Lessons from Wimbledon BookFest: Student Journalists

Wimbledon BookFest has come to an end for another year, and we’re already missing its buzz. From Graham Norton to Nadiya Hussain via Reggie Yates and Suzannah Lipscomb, the bill was packed with engaging speakers and exciting events, drawing in crowds from across the country to Wimbledon Common. As principal sponsors of BookFest, we sent a team of Roehampton student journalists to cover BookFest, to gain practical experience and put the skills learnt on their degree courses into action. Read on to find out what they learnt.

Dos by Natasha Cellupica-Towers and Don’ts by Gladys Jubane, enjoy!


Do ask questions

Ask everyone questions. If you meet someone, ask them a question. The event organiser may have a certain way they would like things done, or a style they would like you to follow. Be sure to ask them how they would feel about you writing any risky angles on particular articles. If there is a Q&A during or after your talk, ask questions! If you’re sticking to an angle and the speaker hasn’t touched on it, bring it up. If you’ve picked up on something during the talk that could be more interesting, ask them for more detail. This is your opportunity to steer the talk to help you write your piece.

Do some research ahead of the event

There’s nothing worse than being unprepared! Be sure to do some background research and make notes about the speakers and authors before you go. Not only will this give you a stronger angle for your article, but the background knowledge will help you to put quotes into context and fill out your article with facts and stats. Plus, the speakers are much more likely to open up if it’s clear that you know a bit about them already.

Do keep an open mind

Events like this can change tack at the flick of a switch. Times, locations and speakers can change over a 5-minute break. You could go to get a coffee, come back, and be assigned to a new speaker or a different angle. It’s important to stay flexible and open minded to get the most out of this opportunity. If you’re offered extra opportunities: SAY YES, to everything! No matter what happens, you’ll have more of your writing out there in the big bad world. And that’s what we’re all here for, right?


Don’t be afraid to change the angle if something more interesting comes along

In my case this worked well at settling my nerves. I was onsite without an angle or topic of interest, just as a press team volunteer. This meant taking direction at the event, as my contributions had to have an engineered angle in two ways. First, at briefing we discussed a possible angle and pointers on what my focus would be about. Second, after the covered talk/event we discussed what points resonated most with the given angle, or that still worked with the original angle. We spoke about each talk minutes before covering the story, which gave us direction.

Don’t come unprepared

Reading a lot about the talk’s subject topic and who the speakers are is crucial for preparing the right kind of questions that will have maximum impact during Q&A time. An overlooked tip is to pay as much attention to knowing about the interviewer as you pay to the interviewee. Not only is this a basis for a great piece, as a journalist it gives great insight to your own interviewing techniques. The presenters are potentially your ‘go-to’ when conducting your own interviews and there’s a lot to be learned from their techniques and style of questioning.

Don’t rely on other people’s questions

It goes without saying – other people’s questions are usually styled to their own agenda, which may not necessarily suit the angle of your own targeted viewers. Therefore, it is important to research thoroughly and come up with possible questions that cater to your target audience. Never leave your most important issues to chance by hoping someone else will cover your question. The way we ask questions is directly linked to what is most important to our brands or course.  Don’t be afraid to say the wrong thing, because in most cases this turns out to be the humour moment that brightens the entire talk.

Don’t be afraid to take opportunities in unfamiliar territories

Wimbledon BookFest was a first for me and I didn’t know what to expect, except for what I had researched and been briefed on. As a journalist, learning to be flexible is key to finding great angles that will satisfy the readers. This also means being flexible with your structured questions, as you need to make room for that unexpected and interesting exposé that your interviewee may decide to add. Having an open mind gives you freedom to be able to change your angle depending on what you encounter during an interview, talk or question time. Unexpected turns make for very engaging talks.

The University of Roehampton changes lives by helping our students to develop the confidence, knowledge and values they need for a successful and fulfilling life. We produce world-class research that helps us understand the world and change it for the better.

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