A voice for the voiceless on local radio

External shot of the BBC Radio Sheffield building on Shoreham Street, Sheffield
Adam May

by Adam May
BA Journalism Studies

I believe that access to local radio is crucial for any community – and my work placement at BBC Radio Sheffield showed that to be true.

In just three days of shadowing their reporter, Richard Cadey, I visited an allotment that put on workshops for local children to encourage them to grow their own fruit and veg; I spoke to a family having a ‘cook-off’ as part of a food festival at Cannon Hall Farm; I spoke to inspirational people who had ploughed hours and hours into building a steel heart in aid of the British Heart Foundation; and I observed a prayer meeting for Eid al-Adha.

I even met a songwriter who has worked with Aretha Franklin and Take That.

What other job would give you the chance to speak to these people and to find out what they do?

That’s why the placement reassured me that I’m going into the right profession for me. It was an interesting, varied fortnight which gave me a glimpse into the working lives of all the people who make local radio tick, giving the voiceless a voice.

It’s a cliché in journalism (and I winced a bit when I wrote that line), but where else would people like Dot, who manages the allotment, and the wonderful charity workers at Doncaster Community Arts get their stories heard?

The journalistic skills I developed will be invaluable in the third year of my degree. I learned how to tailor an interview, first for a news bulletin clip that may be just 30 seconds and then again for a separate, longer programme piece. It sounds simple, but getting people to summarise what they’ve just spent five minutes explaining in depth can be a big challenge.

With the right questions and the right approach with the interviewee, though, the results can be rewarding and insightful.

Through my time at BBC Radio Sheffield I have also become a seasoned voxer.

No-one really likes doing voxpops, because the rejection can be shattering, but it’s a useful skill to practise. When they are aired on the radio, like my wrap and voxes were, it makes the work worthwhile. It’s a test of how to approach interviewees who may be sceptical at first but, once they get talking, there’s no stopping them. I voxed people about public toilets in their city and got some brilliant results. Who knew it was such a hot topic?

Listen to Adam’s report on cuts to public toilets

Listen to Adam’s voxpop on secondary ticketing

With work placements I definitely believe you get out what you put in. If you sit in the corner twiddling your thumbs and waiting for work to come to you, then you may as well just leave. But after putting myself forward for voxes, asking to shadow producers and newsreaders, sitting in on meetings, interviewing people on subjects that I’m no expert on, and using new editing software, there’s a lot I can take from it.

And the buzz from seeing my story through from a potential idea to leading the drivetime show was gratifying.

You soon realise how integral media law and a strong ethical nous can be in a professional newsroom, too, and the placement reassured me that when local radio is done right, as it undoubtedly is at BBC Radio Sheffield, it’s a platform that must be cherished.

Sheffield is independently rated as the UK’s number 1 university for studying journalism and media – by the Complete University Guide for 2020 and The Guardian university league tables for 2019 and 2018. Want to see journalism’s bigger picture? Study with us.

Photo © Mark Anderson (modified) cc by-sa 2.0 via Geograph

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