videographers (using smartphones and qik.com) outside Legco to gauge public reaction, and as reporters, tweeters and sub-editors back at the JMSC.
Due to a lack of space at Legco, the budget speech itself was covered live off the government TV broadcast in the Digital Media Lab at the JMSC.
“It was a team effort,” said Zhou. “It was like live broadcasting. Reporters at the scene got videos, pictures and interviews; writers and editors wrapped up the material into stories. Before the event, we needed backgroud research; after the event, we needed in-depth analysis. Without teamwork, there wouldn’t have been such well-rounded, efficient budget coverage.”
“I worked in broadcast news when a mini-bus sized satellite van was needed to do a live coverage of an event,” said Schuster. “It was a unique experience to do practically the same thing while holding only a smartphone in our hands, using free software. And this was no mock event, no pretending as if we were covering something. It was the real thing.”
“It made me realise how up-to-date and ready to go you have to be as a journalist,” said Nijman, one of the editors.
“Being one of the editor really stretched my leadership skills,” she continued. “I learned that I need a lot of preparation in order to delegate to a group of people. I now know better how to prepare for such an event. Also, I realise that staying calm is the way to go when dealing with breaking news!”
Stormont was extremely pleased with the day’s achievements.
“I was deeply impressed with how quickly everyone picked up the basics of “flashing” or “snapping” important news elements as soon as Financial Secretary John Tsang uttered them,” Stormont continued. “There is a lot of skill required to hear what the speaker is saying, refine it for a quick news flash — in the shortest and most cogent form of words — and get it out accurately!”
“I was impressed by the leadership shown by the student-editors and the team-work of the reporters,” said Stormont with pride. “The coverage flowed smoothly and was comprehensive. Monitoring Twitter and other social media also helped. Public dissatisfaction became quickly apparent on Twitter before it emerged in the mainstream. It was a good story in itself and a valuable tip-off for focussing on that particular aspect of the budget.”
“Overall I must say they produced a professional file that compares — and exceeded in some cases — the files put out by the professional news media here. They should be proud of what they achieved.”