Interactive media

Janet Murray observes aspiring journalists dealing with the day to day newsroom pressures on a leading Newcastle newspaper

Thanks Superman for your efforts as journalist by day, international superhero by night - very glamorous. So it's hardly surprising that journalist - after footballer and pop star - is a top career choice for young people. But while it might not be easy to advise your upcoming Beckhams and Britneys, an exciting new initiative in Newcastle is giving children the chance to find out what journalism is all about.

The Newcastle Chronicle and Journal's Newsroom is purpose-built to provide state-of-the-art facilities for media in education. Opened earlier this year, it is part-funded by Northumberland Education Business Partnership and Tyne and Wear Education Business Link Organisation.

The facility can accommodate a class of up to 35 pupils from key stages 2, 3 and 4. It is the latest addition to the educational programme run by the paper that includes educational visits to the newsroom and a range of teaching materials tailored to meet the needs of the literacy and numeracy strategies.

The newsroom is run by Kay Thompson, who has more than 25 years of newspaper experience to offer. "We were doing an increasing amount of work with schools, conducting educational tours and working with teachers to produce suitable educational materials," she explains. "It seemed like a natural step to develop ICT resources that would allow students to develop media products in work related environments." Kay Thompson is assisted by media teacher Nina Jakeman, who previously taught English at secondary level.

"When I taught in a school, I loved the interaction with the students, but disliked the way that some students were so negative about learning," she says. "It's so different at the newsroom. The children love hearing a new voice and they're interested in the media and its potential. Many schools just don't have the resources for them to explore this."

The newsroom is bright, modern and clearly designed with children in mind; the room is spacious and workstations are well-positioned so that pairs of children can follow step-by-step instructions on the interactive whiteboard. Fully equipped for disabled use, the newsroom has wheelchair access, toilet facilities and a raised workstation specially designed to fit a wheelchair - in use on the day I visited the newsroom.

I attended a full-day session, led by Nona Jakeman, for Year 6 pupils from St Charles' RC Primary School in Gosforth. Before their visit, the children had been briefed by newsroom staff and arrived with newspaper articles drafted in school time.

The students had also compiled their own picture list and sent photographs to be published alongside their articles. At 9.30am, they were briefed on what the day would involve and a deadline was set. This was met with a collective gasp - by 3pm, each pair of students must produce a full colour A3 page, featuring their articles, pictures and headlines.

Having set the challenge, Jakeman introduced the children to the Goodnews III system - currently used by the Newcastle Chronicle and Journal's newsroom - which they would use to design and lay out their page, enabling them to gain experience of a range of journalistic roles.

Using the interactive whiteboard, Jakeman gave step-by-step instructions for setting up a page and inputting text. Thirty minutes later, the children were working towards their first deadline: inputting their own news stories. Next, she talked about the function of headlines, subheadings and bylines and demonstrated how to put them on the page.

Then came the tricky bit - importing pictures. With the deadline looming closer, instructions had to be brief, but after a reluctant lunch, the children returned to the newsroom and began importing, laying-out and resizing pictures with the confidence of professionals.

By 2.45pm the newsroom was buzzing and there was mayhem, as children finished their pages and rushed to the printer to check them. 3pm: mission accomplished. Each child left the newsroom with a professional-looking colour page, thrilled at what they had achieved. "I can't wait to show my mum," said one child. "It's just like being a real journalist," exclaimed another.

Their class teacher, Audrey Dickenson, was equally impressed. "This has been an excellent opportunity for the children to practice literacy and ICT skills in work situations. It's given their writing a purpose and they've had to work under pressure - just like real reporters. They were so eager - many didn't even want to stop for lunch!"

She is not alone in her views. "The response from teachers has been brilliant," says Kay Thompson. "At the end of the session, we ask teachers to complete an evaluation form and the comments have been so encouraging."

And although a visit to the newsroom can offer routes into English, ICT and media studies, it not just about satisfying the national curriculum. "Ultimately, we hope to encourage students to read newspapers and take an interest in the media," she explains. "We also hope that some will go on to pursue careers in journalism." Step aside Superman. You've got competition.

To book the newsroom, or for more information, contactKay Thompson Tel: 0191 209 1494 Email: kay.Thompson@ncjmedia.co.uk

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