Assignment two: dispatch from Gin Lane - Press Gazette

Assignment two: dispatch from Gin Lane

surviving last week’s NME assignment, our eight remaining Press Cadets
were asked to step back in time. Ian Reeves was on hand to see how
they fared

Date: Friday 7 October 2005

Time: 10am

Venue: Take a Break’s office at Academic House, London NW1

Task one: Edit a letter for Take a Break.

Task two:
Imagine you are a journalist in 1730s London when the crack cocaine of
the day was cheap gin. You turn a corner and find yourself in this
street, Gin Lane.

Using modern language, write a dispatch or
feature about what you see, smell, hear and feel, for a modern media
outlet of your choice, with headlines where appropriate.

Task three:
Name 10 differences between Take a Break and a publication of your
choice, listing them in order of importance and explaining why.

Deadline for tasks two and three: 10am, Monday 10 October

Judges: John Dale , editor, Ta ke a Break, and Ian Reeves, editor, Press Gazette


tasks this week proved how little there was to separate the eight
remaining cadets – all of them edited the reader’s letter with great
skill, and presented compelling well-thoughtout differences between
Take a Break and another magazine of their choice. So it was the main
assignment that proved decisive.

Our assessor this week, Take a
Break editor John Dale, wanted to test the cadets on the frontline of a
sensational story. As the budget wouldn’t cover sending them to the
Pakistani earthquake, instead we went to the expense of making
photocopies of the Hogarth etching, Gin Lane.

John explained that
William Hogarth was a prototype photo-journalist who depicted real-life
scenes through his art. The cadets would need to climb into the
picture, notebook in hand, and act as a traditional reporter. Ask
questions. Listen. Taste the gin. Get down and dirty, especially with
the main character, Drunken Baby Killer Mum.

Not all the cadets
saw the task this way. “Some seemed to think that Googling was more
important than reporting, which it is not,” said John.

Our first
faller this week was Elaine Okyere, who did not complete the tasks
because she had decided to take a job at CosmoBride – which was
disappointing for us, but made our job 50 per cent easier.

Of the
remaining seven, both Lou Thomas and Rachel Williams opted to give the
story the News of the World treatment. Lou interviewed Killer Mum,
discovered she had been addicted since the age of 10, and persuaded her
to confess that she had strangled her last child after selling his
clothes. John thought he showed “wit and a good turn of phrase”.

got alongside Hogarth fearlessly, interviewing the woman, getting her
history. Child rape. Teenage prostitute. Attempted suicide. Gin
addiction. Rachel neither preached nor judged and presented the
evidence and let that do the sensationalising.

Elizabeth Pountney
impressed me greatly by presenting her work as a finished Daily Mail
spread, showing the paper at its raging, moralising best. But she
failed to climb into Hogarth’s picture and get vomit on her fingers.
John thought it fell down on “live reporting – an experienced Daily
Mail reporter would have dangled more gin in Killer Mum’s face as bait”.

A more serious approach was taken by Zoe Williams, Will Payne, Les Floyd and Benjamin Leach.

robustly defended herself against charges of pretension in last week’s
NME assignment, Zoe fearlessly aimed her piece this week at the French
title Liberation – a bold move that didn’t necessarily pay off. “She
got into the sounds, the touch and the smells but not into the people,”
John thought.

Will provided the biggest debate between the
judges. His piece was for the Daily Telegraph, and I felt there was far
too much about him, and not enough about what he was seeing. It was
written more as a novel than a piece of journalism. John, though, felt
that the dull start was compensated by his dramatic intervention in the
story, actually catching and saving the falling baby. “Most heroic, the
new W T Stead.”

Les Floyd, a blogger and the only one of our
cadets with no formal journalism training, produced a well-written
piece in which, John suspected, “our old friend Google took priority
over getting down and dirty with Killer Mum. The story should have been
Gin Lane, not the Gin Problem.”

But Les’s high-ranked performance
last week helped him live to fight another day. Benjamin was therefore
the unlucky cadet, by a whisker. His was a cool analysis of the gin
trading culture, presented for the Observer’s Focus section. It was
certainly well researched, but we both felt that he didn’t quite
reflect the extraordinary scenes of the etching in the most compelling
way. “He interviewed Hogarth,” said John. “But that’s like interviewing
your snapper.”

Benjamin said he had tried to look at ‘why’ scenes
were occurring and try to give a bigger picture. “I enjoyed the
competition and am disappointed that I didn’t progress further.”

Lou Thomas

reaching Judith Defour’s shabby dwelling it becomes obvious she has
suffered the ill effects of gin addiction worse than most. The stench
of vomit, excrement, and three-day-old boiled cabbage left on the floor
burned at the nostrils, and her tiny room was covered in filth. Judith
herself can barely walk, such is her devotion to the drink that has
helped her now kill TWO children. “I never meant to kill my poor little
babies. It’s just the gin what does it. Ain’t never been free of it
since I was 10. Me old dad use to ‘it me with a bucket and it always
‘elped the pain go away. Now I can’t stop drinking this sweet,
beautiful gin.”

Rachel Williams

Wicked mother-of-one Leanne Davis revealed she laughed as her baby plunged to his death yesterday because she was so drunk.

Sick Davis said hours later she stripped his body and pawned his tiny clothes to fuel her compulsive gin habit.

And she explained she sold her body for booze more than twice a day.

exclusively to the News of the World the homeless 25-year-old recalled
how tot Jack fell to the ground from the top of a steep flight of
stairs as she reached for her cigarettes.

William Payne

a corner a revolting stench interrupted my thoughts. I started gagging,
the smell was overpowering. After a few seconds, I regained my
composure. I looked up at a street sign on the building opposite me,
squinting to try to make out the lettering through the dim streetlight,
and the smoky air, “Gin Lane”, this was the place. I just hoped to God
that the smell would pass.

Zoe Smith

long Charlotte De Larousse had a baby that she could not afford to
feed. Despondent and depressed she turned to alcohol to drown her
sorrows. One day while drinking on the steps of a local church she
became so drunk that she accidentally dropped the baby which was
sleeping on her lap. The local police, who are always suspicious of the
French, charged her with murder and she was hung for her crime.

Benjamin Leach

Johnson describes herself as “the world’s most experienced gin trader”.
She has lived above her gin shop on Gin Lane in the slum districts of
St Giles’ Parish, Westminster, for all of her 51 years, which means she
knows a lot of people in this diverse suburb of London.

Today she is packing her bags – about to move out of the house in which she has lived all her life.

Johnson feels she can no longer survive in an area that has been ruined by addiction, desperation, and prostitution.

Elizabeth Pountney

Tuesday we visited Gin Lane, one of London’s worst affected streets,
and what greeted us was the shocking reality of a seedy underworld.

unemployed, with little money or material possessions, the occupants of
Gin Lane are unwashed and foul smelling, many with rips in their
clothes. Bodies lay sprawled across pavements and roads. As the
deafening din hits you, London’s gin nightmare comes into focus.

inebriated shout coarsely to one another, the barely conscious groan,
and vociferous, sometimes violent altercations between drinkers
desperate for their next tankard, rage.

Les Floyd

liquor was first imported after being developed by Professor Franz
Silvius, of the Netherlands, as a diuretic for the treatment of urinary
disorders and as a cheap alternative to juniper oil, but the high
alcohol content and comparatively low taxation levels on gin has given
it mass appeal as a “poison of choice” for the poor.

Press Cadet profiles – the six that remain in the running 2005

Elizabeth Pountney Age: 24 Career history: Various PA/assistant work at GQ, The Guardian and The Sunday Times.

Currently fashion news editor on Clash, freelancing for Sunday Times Style, Hooker and Condé Nast Traveller.

How do you feel now you have reached the last six?

I know how those X Factor contestants feel waiting for Simon Cowell (in
this case Ian Reeves) to deliver his verdict on whether they’re “good
enough”. Obviously I’m thrilled to have got through to the next round
where the tasks, I imagine, will only get tougher…

William Payne Age:23
Career history: Work experience at the Racing Post and Daily Mirror,
worked for BBC Match of the Day for six months and in the BBC sports

How do you feel now you have reached the last six?

further I progress, the more disappointing it will be if I don’t win. I
don’t think I wrote to my potential for the last task, and was relieved
to get through. I am thinking of the last round as my one life-line
(excuse the game show reference!), and will give everything in the rest
of the competition.

Lou Thomas Age: 25 Career history: BA in journalism with sociology, City University How do you feel now you have reached the last six?

feel proud and exhilarated to have made it this far, especially
considering the high standard of the competition. The second task was
challenging and interesting. Hopefully the jaunt to Isleworth on Monday
will be just as rewarding.

Rachel Williams Age: 20 Career history: Trainee reporter, Wiltshire Gazette and Herald since July 2004. NCTJ pre-entry Sept 2003 to June 2004.

How do you feel now you have reached the last six?

am so happy to have got to this stage of the competition. It’s a
fantastic opportunity for somebody who wants to be a successful
journalist as much as I do. It’s been a privilege to meet all the
people we have so far and great experience to adapt our writing styles
and test our skills.

Zoe Smith
Age: 25 Career history: One year in Milan, Italy, as an interpreter and
research assistant for Fazi Editore and freelance work for Rolling
Stone. Intern on the Observer. BA in journalism and social sciences How
do you feel now you have reached the last six?

I’m happy to be in
the final six and to get the opportunity to experience Five News – it
should be a real insight. I really enjoyed Take a Break. To write about
a place as colourful as Gin Lane was a real treat.

Les Floyd
Age: 31 Career history: Currently freelancing for the News & Star,
Carlisle, and writing a blog about experiences in recovery from
depression, alcoholism and agoraphobia.

How do you feel now you have reached the last six?

a real sense of unreality, for me, in getting through to the last six –
and it’s nothing to do with missing a dose of my antidepressants.

the start of this, I’ve been in superb and extremely talented company,
so I’m proud to be doing so well and I’m sure all of the cadets will
make their mark in the world of journalism, win or lose.