ERICA WILSON

Last month, a group of editors from Le Nurb hit the road for the Student Publication Association (SPA) South-East England conference held at Hertfordshire University. It was a great day meeting and networking with student editors from other university publications and listening to an interesting range of guest speakers, from how to secure a career in journalism, producing and marketing viral content and the fascinating but unknown world of data journalism.

SPA are a relatively new organisation which aims to bring student publications together to share training, advice and feedback and recognise the successes of student journalists and editors. They host regular events both nationally and on a smaller scale and is run by a committee of current university students and graduates. They also have Regional Officers, like Jem Collins for the South-East who organised and hosted the conference at Hertfordshire University.

Let’s rewind to the morning of Saturday 21st of February. It’s 8am and a group of tired, weary eyed and not yet functioning Le Nurb Nerds are climbing into a minibus ready for our long, arduous, harrowing journey all the way up the M25 to Hertfordshire. Apart from the five or so stalls before we even left campus and the stop at a petrol station in which I almost fainted with excitement at the Slush Puppy machine, we made it in one piece, thanks to Editor-In-Chief Kirsty’s driving and putting up with our shenanigans (as it turns out, we over-compensated for our tiredness with extra energy).

Upon arrival we were greeted with coffee, tea and an array of pastries - a godsend for sleepy, hungry students at 9am. We were also the most represented publication there! Most universities had sent one or two people (understandably for people coming from Essex and Portsmouth) but even Trident Media, Hertfordshire University’s media outlet, had less people than us, and they were hosting it! As well as our media overlord Kirsty, we had Eddie and Ollie, our Online Manager and Deputy Online Manager, Becky who is the Radio Brunel Online Content Manager, regular Le Nurb contributor and next year’s Media Chair and finally myself, Aidan and Teresa from Features (Bonus appearance from Charlotte, a friend who is a Hertfordshire student and contributor for their publication - she doesn’t even go here).

The first speaker was Julie Palmer, head editor for The Hertfordshire Mercury. She provided an interesting insight into local versus national press and talked about her own experience with smaller, local publications. She noted that local papers are more trusted than national ones because they gain the trust of the residents of the community that they are also a part of and “It’s about making those connections and being human”. In regards to the future of the press, she said “This is not the end of newspapers, don’t ever think this is the end, it isn’t and it’s an interesting time to get involved in media.”

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Our next speaker was Brenda Wong from StudentBeans.com who gave a talk about online publications, specifically how to attract and engage an online readership and go viral. Unfortunately, there isn’t a guaranteed formula to make your content go viral, but there are things that can help, such as when you publish articles (don’t post anything before 12pm - students won’t read it), good headlines (puns = win) and the mediums through which you broadcast your content - the more the better! Another little interesting tip: people react better to odd-number lists. Brenda had no idea why, but they’ve done the market research. Finally, When it comes to the content of articles, students and young people want to read stuff which is 1) fun 2) identity-reinforcing (eg. 17 things that all journalism students know to be true) 3) useful 4) inspirational and 5) timely.

Duarte Romero-Varela of Total Communication spoke to us next about data journalism - something many don’t know by name but read all the time! “Data is behind some of the biggest stories of our time” said Duarte, “Get the data, analyse it, find a pattern and then write about it”. Data journalism is a very unique niche but there is a growing demand for it, as many publications are launching their own data journo sections, such as The Guardian (http://www.theguardian.com/data) and you can make very interesting, or funny, findings. It doesn’t have to be serious all the time - It can be seriously funny! One example showed someone writing into an agony aunt concerned about the size of their penis, to which the agony aunt responded with data and studies into average penis lengths to reassure him he was completely normal. It really can be applied to absolutely anything!

The final speaker of the day was freelance broadcaster and journalist Laura Garcia to talk to us about life as a freelancer, it’s ups and downs and how to get into the profession. The main points she made were about how much time and dedication it takes to get into the industry - mixed with a little bit of luck - as well as networking with as many people as you can and offering yourself for unpaid internships to anyone who will listen. She laid out the realities of the industry, admitting “it’s exploitative but you have no choice” if you want to get your foot in the door, and hard work will pay off. “It’s really about going that extra mile, and if you play enough cards, something will work out - its statistics!”

SPA is hosting their third national conference (an event fabulously dubbed #SPANC15) in April and it includes the SPA Student Journalism Awards - Which Le Nurb has been shortlisted for in three categories: Best Use of Digital Media, Best Design (Newspaper) and Best Publication. The event runs from Friday 10th to Sunday 12th of April at the University of Southampton and there are options to attend the full weekend or just specific days. We’re sending a team down to (hopefully) collect some awards so keep your eyes peeled for news on that!

Check out their website for more information, including details of upcoming events, how to become a member, news stories, their awards shortlist, how to join their committee and much more!

Also follow them on Twitter @spajournalism or their Facebook