Parliamentarians and writers give students the benefits of their expertise during five-day course.

Published (Updated )

BBC Radio 4 Today programme presenter Nick Robinson was among the star turns to speak to master’s degree students from City’s Department of Journalism during a week-long course.

Former Leader of the Labour Party Lord Kinnock, Scottish National Party Leader at Westminster Ian Blackford MP, and top political journalists Christopher Hope and Tim Shipman also gave students various pearls of wisdom from their time spent in Westminster.

Students from MA Newspaper JournalismMA Interactive Journalism and MA Magazine Journalism enjoyed a packed programme of speakers across the week.

Other political and journalist figures to feature across the course of the week included: George Parker, Political Editor of The Financial TimesTracey Crouch MPThe Guardian’s Defence and Security Editor Dan Sabbagh; Sky News Political Correspondent Kate McCannPolitico’s Jack Blanchard and Kate DayBuzzFeed Political Editor Emily Ashton and The Independent’s Political Sketch Writer Tom Peck.

Former ITN and BBC political analyst David Cowling also gave insights into local government, while Boris Johnson’s former Director of Communications Guto Harri pitched in with insider tales from his time assisting the UK Prime Minister during his time as Mayor of London.

A crash-course in political journalism

The Political Headlines course is an important component of the MA journalism programme. It runs twice a year and is organised by Barney Jones, the former editor of Breakfast With Frost and The Andrew Marr Show, now a Visiting Professor in the Department of Journalism at City.

While much of the course took place at City, the third day was spent entirely at Westminster.

Twenty students were treated to a breakfast briefing with MP for Chatham and Aylesford Tracey Crouch and Daily Mirror Associate Editor Kevin Maguire, before being joined by the rest of their coursemates for packed schedule of talks and Q&A sessions.

What they said

A selection of the insights that guest speakers gave to students across the week:

  • Nick Robinson on finding stories on social media: “Twitter induces laziness; it’s not good for journalism. Get out there. Go and talk to people. The only time someone will tell you something they shouldn’t is when you have built a relationship with them.”
  • Tim Shipman on writing something that could damage a useful contact: “Sometimes if you write things someone doesn’t like, they will come and ‘love bomb’ you. This doesn’t always work, but it does sometimes. It’s a strange psychology co-dependency that you have to build with your contacts.”
  • Guto Harri on alcohol-based networking as a news-gathering tool: “Go to the House of Commons terrace bar – observe the ‘wildlife’ in their natural habitat! A lot of drinking worked for me. You break down barriers and share stuff.”
  • Kate Day on Politico’s niche: “We spot gaps, how to tell stories in different ways. Think to yourself: who is going to be reading this and what do they need?”
  • Jack Blanchard on his modus operandi: “I have to imagine I’m writing [The London Playbook] for just 100 people – the Prime Minister, national newspaper editors, and so on. It’s not about how many, but more about who. I knew if I could get that select group of people to read it, the rest would follow.”
  • Christopher Hope on story sourcing: “There’s a lot of news in history. Get to know archives – they can yield interesting things.”
  • David Cowling on the London ‘bubble’: “Until we Londoners address our arrogance, we won't have a hope of understanding what's going on elsewhere in the country.”

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