Every year the Sandford St Martin Awards receive something in the region of 200 entries. Reviewing, carefully considering and, ultimately, identifying the best of those entries falls to a crack team of dedicated shortlisters. Most of them are pretty seasoned media professionals but for the last couple of years we’ve also included someone on each category panel who is comparatively new to a journalism or media career. It’ll sound a bit patronising but when the original impulse to bring in students or entry-level producers to help shortlist was born, it was rooted in the vague notion that giving them a paid opportunity to do so, would be good for them. But, ultimately, there’s no doubt: it’s the Trust and the Awards that have benefitted the most. The perspective, the enthusiasm and professionalism this cohort have offered has been beyond value. Shola Adesina is one of those who helped shortlist this year’s entries and she’s been kind enough to write about her experience below. Read it and I think you’ll agree, the honour really has been all ours.
If you’re a journalism or media student or are embarking on a career in broadcasting, are passionate about why good broadcasting about religion or ethics matters, and you’d like to be considered as a shortlister in the future, email firstname.lastname@example.org to tell us more about yourself and why you’d like to do it.
What it’s like to study Journalism when the world is on fire
By Shola Adesina, 12 April 2021
When Sandford St Martin asked me to help shortlist the Journalism category of their awards, it couldn’t have come as more of a welcome break from my degree. People always say university is tough, and that first year is one of the biggest changes in a young person’s life, but nothing could have prepared me for what it was like to start university during 2020 – the year the world went and fell apart.
In a way, last year was arguably one of the best times to become a Journalism student. As everyone began to settle into a new life indoors, the practice of Journalism came into the limelight. The world started paying closer attention to news sources and began to question the quality and integrity of the news we were being bombarded with at the time.
That being said, once I moved from London to Leeds to begin my studies, the barrage of breaking news started taking a toll on me. I was isolated and unwell, after having caught the coronavirus during my second week living in halls. Each day I’d watch the news, take the time to process it, then log straight onto a Zoom lecture – where we would dissect the very same stories that I’d spent all morning trying not to cry into my porridge about…
At times, I was left questioning why I was doing all of this in the first place: What did it mean to be a journalist, and what was the point in trying when the current state of affairs was already so terrible?
It wasn’t until I read an essay by James Carey, an American communication theorist, that I understood what’s so important about conscientious journalism. Carey puts it very well, “when democracy falters, journalism falters, and when journalism goes awry, democracy goes awry”. Nothing shows this more clearly than the events of 2020 – from BLM protests and the tearing down of statues, to the rise of fake news, and a general distrust in the Media. Reuters Institute released numerous reports over the year showing a marked decline in public trust in news media, and even a decline in people choosing to access the news because of how it was making them feel. I began to think about the role of the journalist as being a truth seeker, and how today, more than ever, that is such an important and precious part of our democracy.
This year, the entries I was lucky enough to shortlist were spectacular. Despite my own tenuous relationship with faith and spirituality, I learned that through the lens of religious storytelling, you can touch on social, political, and even emotional realities that many of us can empathise with or learn from. For me, shortlisting allowed me to broaden my horizons and learn about how stories really hold power, and how, particularly, religious stories can have much more impact than I’d initially thought.
Shortlisting also allowed me the privilege to learn about stories that I had absolutely no idea of, completely new to me! Watching ‘The Settler’s Billionaire Backer’ and ‘Witness – Buddha in Africa’ also showed me the scope of religious storytelling, and how stories from outside of the UK – stories of things we might not be used to here – are still relatable and thought provoking on a fundamental, human level.
I hope that one day I can produce stories like these. Now, when I think about being a journalist, I think about what I might be able to do to serve others, and how by telling stories, we can garner a level of understanding and harmony – so that in case the world begins to fall apart again, I may be able to do my bit to help out.