American journalist Matt Elofson (pictured) has swopped the warm sunshine of Alabama for the delights of rural Warwickshire

Matt Elofson.jpg

American journalist Matt Elofson (pictured) has swopped the warm sunshine of Alabama for the delights of rural Warwickshire - and a staff job on the Stratford Herald newspaper. Here, he reflects on some of the differences he is experiencing

One of the many things I've learned during the journey to transfer my news reporter skills to the workforce in the UK is the role comes with the nickname journo. It makes it sound quite cool.

Fifteen months ago I quit my job of working as a newspaper reporter (after 15 years in the field) and moved from southeast Alabama to the West Midlands of the UK. The move not only meant starting life over in a new country, but finding a way to continue my journalism career too.

Now, England wasn't completely new to me as I'd visited over a dozen times on vacation trips with my wife, who's a native to the UK. We married at St. Peter's Church in Kineton, near Warwick, over 12 years ago with a view to one day making a life there (Kineton), or at least in the UK. During one of my first visits to the UK I can remember thinking it'd be cool to work for the Stratford Herald newspaper (

Now I'm doing just that. It's amazing where life takes you. Now I have the privilege to find and share the stories of the people in and around Shakespeare country as a news reporter at the Stratford Herald. I enjoy exploring the local delights of Stratford-upon-Avon and its surrounding area, often a destination favourite for Americans and, as I’m finding, lots of other people from around the globe.

While the basics of journalism remain the same here, there are a few major differences, including how it appears most (newspapers at least) journalists have formal shorthand training. In the states, at least where I've worked, and when I went through journalism school at West Virginia University, you didn't need formal shorthand training to graduate and be ready to enter the workforce. Formal shorthand training sounds great, and I'm looking to get mine this year.

I've also learned many journalists have a National Qualification as Journalists, which I discovered is a professional qualification than helps a trainee journalist develop their skills into a senior journalist. There is no equivalent in the US, except maybe earning a master’s degree or years of on-the-job experience.  

Here’s a little background on where I come from and my experience. I spent 15 years as a news reporter for two daily newspapers in the US before moving to the UK in late October 2016. I was grateful to join my wife and twin 4-year-old daughters, who had already been in the UK since June 2016. Obtaining a UK settlement visa allowed me to join my family, and work too. Getting one of those visas isn't just automatically given to you when you marry someone from the UK. But I won't go into all that here. I spent most of my journalism career working as a police and courts reporter split, six years at The Robesonian ( in southeast North Carolina followed by nine years at the Dothan Eagle ( in southeast Alabama. In the police beat I covered breaking news from motor vehicle fatalities, to drug busts by local police or sheriff’s deputies, to murders and a fatal mass shooting of 11 people. I then also followed the unusual ones such a local lawyer charged with child porn, to public officials or officers charged with crimes along with others as they went through the court system and to trial.

I also witnessed the execution of a Dothan area man for the fatal shooting of his daughter's boyfriend. I wrote a story describing what happened before, during and after the execution.

And to be honest watching someone die left me battling bouts of nausea throughout the whole experience. It started with waiting in the media room beforehand to an escorted walk into the execution chamber on death row where I joined a handful of others who watched through a little window with its curtains drawn for viewing.

He was executed for shooting the 16-year-old victim three times in front of his pregnant girlfriend before being thrown over a bridge. He'd been on death row for 23 years at the time of his execution.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center website, Alabama remains one of 31 states who use the death penalty, all of which use lethal injection.

The images of watching a man take his last breath after a lethal injection of drugs make it an assignment I vividly remember as though it were yesterday now nearly 10 years ago.

While I've only worked as a news reporter in the UK for nearly three months one of the other differences I've noticed specifically relate to police work. There's a noticeable difference in how much information is released to the media when arrests are made by the police. Where I worked in both Alabama and North Carolina when someone is arrested, they're charged with a crime and typically if requested police release the suspect's name, age, city of residence, and charge. And in contrast, here, the name of the person arrested isn't released until they're actually charged with a crime at later date.

In my experience you can't be arrested unless the police are charging you with a crime. You'd typically be released on bail (if you can afford to post it) and then later formally be indicted (charged) by the county prosecutors in court (if there was enough evidence). And similarly if police or sheriff's deputies made a large drug 'bust' or arrest the amount of drugs seized were often released, particularly if the person was charged with distribution or trafficking drugs. Police also released the name of the drug involved in a drug arrest. Here I'm finding the identity of the drug only comes at court or you're told it involves a certain classification of drug (which includes multiples types). For example, police in the UK could charge someone with possession of a class A drug, which could include cocaine, methamphetamine, ecstasy, LSD, heroin and mushrooms.

Also most of the law enforcement agencies I interacted with for news stories used an officer within the department as its spokesperson to get information for stories, and often referred me onto other specialised detectives or unit supervisors for direct quotes about arrests or new programs. One example is I wrote various features on the Dothan (Alabama) SWAT team, and spoke directly to the SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) commander for the story. The longer I worked there the more I was allowed to speak to individual officers too, though, with a supervisor's permission.

So far here it appears the law enforcement agencies release information and quotes strictly through an outside entity via either communications groups or a marketing arm of the same local government as the law enforcement agency.

Now I've only been working here in the UK as a news reporter for just over three months and that's a very small sample to compare to 15 years of journalism work at two dailies in two states.

But more than that one of the basics of journalism remains the same, which is making contacts and getting to know people on your beat or patch, another journo term I've recently learned. Although, it's still slightly different than news beat, which generally refers to the specific area of news you cover like police or education. In contrast a patch I've learned typically refers to the coverage area for the newspaper.

I also got an interesting reminder of how I live in a country with a totally new culture during a visit last year to a coffee shop in Dudley to do some writing.

I couldn’t help but overhear a greeting I’d never before from the man next to me on his cell phone at the Gather coffee house in Dudley.

“Assalamu alaikum my brother,” the man said. “I’m on the high street in Dudley town.”

The man seemed quite friendly as he stopped to talk to the coffee shop manager on his way out a few minutes later.

As someone who just spent the best part of a decade in southeast Alabama I’d never heard that greeting before – except in the movies. I wanted to say hi to the man, but the moment didn’t present itself.

I left the coffee shop thinking I’ve heard that phrase, but had no idea what it meant. So I asked around, and did a quick search online. I found the phrase Assalamu alaikum is an Arabic greeting, which means “Peace be upon you.”

I'm looking forward to meeting more people in the Stratford area and beyond and learning more about the journalism culture here in the UK.


I’ll admit it - I do like an awards ‘do.’

BBC journalist Jonathan Gibson (pictured), a double-winner at the Midlands Media Awards for two years in succession, reflects upon the importance of such events

Jonathan Gibson, BBC.jpeg

I’ll admit it - I do like an awards ‘do.’

It’s also fair to say I’m ribbed by my colleagues on a regular basis for saying so!  But events like the Midlands Media Awards are important.

Sure it’s great to be honoured by your peers and I was really chuffed to be recently named TV Journalist of the Year for the second year running. But much more than that, events like the MMA provide a rare chance to catch up with friends and colleagues from across the industry in celebration of the great work that is still produced across the printed press, online, on TV and in Radio.

I use the word ‘still’ deliberately. We all know the media landscape has changed immeasurably in recent years and certainly since I began my career as a sub editor with Westcountry Television back in 1998 but for all the changes the fundamentals have - as far as I’m concerned - remained the same.

That’s because for as long as I’ve worked in TV I’ve always aspired to be as good as the best print journalists. Why? Well these are the men and women who despite the cutbacks, the closures and the downsizing which has beset the printed press in recent years continue to break the exclusives, expose the wrongdoing and hold people to account.

There are quite a few of my colleagues past and present who won’t thank me for saying it but I draw a clear distinction between being a good TV reporter and a good TV journalist.

For me the motivation has always been to deliver agenda setting journalism; stories which make people sit up and listen, provoke reaction and hopefully make a difference. The kind of stories the printed press has always delivered so well and TV does well sometimes, but not as consistently. That’s why as much as I’ve loved being a TV reporter I’ve always described myself as a TV journalist. I have a passion for long-term investigations, the undercover exposes and delivering stories, which are worthy of being called original journalism.  

It’s this type of journalism which the Midlands Media Awards continues to recognise. A celebration of the journalists whose readers and audiences are as diverse as their working environments but who share a passion for delivering something original, even when that means regularly burning the midnight oil, copious amounts of unpaid overtime and the odd dirty look when not for the first time and despite the promises, we’re late home from work…yet again!   

Journalism? – It’s Never Been More Challenging

Claire Wolfe, Head of Journalism at the University of Worcester, explains the ethos of the BA (Hons) Journalism course at Worcester and, following a visit by members of the Birmingham Press Club, explains the value of links with industry organisations.

Entering the world of journalism has never been a more exciting or challenging prospect and here at the University of Worcester we thrive on helping students from all backgrounds to achieve their ambitions.

Developing a BA (Hons) Journalism degree course to meet the ever-changing demands of both academia and the media industry has meant staying at the cutting-edge of change and embracing new technologies.

The world of media work for all graduates now involves them having to have a knowledge of everything from media law and the complexities of Brexit to using mobile technology, drones and virtual reality headsets.

Progress marches to the beat of an ever demanding public wanting to receive news and related information in a range of formats and at speed.

Keeping pace with this and some of the critical issues facing journalism- fake news, the repositioning of the role and reputation of reporters within society and the impact of fragmented audiences- ensures that learning about how to become a journalist has never been more intriguing.

Here at Worcester we engage with practical elements of the profession together with in-depth analysis of the importance and value of the journalist’s role.

A distinctive feature of the three-year-course is the emphasis on blended learning with core topics being covered and then students having the opportunity to put them into practice and to test theories and ideas in the field.

An essential part of this involves reflective learning, ensuring students develop into ‘thinking’, ‘responsible’ journalists with a developed intellectual insight.

The course began as a joint honours programme, which is still offered in combination with a range of subjects, but a single honours degree was launched in 2010 to meet the converged, multi-platform demands of the industry, while retaining academic rigour.

Being unencumbered by different strands i.e. print or broadcast it meant a truly hybrid course could be developed.

However, pathways were developed within the course to enable students to become specialised in a particular area while ensuring they graduated with a wide knowledge and skills base. These pathways are print-newspaper & magazine, broadcast, photography, sports and politics.

Expanding the course involved the recruitment of high quality staff with strong backgrounds as working journalists, and a significant investment in resources. There are two new radio studios, opened by Nick Owen, a digital TV studio with a virtual set and lots of kit, including mobile devices.

The success in achieving a top class course has been evidenced by:

  • Promoting good journalism through links with the Birmingham Press Club and involvement with the annual student awards. Since its launch Worcester students have demonstrated success in winning categories, with one becoming the 2016 Midlands Media Student of the Year

  • Achieving industry-backing from the Broadcast Journalism Training Council through accreditation

  • Attracting top class staff with track records at the Birmingham Post and Mail, the BBC, ITV, Newsteam, the regional and national press. Many still work in the industry.

  • Developing strong links/partnerships with the media industries for work placements and sharing knowledge. A BBC Media Diversity Partnership involves placements, visits, talks and industry feedback on tasks. A partnership with the local community youth radio station, Youthcomm, leads to regular placements. There are strong ties with the Worcester News and Bullivant Media

  • Ensuring top quality provision. The course achieved the 14th highest rating for journalism degree courses in the country for student satisfaction in the latest National Student Survey.

  • Increasing employment. High levels of direct graduate entry into media spheres including the BBC, Channel 4, local regional newspapers and magazines and as press /communications officers and social media management.

  • Helping students into ‘earn-as-you-learn’ schemes. Significant numbers of students earn income through journalism while studying. In 2017 to date four were in paid work at the BBC, one was paid by ITV to cover the Worcester count in June, another was paid as a newsreader at Youthcomm and others worked at other media outlets.

  • Teaching excellence. The university received a coveted Silver Award in June 2017 for the high quality of teaching, placing it on a par with some of the leading ‘red-brick’ Russell Group universities. High standards are maintained through active membership of the Association for Journalism Education.

  • Ensuring inclusivity. The university has a strong reputation as being a centre of learning for students from all backgrounds, ethnicity and levels of ability. Adam Lione, a partially sighted journalism student, went on to become a Junior Producer at Channel 4 after a traineeship

  • Promoting and supporting student entrepreneurship. Midlands Journalism Student of the Year, Conor Rees, took a magazine project described by the judging panel as an “extraordinary body of work”  99 per cent to production.

  • Enjoyment and success. Our students enjoy learning. Lecturers inspire, resources are plentiful and students enjoy the experience. This was evidenced in 2016 with our highest level of first and 2:1 degree, lifting us above the national average.

We are delighted to be associated with the Birmingham Press Club and to know that many of our graduates enter employment with the media organisations in the West Midlands represented by many of the members.

We are keen to develop this relationship as we see it as playing a pivotal role in keeping journalists networking and developing ideas to help keep the profession vibrant and up-to-date. Continuing to develop links between industry and will ensure our young people are well prepared for work and able to play a positive role as reporters at a time when good journalism was never needed more.


Claire Wolfe, Head of Journalism at the University of Worcester, has a strong background in news at regional and national level, including work as a Senior Journalist at the Birmingham Post and Mail and News Editor and Night Editor at the Daily News. She spent six years training journalists on a post-graduate NCTJ course at Gloucester and developed a successful Single Honours BA at Worcester. She has published a number of academic papers on journalism, including the value of work placements, and delivered a paper on the impact of Internet Trolls on journalism and democracy at the World Journalism Education Conference in New Zealand in 2016. She is on the National Executive of the Association for Journalism Education.

Claire can be contacted at  Tel 01905 542240

For more details about the course please contact Admissions Officer Christine Challand at


And the Winner is……Or should that be Loser?

And the Winner is……Or should that be Loser?

Press Club member Anu Shukla, a Birmingham-based journalist, takes a close look at the Byline Festival – and the Bad Press Awards

A journalist by day and festival connoisseur by night, I’ve often pondered the cross-pollination of independent reporting with alternative culture. So when Byline rocked up on a posh estate in Sussex last month, I was intrigued to say the least.

Dedicated to supporting independent, investigative journalism through the crowdfunding model, the event is an off-shoot of Byline Media and the brainchild of Stephen Colegrave and writer Peter Jukes.

“We created Byline Festival because we believe journalism plays a crucial role in holding governments to account, uncovering corruption and defending democracy,” said Stephen.

“With Trump, fake news and the fact 80 percent of the British media is controlled by press barons, it’s clear journalism has been too weak and ineffectual. We believe good independent journalism needs to be supported, encouraged and celebrated.”

So in an era of mass public outrage where trust in the British media is the lowest of 33 countries - cue the Byline Festival. And as the general election lay just days ahead, it seemed Byline had arrived in the nick of time - and more significantly, in a year marking the 50th anniversary since the Summer of Love.

But back in 67,' nobody could have predicted the lasting impact of the festival dynamic when 100,000 post-beatniks took to the streets to protest the Vietnam War. Yet half a century later, we’re still in campervans in the midst of fields listening to basslines symbolising the soundtrack to that very same dystopian vision.

So from the Daniel Morgan Murder and Operation Minefield to the phone hacking scandal, surveillance, privacy, data, the war on women and so much more: an information minefield gave journalists a platform to speak about issues raised by numerous investigations.

The dark chilling side of journalism juxtaposed by a positive model for independent media made for a heady concoction for the modern day beat generation. It was a Hunter S. Thompson eat your heart out moment in a post-truth reality. And if the Daily Mail’s £15k legal suit against Byline organisers is anything to go by, it’s a reality which allegedly suits news editors like Paul Dacre right down to the ground.

So on Friday night, men in suits ambled along be-glittered freaks in top hats and costume. Members of the media mingled with activists and freelance journalists. The following day, we noticed a genuinely engaged public challenge panels with daring questions.

This was news junkie heaven for a mish-mash of professionals spanning student journalists and political activists to hard news truth-seekers. Lawyers, academics, redeemed phone-hacking journalists, data-miners, hactivists, war reporters, satirists, whistleblowers, humanitarian lobbyists, bloggers and comedians mixed things up nicely.

Connecting with the general public, they sprawled across the site. This is what made Byline inclusive: there was no ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality as punters and professionals huddled around fires chatting animatedly into the small hours of the night.

The Frontline Club’s bar was housed within a US army tent salvaged from the Korean War. Nearby, a British flag fluttered atop an old army tank. I couldn’t help but wonder at the exhibition before me.

Were these historical symbols of bloodshed there to remind us of colonial atrocities or to demonstrate the plight of war reporters in a world entrapped by the tentacles of the industrial military complex? The symbolism was as powerful as it was absurd.

The rising power of alternative media and its growing public impact was recognised by partnerships with Open Democracy, the New Internationalist, Wistla, Slow Media and BellingCat amongst others. Organisers say they plan to include many more such outlets at next year’s event.

This was no fuzzy blanket of white neo-liberal lefties playing bongos around a hippy fire - though it did leave room for the likes of Hardip Singh Kohli to poke: “There’s a lot of white people here and I’m really happy to see white people represented at music festivals.”

Yet there was no shortage of multicultural voices on panels with Sehriban Dogan, Amal Ali, Jamal El Shayyal, Rukshana Pervin Hoque, Shenaz Bunglawala, Ala’a Shehabi, Mohammad Kozbar and others who put the event in good stead for a more cross-sectional crowd next year.

Speaker suggestions from various punters for next edition included Glen Greenwald, Robert Fisk, Seymour Hersh, Tariq Ali, Shashi Tharoor, Arundhati Roy, Jeremy Scahill, John Pilger, Salma Yaqoob, Amal Saad Ghorayeb, Max Blumenfeld, Gideon Levy, Naomi Klein and maybe even Frankie Boyle for a bit of fun.

Over at the Echo Chamber, BellingCat founder Elliot Higgins chaired the discussion, Gaslighting Syria and the Middle East. I arrived in the midst of a slanging match between a member of the audience and panelist Oz Katerji who was defending a dialogue which aimed to ‘kick back against Assad apologism.’

A sprinkling of others attempted to challenge the panel’s thoughts on whether the conflict was about civil war or a US proxy war for regime change. Alleged American use of white phosphorous didn’t get a mention - neither did Saudi use of British-sold arms against the people of Yemen. 

My partner in crime, CIJ-affiliated reporter Shanna Jones and I thought it was time for a sharp exit as there were rumbles coming from somewhere until we realised it was my stomach. An amazing Moroccan tagine and a beer or two later, we made a beeline for the Bad Press Awards where John Cleese stepped on to the stage to rapturous applause.

Celebrating ‘the worst of British journalism’ the Daily Mail bagged five out of seven awards including Toby Young’s ‘least accurate article’ on ‘Why only Lefties could go misty eyed at a movie that romanticises Benefits Britain.’ Mr Cleese also announced a life-time achievement gong for the paper’s editor Paul Dacre.

Meanwhile The Birmingham Mail slipped through the net when it was nominated for publishing the ‘most obvious sponsored content’ with its article: ‘Handsworth Grammar School continues to go from strength to strength’. Luckily, the Mirror beat us to it with: ‘Most people wait four years to end a bad relationship - here’s why.”

High on hype, we left Mr Cleese with a mob of reporters and fawning fans. Political activist Lauri Love who faces hacking charges in the US had presented a talk on surveillance and now had his mini-rig up and running behind the Frontline Club tent. Journalists of all-generations threw shapes to beats and pieces. But in the midst of high spirits, news of the London terror attacks spread like wildfire across the festival site. And as one anonymous reporter told me that night: “Terrorism will only stop when the mainstream media changes its coverage and stops provoking violence.” It dawned on me Byline didn’t hate the media. It wanted to become it. In fact, it already was.

Climbing for Charity

Chris Ryder, who is with the corporate partnerships department at Acorns Children’s Hospice, asks Birmingham Press Club members if they are up for a “Seven Summits” challenge.

Here’s a date for your diary – Monday, April 24. And if you’re feeling fit enough, why not join us at the Redpoint Climbing Centre at the Railway Yard, Midland Road, Worcester, WR5 1DS.

That’s when we’ll be asking teams of five people to take part in a “Climbathon,” organised with support from Baxter Williams, the Worcester-based recruitment consultancy, helping to raise funds for Acorns Children’s Hospice.

Together, we’re going to attempt to climb 45,000 meters over 12 hours. That’s equivalent to scaling the seven highest summits in the world – Everest, Aconcagua, Denali, Kili, Elbrus, Vinson and Pumcak Jaya.

We’re asking each team to raise £500 comprised of a £20 per head entry price (which also includes an annual membership to Redpoint Climbing of £5.00) and sponsorship. Teams can be any size between five and eight people, and you will be allocated a one hour climbing slot upon a registration on a first come, first served basis. All participants must be 18 or over.

Acorns provides specialist palliative care for life limited and life threatened babies, children and young people and support for their families.

The charity operates three hospices, including Acorns in Birmingham, Selly Oak, Acorns for the Three Counties in Worcester and Acorns in the Black Country, Walsall.

The hospices provide a home-from-home environment where children take part in a variety of fun and therapeutic activities, from arts and crafts sessions to hydrotherapy. Children visit Acorns for respite, short breaks, end of life and emergency care.

Press Club members have supported Acorns in the past by generously donating the proceeds from raffles at such events as the Midlands Media Awards. I do hope some of you will be able to join us on April 24 – from 9am until 9pm.

For more information or to register please contact Chris Ryder 01564 825 5029 or

Former Birmingham Mail Business Editor Jon Griffin’s “Letter from Gambia.”

It was just like being back at Trinity Mirror again - you wait for the announcement of your departure and enjoy the good life whilst it lasts....but there's always the prospect of some monkey business around the corner....

Admittedly the view of the beautiful white sandy beaches of Gambia was a considerable improvement on that of the skyline of Castle Bromwich over at Fort Dunlop - and the only obsession with clicks was the sound of frogs issuing their mating calls somewhere in the undergrowth.

My wife Julia and I had flown out to Kotu by the Atlantic coast in the West African state to soak up the sunshine for a week and escape the desolate grind of January in the freezing West Midlands.

It proved to be a little like Evelyn Waugh's novel Scoop, the famed journalistic satire where the Nature Notes correspondent William Boot is mistaken by his newspaper the Daily Beast for the war writer Henry Boot and sent abroad to report from the fictional African state of Ishmaelia, which is on the brink of civil war.

As we flew out there were some slightly worrying similarities with the Waugh newspaper masterpiece from 1938. The Gambia's president of 22 years Yahya Jammeh had been defeated by his rival Adama Barrow in December's election but was refusing to leave office.

Mr Barrow, an Arsenal fan who once worked as a security guard for Argos in North London not far from the Emirates, was left waiting to take up the presidential reins while other African leaders from Nigeria, Mauritania and elsewhere tried to persuade Mr Jammeh - a so-called 'strongman' with a disconcerting habit of putting political rivals behind bars - to accept his fate and step down.

There was little sign of any impending civil war as we soaked up the African sun's rays. The biggest dangers to a peaceful life were the monkeys that crept into our room to steal bananas, oranges and apples from the fruit bowl - not that we minded sharing with the charming little primates who swung down onto the roof for a free supper.

It was also difficult to keep some of the native population at arm's length. One young fellow decided that Julia and I were his long-lost parents and would appear at the end of the evening having stalked us after we had eaten in the local restaurants.

There were also the ' ladies of the night' on the beach who offered tourists everything from fruit, peanuts, and juices to 'massages'.... In time-

honoured journalistic fashion I declined and carried on walking in the Atlantic surf.

But the deadline for Mr Jammeh to step down was getting closer. Then we were told that troops from neighbouring Senegal were massing on the border ready to invade the capital Banjul - a mere half an hour away from our holiday paradise - if the stalemate continued.

Life seemed slightly less comfortable as thousands of Gambians fled from Banjul to Senegal to avoid a possible civil war....Was I about to become a real-life William Boot, stuck in a war-zone through no fault of my own?

In the end sense prevailed and Mr Jammeh agreed to step down. But not before Thomas Cook decided to evacuate all the tourists and fly everybody back home, leaving holidaymakers stuck in huge queues at Banjul airport.

Luckily we avoided the queues by 24 hours, flying home as scheduled just before the Thomas Cook evacuation was ordered....Another day and we would have been queuing up alongside all the poor tourists whose holiday plans were wrecked and had to fly home without even seeing a monkey pinch a banana, let alone risk being stuck in a Scoop-style civil war....