During the period from October 2018 till the time of the submission of this critical project, I filled the role of an editorial assistant and writer at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Student Magazine, Aah! Magazine. What follows is my account of the process, from day one on wards, each step of the way, from my first attempt to edit, to briefing ideas for a new issue and writing my own set of articles. What I aim to achieve is an in depth reflective account of my process and development as an editorial assistant and writer, which exists in the format of WordPress as a demonstration of my ability to use the programme effectively due to my time at Aah! Magazine, with the outcome being a reflective portfolio piece which exists in the style of a publication or set of articles. What contains within is published work by my self, accompanied with relevant images, as well as reflections upon the processes of editing, briefing, writing, researching and running and presenting workshops.
Beginnings: Establishing a role
My initial introduction to my role as an editorial assistant for Aah! Magazine began with a necessary and vital thought process: What are my aims, and most importantly, how am I going to achieve those aims? The media industry and particularly writing, about things I hold passion for, and things I hold an ignorance for due to my motivations to learn, has always been a desire I’ve wanted to pursue, and thus this opportunity to undertake a placement as an editorial assistant made sense on both a personal and logical level as I looked forward to life after university and the prospect of potential careers. Despite my strong interest, and slight experience in which I researched and hosted a a student radio show during my first year, I was mostly new to some of the procedures and dynamics that went into producing and running a magazine as well the website with which it co-exists.
Ultimately then, in response to my critical project brief, my aims were to successfully fulfil the role of an editorial assistant, and prove and establish my self to undertake several different skills within a particular work-like environment. The role would allow me to learn new skills across a wide range of practices, ranging from the processes of editing, writing, briefing and researching amongst others. In terms of my own experience, I had written the rare article in the past for friends blogs in free time, but this experience and environment was essentially raw for me. It was thus important for me to establish a set of goals, consisting of: Gaining first hand experience editing and publishing articles coinciding with deadlines, writing and researching my own pieces covering a wide range of subjects and forms (such as the opinion piece, interview and review), and briefing ideas for future feature ideas and themes surrounding the magazine’s seasonal print release.
Establishing a role made sense in making my first step into the process of implementing my self into the role and the magazine in the most natural and smooth way as possible. To do this, I had to make my self familiar with the magazine and various components, both in terms of content and the formats it exists on. I explored the magazine’s website, familiarised myself with it’s different areas and began to reflect in the initial stages of the placement. It was important, I felt, to specialise in an area which interested me, in order to produce the highest and most passionate quality of content, and, on the other hand, it felt important to explore areas I felt slightly in the dark with, in order to push my self as an individual and learn a new set of skills and ways of writing. So, I opted to edit and respond mainly to the creative and culture sections, with culture also covering the areas of TV, film and literature which comes under the category of ‘creative’.
Overall, this was another significant choice to make. I reflected upon my own interests and passions, which are deeply rooted in creative writing and the creative industries, and thus chose to pursue the editorial role focusing on the creative sections, with this naturally overlapping into the cultural sections also.
Already I began to notice areas in which I could improve these particular sections of the magazine, but firstly, it was important to learn the basics of editing to install at the very least a foundational sense of the skills and requirements needed to edit a wide range of articles to the appropriate standard. Before writing my first piece, I began to research the basic principles of writing in journalism, most notably the journalistic triangle. This is a basic but important principle and skill which I was eager to master quickly in order to get my position as an editor and writer underway as quick as possible. This meant firstly, understanding from a somewhat theoretical perspective, each component of the triangle. This was largely learnt through editorial exercises assigned to me by Natalie (Head Editor), in which I was given fake articles, purposely written and arranged to be flawed, with the challenge of rewriting and rearranging a piece in order to further cement a natural and instinctive set of skills for editing and writing going forward.
Writing: My First Steps Into The Reality Of Journalism
Once I had come accustomed to Aah! Magazine in terms of it’s goals and culture, and had began to understand the publishing and editing procedures and expectations, I became eager to begin to plan my first piece. After all, the role of of an editorial assistant requires a constant input of one’s own pieces to keep specific sections of the magazine and website flowing with engaging topics and discussions. This, at first, was difficult.
With so much going on in the world, one would think to conjure up an idea for an article would be an easy thought process. What I found though, was difficulty in trying to talk about something which was original, or at least fairly new. In an age in which topics like Brexit and Donald Trump seem to saturate our media consciousnesses to an almost desensitising level, I felt inclined, at least for my first piece, to write about something original and engaging to really give something to the magazine and open up interesting debates. As previously stated, the magazine’s ethos is enriched in the exploration of culture and notions of debates in our ever-changing society, and it was this ethos I really wanted to tap into and get behind.
Being interested in the media and journalism industries, I am naturally watching a lot of TV, specifically documentaries. It was through this that I read about Louis Theroux’s new series ‘Altered States’, in which he explores several parts of America, focusing on controversial issues such as poly-amorous relationships and assisted dying. Immediately, I began to think about the way in which assisted dying, whilst having a rich history in terms of debate, shapes our culture today and how this tells us bigger things about humanity and how we all live differently in terms of culture in relation to the concept of death. This, I reflect, was my first real milestone in my journey as an editorial assistant. It was my first experience of thinking deeply about an engaging idea for an article, and thus engaging with the requirements of thoroughly editing a piece. This meant closely analogising the syntax, looking carefully for grammatical errors and making sure my writing fitted into the mould of the journalistic triangle. Being An English student, this process was not a new one, and it became, over time, a matter of practice in terms of improving my editing skills to the level of requirement for the magazine.
This article below, presents the finished product, which was published on the Aah! Magazine website.
LOUIS THEROUX’S ALTERED STATES: THE ETERNAL DEBATE OF CHOOSING WHEN TO DIE
Louis Theroux is back again with his second series of Altered States (BBC 2), to poke his curious perspective into the ever unique and varied states of America. After last week’s episode, which focused on the rise of poly-amorous relationships, the tone has slightly darkened and shifted towards a debate which is one of the most difficult and controversial in contemporary society.
Death is something which is often kept at arm’s length in the larger consciousness of humanity for the most part, and it’s this powerful piece of documentary which has reminded me of this fact, and will do for many viewers, as Theroux resists to turn away from hard truths in the most professional, journalistic and most significantly; human, way possible.
There are now six states in the US which offer the terminally ill the option of ending their lives with a prescription of a cocktail of drugs. Louis’s focus begins in California, where he visits terminally ill Gus who is suffering from Stage 4 pancreatic cancer and has recently been given six months to live. California is one of the more recent states to adopt the law, which states that the individual in question must be terminally ill, of sound-mind and strong enough to administer their own prescribed dose.
Gus therefore qualifies for the procedure, and his intention to end his life of his own accord should make sense for the majority of people. Why endure further suffering? Why delay the inevitable? Gus is resting at home in his final days, surrounded by his family and thus it makes sense to end his life before enduring any unnecessary suffering. His situation is upsetting, but from a purely logical stand point, it seems morally suitable to allow someone to prevent themselves from further suffering and to bow out with dignity.
Louis is told that approaching death has always been a personal philosophy of Gus, and that he “would not die of suffering.” Rather than this decision being about death, to me it seems rather about one’s personal life, and a sense of choice and self-respect. He tells Louis the law “needs to be more socially acceptable,” and he hopes that documenting his experience will encourage this.
The footage filmed just after Gus takes the drugs that will end his life are both upsetting and moving in equal power. It shows the procedure to be peaceful, in which Gus was surrounded by his loved ones and enters a gradual deep sleep. No suffering. This particular, individual example of this law in action seems ethically suitable and difficult to make a case against.
But, just how far can this go? In the example shown of Deborah, 65, here is a person who is going to end her life despite not suffering for a life-threatening illness. She is wheelchair-bound after a serious car accident and is suffering from dementia-like symptoms. A group who call themselves ‘Exit Guides’ are helping her in ending her life.
They are protected by free speech laws and do not cross the line of assisting in suicide. They instead help by instructing clients each step of the procedure, and the client is required to have bought their own equipment.
The clear issue here, is one concerning extent. Should it really be within law to let someone end their own life with prescribed drugs because they personally feel they want to? If there are no apparent life-threatening illnesses, things become more complex, and a slippery slope emerges. It is less clear-cut to observe than Gus’s case.
I walked away from this documentary with one thing clear in my mind: This is the individual’s decision. Not you, nor I, but theirs. As Deborah tells Louis, “This is happening to me, not you.” Her decision is by no means easy, as she informs Louis, and a level of respect must be granted to her decision, regardless of legal stand points.
The documentary didn’t make me swing one way or another. Instead, it makes sense to prevent a human being’s further suffering, but as shown in the case of Deborah, things can start to get more complex in terms of how much control we legally give to all individuals over their own death.
What Theroux has done so effectively though, is remind to us that death is something we should address and debate thoughtfully, rather than lock in a box until the time comes.
Initially, I was slightly nervous about tackling this issue, in the way that Theroux does with both journalistic and human integrity but I found my self eventually being inspired by these attributes. I began the process of writing this piece unsure of it’s format. It began as a vague report or review type piece but one that was mainly summarising the show’s content and narrative. This being my first article, it was important to establish an idea of how an opinion piece, which is what it eventually ended up existing as, could look like and be formatted like in other publications. Naturally, I looked to some obvious inspirations, such as the media company Vice, (a specific example I was inspired by below), which tend to be drawn to the same controversial issues that Theroux does and thus the same issues I found my self tackling.
During my research of other types of articles, it came apparent that there often was a style surrounding these types of controversial subjects which allow for a blend of opinion and factual styles of writing. I felt inspired by this way of writing, as it felt natural to me personally to write with a level of personality and voice. After previously learning things like the journalistic triangle and participating in editing activities assigned to me by the Head Editor, Natalie, I was at a point where I understood particular conventions and forms of journalistic writing on a basic level, but was now beginning to develop my own voice to an extent, thus feeling significantly more confident in my writing and editing skills.
As you can view in the finished piece above, my published article addresses all those foundational skills I learned in my initial introduction to my role as an editor. I managed to successfully implement the journalistic triangle, a method which draws the reader in and engages them as quickly as possible with the content in question, by referring to the fact Theroux has returned for a new series and a quick summary of the issue in question (assisted dying), I then offer a broader context of the issue in contemporary society today, then describe key parts of the documentary that make sense in terms of giving a sharp overview of the documentary’s main content and the issues it raises in relation to the opinion elements of my piece. This, in principle with the journalistic triangle, allows me to draw the reader in with the most significant and relevant information in terms of what the piece is aiming to get across to its audience. In this case then, I successfully began achieve a natural feel for the way in which articles of this style, (report/opinion) should be written and formatted. Once the facts have been established to the reader, this then allowed me to adopt a voice, one that I was conscious of not sounding overly commanding, but rather a suggestive one that poses profound and complex questions about the issues surrounding assisted dying explored in the documentary.
Details are always important, but they felt even more significant due to the serious nature of the issue at hand. This, I learned to be incredibly important during my larger critical research surrounding the process of publishing articles and editing, as noted in Magazine Publishing: In Print and Online, ‘Feature writing and personal columns allow for more subjectivity and opinion. But they should still be based on accurate facts, not least for legal reasons.’ (Bradshaw, Morrish, 2012). This critical, important trope about this particular type of article was important for me to understand, as it made me realise the professional standards to which I needed to research, write and edit within a real magazine environment. What makes this even more important in my development, is the fact it allowed me to develop as an individual personally in terms of acting professionally within this particular work-like environment, thus making me ever more confident and skill-equipped for future employment within particular media and publishing industries. This professional nature of being sure of facts surrounding the content of articles, such as the legal details surrounding assisted dying such as my reference to the free speech laws which protect those who aid the process of those whom desire to end their own lives, was thus cemented in me from a skills perspective, not only because of the critical material I had read and researched but also because I had successfully carried out the research, writing and editing stages of my first piece with a professional awareness.
From an editorial perspective, and looking at Aah! Magazine’s themes and audience in general, the article suited the style and subjects desired by a student based, cultural magazine as, from both personal experiences and the high number of Louis Theroux related articles in student-led publications and websites like The Tab, it became clear to me that Louis Theroux is popular among the student community, due to the serious nature of the subjects he explores mixed with his unique and often humorous presenting style. An example of a source material I discovered when researching the type of subjects and audience trends often explored in other student-based publications might be best exemplified in a piece featured in The Tab titled A love letter to Louis Theroux by Marie-Elise Worswick. (Click on link below to view the article).
The tone of the article, I noticed, was largely humour-based and lighthearted, effectively just describing the likeable attributes of his presenting and journalistic style, lines like ‘Just imagine introducing you to the parents – they couldn’t help but fall in love with you.’ (Insert) encapsulate this tone. Rather than be completely inspired by this tone, I opted, as I naturally came across Theroux’s latest documentary exploring a serious issue, to recognise a subject, or rather person, who is popular among student trends and culture and devise a different kind of piece which combined elements of the report and opinion style of articles.
I felt the observations I was making in terms of thinking of ideas for pieces which align with the magazine’s primary themes (culture) and tapping into student audience trends, whilst also getting them to think and debate about a serious and complex issue like assisted dying in an academic environment was an effective experience. Upon reflection, I feel as if this was a moment in which I effectively researched the appropriate audience trends, incorporated my new knowledge of journalistic conventions and added my own original stamp upon my piece in terms of using a student trend to then focus attention upon a serious cultural issue like assisted dying, in a way which ultimately makes this particular issue more accessible and more likely to be read by Aah Magazine’s audience.
Responding to the Call: YES
The call for submissions for the creation of the Spring issue for 2019 was very simple, yet, upon further thinking, complicated. The brief, created before my initial introduction to Aah! Magazine, was focused on the theme of the word or the notion of ‘Yes’, or alternatively ‘No’. What do these words represent? How do they function today in our society? Various ideas were included in the call for submissions, suggesting themes such as consent, an issue which is obviously incredibly important in our contemporary society. It was just as I was in deep thought about an original piece surrounding the notion of ‘Yes’ when an original idea came to me quite naturally, whilst playing a video game, but not just any video game, Red Dead Redemption 2, a narrative experience which I immediately felt was important to talk about and complimented the theme of the issue effectively and most importantly in an original and engaging way.
I view the gradual formation of this piece as a turning point for me upon reflection. Like my first published piece, blending opinion and factual elements in exploring Louis Theroux’s documentary and a sensitive subject, the idea arrived organically, but the difference on this occasion was the fact that I managed to implement this organic experience within the theme of the Spring issue of Aah! Magazine in relation to it’s thematic content and the idea of ‘Yes’ in a original way. I began, in the research stages of the piece, to think abstractly about notions of morality within our society and how it shapes us as humans. My individual experience I had recently had with Red Dead Redemption 2 had struck me with such power, I’d played through a narrative experience that, for the first time, truly made me question my own morality, in terms of a new experience of having to make complex moral decisions in a world created with a impressive but scary similarity to our own. But where to take this idea?
I began to research, not only by replaying the narrative experience so I could pinpoint significant moments for a piece which only had a five hundred word approx word count limit (Include part about different skill of writing within a smaller word count due to nature of piece being submitted for a print issue), but in reading various articles I could find exploring similar issues like the concept of morality in the video game experience. It was one particular article, by Lana Cindric, titled The Moral of the Story: how video games shape our morals, which gave me creative inspiration for my piece. In the piece, Lana explores the way in which she feels video games have questioned her own morality or at least had some kind of profound effect on her.
A line which became of great inspiration for me in this early research stage, in terms of pinpointing the theme of my piece, was as she rather profoundly reflects that, ‘I’d be lying if I didn’t say that there were quite a few times when I questioned the choices I’ve made in a video game, often stopping and thinking about who I am as a person.’ (INSERT REFERENCE). This reflection and the concept it proposed concerning morality and the narrative experience effecting the player became the life of my piece. Thus, as I began to write the piece, I simply played the narrative experience and jotted down my personal, emotional responses to any significant choices I had to make.
I realised in the research stage, after being inspired by Cindric’s article, that the age old universal problem of human morality was impossible to resist as an engaging response to the idea of saying ‘Yes’ or respectfully ‘No’. From the perspective of a creative editor, in which I cover and manage now just creative submissions such as poetry and short stories, but other examples of narrative and beyond in contemporary society, this felt perfect. Not only was the article of an extremely contemporary nature, with the title being recently released, but the issues and questions explored in the piece were topical, applicable to all of us as human beings, and fitted perfectly within the Spring issue’s brief surrounding the notion of ‘Yes’.
YES OR NO? RED DEAD REDEMPTION 2: THE FIRST NARRATIVE EXPERIENCE THAT CAUSED ME TO FEEL MY CHOICES
Galloping through the heartlands of America in the late 1880s, I stumble upon a hunter who has met the misfortune of trapping his leg in a bear trap. His cries for help cause me to stop and, for a moment, it feels as if my brain is responding to a real person. I was in a rush to reach another destination to undertake a story mission, but I felt an obligation to help. I was captured in the illusion of a real situation. Later in the game, I bumped into this same individual who stopped to thank me. It was then I realised the narrative and world I was in was organic and responsive and my decisions, for the first time, seemed important.
This is Rockstar’s new western-epic Red Dead Redemption 2 and is the first time I’ve experienced guilt, emotion and reflection whilst playing an interactive narrative-game.
The Old West is dying. Civilisation powered by capitalism is spreading across America and the gunslingers and gangs of the past are being hunted down. Rockstar’s attention to detail is staggering. The various mountain ranges, forests and new cities feel real to the extent of photo-realism. Most importantly, the world responds to your personal actions and this makes the world’s inhabitants feel alive.
The effort Rockstar have gone to in creating this dynamic world is crucial in terms of influencing the moral decisions you make in this game: It presents an environment which responds to you organically and appears life-like, creating an effect which makes you question your own decisions in a scarily comparable way to which we do in our everyday lives. It is the situations you stumble across whilst exploring the vast world which seem revolutionary in story-telling experience. The world feels alive on every single-level, from the subtle facial expression in its inhabitants, to the every-day routines of each character – working, eating, fighting, and drinking. These minuscule details all contribute to a narrative that allows emotional investment from a player.
An elderly civil war veteran begs me for money and tells me of his sorrows as I walk past him. I don’t have to stop, but the raw emotion I can witness on this man’s face means I feel morally inclined to help and instead of ignoring the gentleman, I offer him some money and have a brief conversation with him. The gratitude he gives me in return is felt as authentically as if it were real life. Another time I ignored him, and later on in the game other characters in a nearby saloon commented on my implicit unhelpfulness. In this experience, my actions had consequences and the world around me responding to my moral decisions in a way that was organic and realistic enough to trigger a real feeling of guilt. This is the first narrative experience which has achieved the effect of subjective response and emotion for the player based on their choices.
This isn’t the generic video game narrative experience of killing what’s in front of you, I consciously had to evaluate moral dilemmas before saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to an action, and, in this, Rockstar Games have opened up a very interesting conversation that may tell us more about ourselves than any novel, film or piece of music. It may ask us to think about our real-life decisions by placing in scenarios which are unlikely to occur in real life. By teleporting us into lifelike yet impossible situations, we are forced to think deeply about moral decisions as if we were really being asked to make them. This could ultimately tell us more about our decisions and moral issues in our everyday lives.
The article wasn’t to be immediately published, as I submitted it to be considered for the ‘Yes’ feature Spring issue, which meant the piece would go to print and not on the website at a sooner date. The fact that the piece did in fact make the final print, up against many submissions, gave me an enormous sense of progression, achievement and confidence. Despite previously having pieces published on the magazine’s website, I felt slightly pessimistic about whether my piece would make it to print, due to individual, confidence-related reservations. It became another milestone moment for me individually then, when I was informed the piece had made it to print. Not only did this install a profound sense of confidence in my ability to write to a professional standard, but likewise it also marked a crucial moment in my development as an editor and writer. It ultimately showed that, after writing a few pieces already, I had developed as a writer and had managed to get a written piece in the Yes issue, an issue with limited space. It also meant that, my observations about the relevance of the piece in relation to the ‘Yes’ brief were suitable, and thus I felt I had developed a strong sense of understanding how to respond to different briefs and thematic ideas within a publication in original and engaging ways, which was what was ultimately required to have a chance of getting a feature into the ‘Yes’ issue. Knowing that many people would read my piece felt like a great accomplishment, and this experience and achievement felt significant due to the fact I could demonstrate the creative and professional standards of writing for print magazine when looking for potential future employment.
Progressing on from this, I began to think about larger feature ideas, inspired by my recent writings on narrative experiences and their place in our modern society, and fundamentally how they might shape the way we view ourselves as individuals and collectives in the future. I though deeply about the subject, abstractly, and came up with the idea of exploring the future of narrative experiences as innovative technology such as virtual reality become more prevalent in our entertainment industry. Inspired by my individual experiences with Red Dead Redemption 2, I began to think about how technology such as virtual reality may essentially allow us to experience life-like experiences which may possess the ability to inform us of new things about ourselves as individuals due to the technology’s ability to place a person in any experience possible, experiences that are not common in an average person’s life.
But, from this natural progression of ideas came a problem. As I began to research this further, by looking at any various articles exploring somewhat similar but not identical subjects that I aimed to, I discovered an article, titled Will Video Games Take Over? by Fede Mayorca (link below) which had, in many different words, already said exactly what I set out to write and express in my idea for a piece.
I too had decided to focus on the recent release of Bandersnatch, a Netflix film in which viewers were required to make choices which dictated the eventual outcomes and narrative pathways of the film. This particular film became very popular and was being spoken about in the media an awful lot, and I realised that this may be the first time that this type of interactive narrative fiction had become so talked about within pop culture. I even, in my planning stages, begin to look at academics at my university whom may be specialists in such areas of narrative fiction and the complex future surrounding this ever-changing subject. I kept referring back to my original goals, which were always about experiencing as much as possible and getting the most out of my time at the magazine and thus I wanted to experience a new set of skills involved with the process of interviewing and doing a feature piece that I could successfully get published. The content of the article included above, essentially ticked the same boxes in terms of the things I wanted to explore (Bandersnatch, the history and future of interactive fiction etc).
This was, I admit, a setback in my process after becoming so confident during the research stages of the direction my piece was going in, and important to mention as it was a key moment in my learning as an editor and a writer. This setback upon reflection acted as a learning curve for me, in the sense of experiencing the issue of finding originality in writing journalistic pieces in a media industry which is full of many voices that sometimes, may have the same idea. It was from this though, that I picked my self up and began to think again about a new idea for an opportunity that would grant me the chance to interview and to write an engaging and original piece. Before this could come into fruition though, other editorial duties were calling.
In amongst the experiences I was gathering as I began to write, edit and publish my own articles, other responsibilities were calling as I progressed step by step as an ever more confident writer and editor. After the drafts of the ‘Yes’ issue were rounded up and sent away to the graphic designers for the next stage of the publishing process, the process of briefing for the next issue came on the horizon, and due to the fact I joined the magazine as an editor once the existing briefs had already been made for the ‘Yes’ issue, this presented me with an opportunity to engage with a new set of challenges and experiences to tackle, as well as ultimately fulfilling one of the key roles required of an editor: conjuring up original ideas.
After attending various meetings, in which other editors like me and potential contributors met to discuss plans for the next feature issue, we arrived at a common theme, suggested originally by one of the other head editors: Food. The theme made sense, in terms of it being a subject which occupies all our lives, and thus can branch out to the widest audience possible. During some of my my critical reading and research surrounding the the process of the editorial process, I learned that, as Morris states, ‘the idea of the reader needs to be a vivid presence in all your editorial decisions and calculations; not only for you, but for your writers and subeditors too.’ (Morris, 2012). This, I quickly realised, was a incredibly important principle to remind my self and others of during the briefing stages. Whilst, the subject or theme of food wasn’t something I was individually that interested about, it was important to think beyond this in terms of the magazine’s readership. Food was a subject which would apply to everyone in some way, and thus from then the process moved on.
I went away and began to think about ideas and briefs for the next issue. I began to think outside the box, and think about food on a political level, an angle which might conjure up some engaging pieces. Rather, abstractly, the idea of food banks came into my head. I began to research other articles within the media to find inspiration for potential briefs that could branch out the foundational food theme. A guardian article titled Food banks are no solution to poverty proved incredibly insightful and influential. It, in enormous detail, highlighted an incredibly important political problem within our society, a problem directly linked with the briefs theme. I realised then, from this article in particular and many others, that including this subject as a brief would be effective in the next magazine issue, as it would branch out into big issues in a way that might not seem obviously associated with food at first glance. I proposed, being also a creative editor, that potential contributors could respond to the subject of food banks with poems, short stories and other creative outlets to encourage a rich set of responses for a wider set of potential contributors.
I critically read around the subject of gentrification also, as this was a problem that I personally identified to be linked to the theme of food, with the rise of overly expensive cafes and restaurants filling the streets of previously working-class areas in major cities like London. I read around the subject, and became inspired by Carpenter and Lees’s Gentrification in New York, London and
Paris: An International Comparison, a critical analysis of the gradual rise of gentrification in major cities, which helped me convince my self that the subject was worthy enough to be included within the brief for potential contributors to respond to due to it’s rich political avenues of exploration and it’s link to the notion of food within gentrification which I had personally noticed my self living in my hometown Bristol and my university city, Manchester, with the existence of overpriced cafes and restaurants appearing across cities at an alarming rate. As stated in Gentrification in New York, London and Paris, in relation to gradual gentrification in London over the past decades, ‘As gourmet French restaurants opened in the area, so ell and pie shops and fish and chip shops became defunct.’ (Carpenter, Lees, 1995, p.298). This specific mention of restaurants and shops, particular those associated with working-class, traditional places to eat like fish and chip shops, helped me realise how food can and does play a major part in the gentrification debate in a way which opens up further debates about class, politics, big cities and much more, and consequentially this cemented itself as another brief for the future issue.
I view this upon reflection as another example me successfully implementing my research skills in relation to a general theme or idea purposed by the the magazine’s head editors. Whilst the food issue in question would not release till later in the year, after my time at the magazine has ended, I was still motivated and enthused to be a part of and help in the process of creating briefs for the next issue to both enrich the magazine for the future and give my self further experience, which allowed me to test my research and creative skills in terms of coming up with original ideas for briefs that would eventually become engaging content responded to by potential contributors. Additionally, on a personal level I must add the confidence it gave me in my creative and research skills. An issue faced by me and every journalist in the world is coming up with that first initial idea and expanding from there. In this instance, I can reflect on how I initially came up with a vague idea, after attempting to abstractly think outside the box, based on my own observations of society around me, then managed to research critical material and other articles alike to conclusively come up with a brief with rich potential after establishing the vastness of the debates, issues and opinions surrounding the matter.
Expanding My Writing: Reviewing
At this stage of my role as an editorial assistant, I had challenged my self to a number of different assignments in terms of editing, briefing and creating content which included writing and editing, as shown so far – opinion pieces, theme-based pieces and so on. I felt inclined then to try and research, write and edit a different kind of piece, that of a review. This move made logical sense as my original goal was to consume as much experience as possible and this ultimately meant attempting to produce content for the magazine that was varied in terms of it’s form and writing style, thus making me more equipped and confident in writing and editing in different form, styles and tones, which is crucial in making me more suitable for this kind of workplace environment in the future.
Like some of the examples I have already given in terms of researching pieces, my initial idea came to be naturally. Being constantly aware that I was a culture/creative editor, I returned to the subject of TV, with the return of Alan Partridge, a much loved comedy sensation in the UK and beyond. I have included this piece in my report not only because it demonstrates my varied type of experiences at the magazine, this being my new attempt at a review, but mainly because I personally feel proud of the piece, something I maybe didn’t feel always in my past writing at particular times. I managed to write this piece in one go, based purely off my various viewings of the first episode of the series, making this particular experience unique. It felt like a moment where I could be exclusively creative, as I opted for a different research and writing style. I didn’t research other articles about the show too much, and instead attempted to write honestly from the heart in order to achieve a piece which felt honest and human, and not too influenced by other critic’s views. I ultimately feel I achieved this natural, personal tone, by selecting just a few key scenes in the show, (to not ruin the show), and then naturally discussed the dynamics of the show whilst intuitively referencing contextual information (Like it’s comparisons to Piers Morgan’s shows) from my own opinion and observations that existed in my conscience. It, more than anything, gave me great confidence in my own writing after it was barely edited (apart from the odd grammatical mistake) and then published on the magazine’s website. It was a writing experience which ultimately matured me as a writer who could now write creatively from the heart and without needing to do much research apart from view the show in question. Of course, research as I’ve shown already has been a massive part of my experience as an editor, but this particular piece felt like a purely creative, instinctive experience in which I grew as a confident and fluent writer. The finished article, published on Aah! Magazine’s website, is below.
It may be possible to map an evolutionary scale of the existence of Alan Partridge on our screens and within the public consciousness. He’s come a strikingly long way since Knowing Me Knowing You, in which his character, much younger, was indulged in slickness and a delusional sense of professionalism. With Alan’s latest offering, it seems apparent that he has survived natural selection. He has adapted, morphed and is funnier than he’s ever been.
He appears increasingly more out of place in our current cultural and political climate, and although desperately clinging on to his TV career, he is just about alive and kicking in a way which creates a close your eyes and look away effect which the writers – The Gibbons brothers, alongside Coogan’s seamless performance, execute so well in this latest incarnation. Coogan, remarkably, has benefited greatly from the ever-changing, and for better or worse, difficult to keep up with social landscape of the nation, and with the strong emergence of PC culture in the past decade, Partridge’s character becomes a new monster, at least comedically. With age, he has become increasingly out of date in our contemporary culture, and it is this which underlies the root of the comedy in This Life.
No better is this orchestrated in the debut episode than when Alan precedes to present a One Show style out-of-studio segment, exploring the issue of germs and cleanliness in our everyday lives. A rather mundane topic, but this still leaves room for Alan to unintentionally offend. He compares the ways in which antibiotics work with quote: “giving a box of chocolates to an angry spouse”. He implies that, in first attempt, this may “subdue” the spouse, but by the twentieth time, the same effect will not occur. The analogy is both ridiculously random and border-line offensive and this places him as the fish out of water in this style of TV show in which flirting with misogyny might be best avoided.
But Partridge is established, his psyche known like the back of their hands to long-standing fans. Despite his ability to constantly offend, we know his intentions are always to try and be the best at what he does. In his mind, this analogy is useful to the audience, and this is where the laughter lies. Based on recent BBC comedies, I very much doubt a lot of the material would have passed under an original script idea, but because of Partridge’s familiarity and established nature, Coogan and the writers have the ability to delve into risky territory in nail-bitingly awkward yet interesting ways.
It’s hard to ignore the unfamiliar, yet familiar environment which Alan finds himself in. Sitting on a sofa, he stares into the camera, gazing with a painful mixture of confusion and anxiety, images which are broadcast to millions across the nation. The role of Piers Morgan, you may notice, will come to mind, at least in terms of its format. If politicians can’t cognitively map the logistics of Brexit, why not throw in an a middle-aged, conservatively-leaning TV presenter to make sense of it all in an increasingly youth-influenced media industry? On top of that, let’s have him explore sensitive and complex issues like the Me Too Movement. The premise is irresistible from a comedic and satirical perspective.
It’s early morning, magazine-style shows like Good Morning Britain which, in recent times, have seemingly began to blur the lines between satire and reality, as a out of touch host attempts to tackle the ever increasingly socio-cultural changes that occupy our consciousness in and ever increasingly globalised world. The crucial distinction between these real types of shows is that the real ones play on this controversy and rely on it for viewing figures.
With This Life, this is distorted, as Alan is, by pure logic, destined to offend unintentionally whilst presenting a show which is only interested in trying to be safe and middle ground whilst exploring both sensitive and mundane issues. Partridge is put there by the writers, by matter of circumstance (the fixed presenter has fallen ill – this adds to Partridge’s tragic desperation to claw his way back into the limelight) to blow these expectations and conventions into the air, and it is this dynamic which makes this new series Coogan’s funniest and daring.
You don’t want him to crash, burn and die. We find amusement in his flirtation with complete social and existential collapse – but we always want him to come out the water gasping and just about breathing. At least this is how I feel, and the direction the Gibbons brothers are taking in him. We laugh at him referring to one of the guests as ‘Alice Clunt’ instead of Alice Fluck; to which Partridge, right on beat, replies ‘I see what I’ve done there.’ But I likewise felt inclined to side with him when his co-host, Jennie, played perfectly by Susannah Fielding, keeps stealing his jokes and remarks which Alan makes off air. A part of you wants Alan to gain some credit with him being up against the big shining lights of the BBC.
Shooting a man live on TV may not be topped in terms of Partridge falling out with the BBC again, but with 5 episodes left to go (Mondays, 9:30pm), and with subjects such as Brexit, bereavement, and the Me Too Movement lined up for Alan to tackle, there may be backlash coming Alan’s way. Strangely though, I find my self backing him, and this is where credit is given to the new avenues the writers are willing to explore in this fresh and much-awaited return of the most awkward host there will ever be.
A Second Attempt: Interviewing and Workshops
Art is just one of the ways in which the city has responded to the attack. Many murals and graffiti of the famous Manchester bee have appeared across the city and on social media, calling for unity, strength and love in the face of such trauma.
Film is also an art form that has attempted to respond to the attacks in interesting and positive ways. In the summer of last year, MMU filmmaking student (and now graduate) Jess Mone, 22, filmed and tracked the recovery of her sister, Hannah, 19, who sustained injuries during the attack on the Manchester arena.
The result was In Bloom, and the film featured at the Manchester School of Art degree show and has been shown at various screenings across the city since, including one as part of a special filmmaking student take over at HOME.
A year on from the films release, approaching the anniversary of the attacks, I spoke to Jess to ask her about the intentions of the film and the impact it has had upon her life, her sister’s and Manchester’s communities around her.
What struck me after my first viewing of the film was how brave you and your sister come across in the wake of such a traumatic event. Do you think then, that this was a direct result of the traumatic events, as a way to push on and create something positive (your film) from something so awful?
‘Yes, when I decided to first make the film it was to show people how positive Hannah was after such a traumatic event. As the months progressed the filming sessions between the two of us became almost a weekly habit, and in a way the film gave me a purpose to keep working.’
‘We have both suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, I’ll be honest and say it’s incredibly difficult to get through, as it affects people in different ways. I initially suffered within the first year of the attack and having my sister so positive and so willing to have me follow her to hospital with a camera twice a week was really helpful. My sister has been through a tremendous amount of pain both physically and mentally, her resilience helped me to keep moving forward and to continue being positive after the attack.’
How did the initial idea for the film arise? You film your sister very early on after the attacks, was it challenging to do so at such an early stage or at any points during the films production?
‘When my sister woke up after her first operation the first thing she asked for was ice cream and that made us all laugh, it was such a relief to see her awake and okay. I knew then in the first couple of days that I had to do something to show people that there are survivors like my sister out there who aren’t going to be beaten by a senseless act of terror.’
‘At first there were a lot of mixed emotions when filming Hannah. Mainly due to the fact that I am her sister and I was particularly protective of her after the incident, her wounds were quite gruesome and shocking at first. But I always used to tell her that even if we didn’t make a film it would be amazing in twelve months’ time to see how her hand had recovered, she has watched the film a few times now and has commented on how bad her injuries used to look.’
The various shots on your sister’s hands, displaying the injuries caused in the attack, depict her hands in various bright colours of glitter and paint. Was this effective in her embracing her injuries instead of potentially viewing them as a traumatic reminder?
‘Yes, the idea behind the hand painting is to embrace my sister’s injuries rather than shy away from them. What happened to her hand was very traumatic and I have always been worried that, as she was only 17 at the time of the attack, it would affect how she viewed her physical appearance. By painting her hand in all of the bright designs I was showing both my sister and the audience that her injuries are to be accepted and are in no way something to hide. I doubt that anyone who didn’t know her or hadn’t seen the film previously would even notice her hand unless they paid really close attention to it, for those who have seen the film, it kind of breaks the ice. Yes, her hand is different but that’s an individual part of her and it shouldn’t be the elephant in the room.’
The footage of your sister enjoying her birthday and speaking positively of her future paints an ultimately positive reaction the trauma of the Manchester bombings. Was this the goal, in sending this positive message to Manchester’s communities and beyond, when making the film?
‘The goal throughout the production for the film was always to make people smile, both myself and the creatives involved in the documentary didn’t want people to come away from the film crying or feeling sorry for Hannah.’
‘We’re saying ‘Yes, she was injured, yes, it is hard but here we are getting on with it.’ and I feel like that’s the ethos of Manchester anyway regardless of the attack. Mancunians are never going to sit down and stay silent, we’re going to get back up and carry on, and we’re going to laugh whilst we do it – that’s the message I want the film to send as far and wide as possible.’
‘I am incredibly proud of my sister and her resilience over the past two years and I hope, that by including the uplifting ending, that she can help to inspire other people who are struggling to start thinking about moving forward and what positives the future might hold.’
It’s coming up to two years since the events took place. Have you noticed the ethos depicted in your personal account of the attack’s effects on your sister in other areas of Manchester and beyond?
‘After the attack happened, we saw a lot of support from Manchester and our local communities, particularly in the form of the Manchester bee. When we came into the city center last year on the first anniversary there was a lot of support available in the form of Family Liaison officers from the GMP, those present watching the memorial both inside and outside the cathedral, and people walking around the city centre.’
‘I think what happened in Manchester in 2017 was an enormous shock to the city and those around it and there has definitely been a change in atmosphere over the past two years. Overall, I believe that the positive message we have depicted is very much alive in Manchester two years on.’
You can visit Jess’s website following her filmmaking from the link below.
As you can see in the article above, her answers were long and personal, and this was highly rewarding after spending so long carefully constructing questions which delved into Jess’s personal life and the struggles her and her sister went through. The answers are largely long due to the fact that during the phone call I made sure to slowly ask the questions to make as much sense as possible, as well as allow her to talk for long periods of time even when she stopped for long pauses. As I learned when leading the interview workshop and presentation, it is useful to allow silences to pass as this will often result in the interviewee saying something new or finally catching their train of thought. It was largely down to me sticking to this principle that I managed to get such open and rich answers from Jess, and I can reflect upon my presentation and all I learned about interviews then as an effective exercise in me successfully carrying out this interview. From a practical stand-point, I managed to get over the issue of retrieving the information (Jess’s responses) by recording the phone call using a recording device I owned (with her consent). This was another important part of the process as it was important to accurately get her answers across into the piece without any mistakes.
As you may notice, as well as the personal questions I poised in relation to Jess’s film, I also made a conscious decision to ask larger questions about the communities of Manchester in relation to the attacks and how this looked two years on. These were ultimately devised in my research stage, as I looked back at various articles written at the time of the attacks to come up with larger contextual questions. A BBC News piece, titled Manchester attack: the community that rushed to help (Link below).
It contains stories of individuals in the community who had gone out the way to help during and after the attack took place, like the various taxi drivers who were quick to offer people lifts for free, away from the area of the attack. This piece was incredibly helpful to me, as it reminded me to focus on the communities that come together during these type of events to help people, and thus this inspired my questions such as my final question in which I asked Jess to reflect upon the attitudes and values celebrated in her film and whether she could translate these values into how she viewed Manchester as a community today, and fortunately she responded well to my line of thinking giving insightful and interesting answers.
A Final Reflection
Looking back on this final contribution to Aah! Magazine, and taking into account my previous setbacks when attempting to conduct an interview, it is incredibly rewarding to have constructed such an insightful and successful interview, particularly as I was so keen to give it a try after doing the same with other types of content like reviews and opinion pieces. It feels like the perfect end to my time at the magazine, due to the fact the interview dealt with such a serious and sensitive subject matter and I see this as a indicator of my progression as a editor and writer for the magazine as I managed to produce a serious and insightful interview and piece, despite the logistical issues faced initially with the interview in terms of meeting in Manchester and having to do an interview over the phone.
From struggling to come up with ideas for pieces, finding that my ideas had already been used and not feeling confident about presenting and interviewing, I feel my time at Aah Magazine was difficult at times but ultimately this was the exact challenge I sought for and it resulted in an opportunity which granted me much learning and experience. I now feel confident and equipped to work in this kind of environment, which I know will prove so valuable looking forward to post-graduation life. What I have to show for my experience is a number of pieces, ranging in different forms and tones such as reviews, interviews and reports and a whole new skill-set branching from editorial and writing skills to presenting and interviewing skills. This experience has been more valuable than I could of ever imagined, and has only cemented my ambitions to work within this industry in the future.
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