13 things I’ve learned being a reporter in my home town

When I was growing up, I always dreamed of turning my love of writing into a career.

English students are often encouraged to become teachers, but in my teens I found myself more drawn to the media industry in all of its forms.

I’m the first person in my immediate family to have gone to university, but even after my degree there were always doubts in my mind that a career in journalism would ever be within reach.

But around a year later, I found myself working as a community reporter for the ECHO – writing solely about what’s happening where I live.

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The role, in partnership with Facebook and the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ), gives the borough of Knowsley more representation in the media, reporting positive stories, issues facing the community and more.

It wasn’t until I sat down for my interview that I was told the role covered that patch, but to me it seemed like a great fit, an opportunity to highlight stories and people that have surrounded me my entire life.

Now nearly a year into my community reporter role, here are some of the things I have learned about Knowsley – and being a reporter in the place you grew up – along the way.

1. Are you actually from Huyton?

Reporter Jess Molyneux in her Huyton with Roby school uniform, aged four.

When I first started the job and put shout outs on social media, a lot of people assumed I was from elsewhere, that I was coming into this not knowing anything about the borough.

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I haven’t got a strong accent, but people are often surprised to hear that I’m a local girl and have spent my entire life living in Huyton.

As a kid I went to Huyton with Roby C of E primary school, moving on to local secondary school Huyton Arts and Sports Centre for Learning, now named Lord Derby Academy.

Growing up, I spent a lot of years socialising, shopping and going on family day trips around the area and in my teens would regularly spend weekends in McGoldrick Park or Ten Acre Pits.

2. There's often a 'mutual friend' with the people I interview

No matter what the job, if you live in the same area you work in, you will always end up coming into contact with a friend of a friend.

I suppose that's a typical thing across Merseyside, as there's a strong sense of community and people aren't afraid to talk to strangers.

But I doubt there's been a week where I haven't ended up interviewing someone who has a mutual person linked to me.

Whether it be residents who know or have worked with members of my family or coincidentally discovering I'm interviewing a neighbour half-way through a call, it's like the six degrees of separation most days.

3. Writing about where you live has its benefits

Already knowing people, places and the history of towns across the borough has been extremely beneficial these last few months.

I've been lucky enough to gain a lot of great contacts through people I knew before becoming a reporter and use my own knowledge of Knowsley as inspiration for stories.

On a daily basis, I have the opportunity build a relationship with members of the community who are from a not too dissimilar background to myself.

And often if they know I'm local, they trust me and feel more comfortable sharing their story.

4. But with that comes a lot of responsibility

Having a prior insight and being from the areas comes with a lot of responsibility, as people trust and expect you to understand and represent their stories in the best way possible.

Knowsley has been underrepresented in the media for some time, so I often feel the pressure to make people proud and approve of the content I produce which means a lot to them.

I've never hid from the fact that this is a fairly new role and I am from the area, which means people aren't shy to call me out on something or voice their opinions.

I have and will make mistakes, although I do my best not to, but I will learn and fix things along the way as I am conscious of how important these stories can be to the community.

5. I can never look at places the same again

ECHO reporter Jess Molyneux in Kirkby Town Centre.

A huge part of my role is being out on patch as often as possible.

I love supporting local businesses, going on a walk and shopping in my spare time -but now so many places are associated with stories I've written.

Walking through Kirkby town centre I'm reminded of the business owners I've spoken to, I can't go to Halewood shopping centre without thinking of all the strangers I stopped to do voxpops – and the list goes on.

But it's not a bad thing. I have a lot of good memories and experiences that I wouldn't change.

6. The people I have met never cease to amaze me

Community means a lot of things to a lot of different people.

It#s the shop owners who your family have been loyal to for decades, the pride you get when someone from your town has achieved something great, the times when you come together to support one another.

I've not even been in this role a year yet, but the pillars of the community, the local heroes, the life-changing residents, they never cease to amaze me.

From war veterans and activists to survivors, campaigners and more, I'm often in disbelief at how inspirational their stories are and grateful that I have the opportunity to talk to them.

7. Every day is different to the rest

Jess Molyneux with Chief Inspector Phil Mullally of the Knowsley Community Policing team.

It's rare that any day in journalism is the same and I am yet to experience that in this role.

Some days I can be in the newsroom writing and others I'm out and about in different locations.

I've written stories about different towns, community groups and issues. I've had interviews in a stately home, a brewery, on people's doorsteps, just on a random street and more. I've spoken to people of all ages and backgrounds.

At times it can be a lot going from one extreme to the next, but it just shows how diverse and real Knowsley can be.

8. The patch is a lot bigger than I thought

It definitely took a while for it to sink in that I would be covering an entire borough.

I already knew all the towns located in the patch, but I don't think I truly understood what it would be like writing about the entire area.

The borough of Knowsley formed in 1974 and became responsible for the districts of Cronton, Halewood , Huyton, Kirkby, Knowsley Village, Prescot, Tarbock, Whiston and the area of Cantril Farm, now Stockbridge Village.

With a population of over 150,000, I can never complain that nothing is going on.

9. It's hard not to bump into someone on your day off

Huyton Village shopping area on Derby Road.

If I were to walk round Huyton Village on say a Saturday afternoon, the likelihood of me bumping into somebody I have interviewed or worked with is very high.

One weekend I saw two different people I had interviewed for two separate stories in the same shop at the same time.

It's not that I was nervous to speak to them – but I just didn't know what to do.

Is it acceptable to walk over and disrupt their day? Do they remember me? Do I also introduce them to my mum who I'm shopping with in New Look in Huyton?

10. All of the areas have their own identity

Screengrab of Jess Molyneux doing voxpops in Stockbridge Village.

It's easy to assume every place is the same if they are bound together as one borough.

But if you speak to residents in Knowsley and ask where they are from, you will find out that each town has its own distinct history dating back hundreds of years before the borough was even formed – and with that comes a strong sense of pride and community.

From Prescot's unique ties to Shakespeare to the relocation of inner-city residents to Kirkby – the borough has seen seen growth in residents, development and investment.

There are undoubtedly similarities between them all, but I was surprised to see how different they all are in terms of their history and community.

11. Residents are proud of where they come from

The community spirit and pride of residents across Knowsley is ever-growing.

They make it known how they feel about where they live and the people around them – as well as what it means to them when they see good news about it.

From comments on Facebook to reactions to stories, readers are proud and show their support of inspiring stories about people who are from the same place and are like themselves.

This sense of pride stretches across Merseyside, but I see it day-to-day in my coverage of Knowsley.

12. It's important to have both positive and issue-led stories

In the past, the borough has had more crime-based coverage in the media.

And while it's still important to inform residents of this – it's not the only thing happening in Knowsley.

Despite living here my whole life, I was surprised at how much stuff is actually going on in the borough and how interesting and important the stories of residents are to share.

In the role, I've found readers like to have a mixture of positive and issue-led pieces to represent their community, from nostalgia, to profiles about pillars of their town, to issues in education, health and more.

13. People were shocked to find out about the role

A number of reporters from the Community News Project at Facebook HQ in London.

Last year, the Community News Project (CNP), a partnership between Facebook, the NCTJ and nine regional news publishers created over 80 new roles focused on the coverage of previously under-served communities.

The ECHO identified two Merseyside areas in need of more representation – Knowsley and Liverpool 8.

My role consists of going out on patch, giving residents more of a voice in the media, producing positive and issue-led content about the borough and running a Facebook group – Knowsley news, community and people – to reach the community.

So far I have seen people engage with stories and notice the change in content about Knowsley and although it is still fairly new, I'm excited to see where it goes and there's still a lot to learn.

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