Reporters go live at crisis budget vote

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When city leaders in Coventry were debating spending cuts of millions of pounds, Radio Plus went live to Journalism student Ting Ting Zhang for the latest news – four times. In the seat next to her, Nour Abida was covering the story on social media.

Their Coventry University classmates were in the radio studio, grabbing clips from a webcast and delivering live updates in a special programme – working under pressure.

Nour Abida, Ting Ting Zhang and Nico Mirhashem, ready for the city cabinet meeting

Nour Abida, Ting Ting Zhang and Nico Mirhashem, ready for the city cabinet meeting

Ting, Nour and Nico Mirhashem had started their day rigging microphones ready for a meeting of the city council’s ruling cabinet, exercising a recently-granted right to record council meetings.

In the newsroom across town, Alex Marnelakis had spent the morning in the Radio Plus newsroom, planning the programme running order, while reporters Kyle Knappett and Bahar Hussain hunted for stories.

This was an example of engaging with the real world for students on Coventry’s award-winning BA Journalism and Media course.

They weren’t just watching democracy at work: they were part of it.

City council leader Ann Lucas has supported the work of students and even publicly welcomed their presence at several meetings.

Second-year students had the chance to compete for places on the experimental student news days at the start of the academic year. They spent several weeks at the station – one day a week – developing their radio skills.

Radio Plus is a community station run by the charity Coventry Spirit, aimed at listeners aged 18-35.

Bahar Hussain, Alex Marnalakis and Kyle Knappett, ready to go live

Bahar Hussain, Alex Marnalakis and Kyle Knappett, ready to go live

The partnership with Coventry University was set up by lecturer Shelly Stevenson and station manager Tim Coleman – himself a former member of the Journalism teaching team.

It involved students finding stories and guests for an afternoon programme hosted by Shelly herself, and going out to interview people around the city.

When Shelly was unable to present the programme on 24 February 2015, it looked as if the students would lose their opportunity. But it was quickly realised that this would be one of the biggest news days of the year for Coventry, given the controversy surrounding the cuts.

The decision was made for Tim to present the programme, and for the students to cover the meetings.

It meant the students got a great experience of reporting politics – live and for real. And as Tim told listeners, they did a great job.

In fact, the programme had to be extended so Kyle could be interviewed live about plans for the university to expand into the city centre with a new research centre and student accommodation – another topic discussed at the meeting.

The team went off air at 4.15pm – but not Ting. She stayed on in the council chamber for another hour so she could report the final outcome, live into the evening programme.

And if you’d told them, a year earlier, that a council meeting could be exciting…

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Simon Pipe is a former print and BBC journalist, now a member of the Journalism teaching team at Coventry University. He also runs an experimental website, St Helena Online, about one of the world's most remote inhabited islands, at On Twitter, when he has something to say, he is @simonpipe

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