Writing references is never a fun task. Trying to strike a balance between being sickeningly full of praise but making sure you give enough credit where its due to help someone land a job is never a quick or simple task.
But the most recent one I’ve written has been a real pleasure.
One of the things I hoped LichfieldLive would achieve once upon a time was that it might be a breeding ground for young reporters to help them bridge the gap between education and employment. A few of my students have produced pieces ad-hoc in the past, while others from institutions across the UK have contacted me to ask to get involved – although not all have followed up on that open door.
Note to students: if you’re going to ask for an opportunity, make sure you take it and deliver.
But a few months back, Lewis Deakin – a graduate from a course I’d previously taught on – approached me to get involved in some political coverage surrounding the local and general elections. Past experience meant my initial response was sceptical, particularly as his background was primarily in sports journalism. Stepping away from my natural cynicism though, his logic made sense.
With a portfolio full of football, cricket and numerous other sports, getting that first break in a weekly or regional news arena where the need to be multi-faceted was proving difficult.
Refreshingly, rather than bemoaning a lack of opportunities, Lewis decided to do something about it and that’s where LichfieldLive came in. He quite rightly saw it as an opportunity to expand his portfolio, develop his skills and ensure he didn’t get journalism ring-rust.
But most importantly, he threw himself into it armed with nothing more than my simple advice – “you come up with the ideas”.
And come up with them he did, producing stories aplenty and getting stuck in, be it going out with local activists as they tried to secure votes or asking the difficult questions to local political bigwigs.
Sure, it hasn’t been all plain sailing and Lewis will be the first to admit that he’s had a learning curve with some stories, but that’s part of the benefit of getting involved with a hyperlocal site. He’s been able to keep active and get a feel for what life will be like when that big break came along.
I’m really pleased to say it has come along. The expanded portfolio has allowed Lewis to land a full-time gig in local newspapers.
As I’ve highlighted elsewhere, the experience has allowed him to understand some of the challenges he will face but more importantly – and as Wannabehacks highlighted a few months ago – it allowed him to sell himself as a driven reporter able to sniff out a story and see it through to conclusion.
But while Lewis departing shows that my belief hyperlocal can be a career bridge for journalists, it does mean that I now need to hope others will follow his lead and fill the gap he’ll leave behind.
So what are you waiting for?