Elena Cresci

Journalist and presenter

Some cool stuff I did in 2016

2015 was not a good year for me. I began 2016 screaming obscenities at the fireworks on telly, swearing this year would be much better. Oh, sweet, summer child – how little you knew!

Even without the unravelling of the world as we know it, I don’t feel like 2016 was a banner year for this Cresci. But, this may be because I am a person who is prone to ruts. At points this year, it felt like I’d never clamber out.

It would be easy for me just to write this year off, like I did 2015. Last year, I remember seeing my friends and colleagues compile their “things I was proud of this year” lists and thinking, nah, I haven’t written enough cool shit to do one of those. I didn’t want to do that again this year because I’ve done some work I am super proud of.

So, at the risk of looking like a total idiot, here are some things I did this year in between the hellfire of 2016’s news agenda.

Sianel Pump

When I got the email about Sianel Pump, I nearly turned it down because I am an idiot with some self-confidence issues. I’m so glad I didn’t – filming 5 Elena has been the highlight of my 2016.

Lonelygirl15: how one mysterious vlogger changed the internet

Sat in a pub in April, I remembered the saga of Lonelygirl15, YouTube’s first big scandal. Then I realised it was going to be the 10th anniversary in June. I proceeded to screech at the other journalists around me that this was MINE ALL MINE. So yeah, I’m pretty happy with this one.

Cymru v Gwlad Belg (aka the Welsh football live blog)

I live blogged Wales’ sensational victory against Belgium in the Euros in Welsh. It basically documents my 180 turn from moderate Welsh fan to someone who sings the Joe Ledley chant on the regular. I also did a follow up for Wales v Portugal, from a pub in Lisbon. When we lost, the Portuguese bought us a lot of shots. Oh, and Quartz ended up writing a really terrible guide to speaking Welsh based on my blog. 

The Downing Street cat war


I started making some videos this year, including some for the Guardian’s social video team. This one is my favourite, though I can only take credit for the pitch and the script – the editing was done by my wonderful colleagues Fred McConnell and Ekaterina Ochagavia.

Meet the 75%: the young people who voted to remain in the EU

Early polling data released by YouGov on the day of the EU referendum showed 75% of young people voted to Remain. Turnout was about 65% among that age group. We used it as a hook to ask young readers how they felt about the result. We also set up a Tumblr to feature some of the hundreds of responses that had flooded into my inbox.

 

Sexual harassment on public transport

Midway through the year, my job changed, which means I haven’t done as many callouts as I have in previous years. This one, collecting stories from women who have been assaulted or harassed on public transport, is one of the last ones I did, and one I am particularly proud of.

#VoteBeaver

This feels like an age ago now. Someone in Wales humorously defaced a Vote Leave sign so it read Vote Beaver. An enthusiastic local Leave campaigner was not happy and posted about it on Facebook. The rest is history. Also, some students in Aberystwyth dressed up as this and it’s the best thing to ever result from my journalism.

How it feels to be at the centre of an internet kidnapping conspiracy


The internet is so weird. In the summer, the internet convinced itself YouTuber Marina Joyce had been kidnapped. Police were even called to her house. It was bizarre. I caught up with Marina and her mum Cheryl after the dust had settled.

 

This is the NHS

Right at the beginning of the year, I took part in a big Guardian project about the NHS. I interviewed or commissioned around 20 people about a day the NHS saved their lives. This unearthed some incredible stories – from the woman whose partner stabbed her in the back to the junior doctor who almost died in a car crash.

Germany, we need to talk


I was lucky enough this year to be chosen as a delegate for the George Weidenfeld IJP fellowship, which sends British and German journalists to newsrooms in each other’s countries. I spent my time with the wonderful people at Zeit Campus in Hamburg. If anyone’s thinking of doing the fellowship, I would 100% recommend it. One of my aims for the fellowship was to try and make some videos. With the help of the super-talented Sophia Schirmer at Bento (a youth site run by Spiegel), I’ve got a mini-series in which I poke fun at Germany. The first one was about tea – the Germans who have got in touch with me so far have been incredibly polite about how wrong I am.


Here’s some things I’d like to do in 2017:

  • make more videos
  • explore more of weird internet
  • AVOID RUTS LIKE THE PLAGUE
  • rejuvenate my sewing blog (long-time readers will note I have begun on the layout…)
  • build a bunker (I joke, but…)

Happy new year, friends.

Farewell to Terry Pratchett (or: ook ook ook!)

Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett

Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett

My first brush with Terry Pratchett’s novels was through the covers of his books.

Ironic really, given it was his words which mattered the most.

The ones I remember are those illustrated by Josh Kirby. Full of these vivid characters and the kind of artwork I’d never seen before, I’d spend hours poring over the covers. I pretty much broke the “never judge a book by its cover” rule several times over. I was quite young, so I think I found them a bit frightening at first.

Eventually, I thought I’d give one of those strange looking books a try and fell headlong into this world of witches, wizards, wit and wisdom. Who knew footnotes could be so funny? And who could have imagined a kindlier Grim Reaper?

Since then, Pratchett’s books have been a staple part of my literary diet.

I grew up obsessed with fantasy novels: Harry Potter made me want to be a writer, His Dark Materials marked the beginning of my teenage years but Discworld? Discworld has been constant. Pratchett was so prolific, his works so numerous, I can mark a Discworld novel for most points in my life.

As a teen, at a time when classmates were passing around an email detailing why I was such a loser, it made me feel like less of an oddball. Because, if anything, his characters made you realise we’re all at least a little bit strange. Granny Weatherwax taught me to give less of a shit about what people thought of me.

At university, it provided respite to the dull critics you have to read when you study English Literature. Tired of reading and highlighting their complex theories for hours, I would find a corner and read Wyrd Sisters for a while – a fitting modern tribute to Shakespeare’s work, if you ask me.

When I was a trainee journalist doing my first bout of work experience, I re-read The Truth and felt more connected to journalism than ever before. My first job was at a weekly paper in Guildford. Come deadline day, when all had been filed, I couldn’t help but think of this quote:

“The press waited. It looked now, like a great big beast. Soon he’d throw a lot of words into it. And in a few hours it would be hungry again, as if those words never happened. You could feed it, but you could never fill it up.”

(and sometimes still today: “A lie can run around the world before the truth has got its boots on.” And this was BEFORE Twitter!)

Now, living what feels like a million miles away from where I grew up, it reminds me of home, of the daft jokes my Dad tells around the kitchen table, of the library in my family home with Pratchett’s books strewn between our living room shelves and spots in my old bedroom. More than that, when I’m feeling particularly homesick (yep, it happens even when you’re 25 and have flown the nest), Pratchett makes me laugh.

This is without even talking about the myriad of other books Pratchett produced in his lifetime. But I’d be here all day if I talked about them all. I hope, one day, to have achieved half what Sir Terry did.

Thank you, Terry Pratchett. I hope Death is every bit of the character you imagined him to be.

The joy of writing for no-one

When I was at school, I used to fill notebook after notebook with ridiculous stories about everything and anything. God forbid how many trees I used up in my pursuit of storytelling. My mum still jokes about buying a holiday home with the money from my upcoming hit novel.

This carried on through primary school and into secondary schools. I lived for the creative writing assignments, the bits where I had an excuse for sitting and writing. If anyone asked me what I wanted to be, the answer was always the same.Outside of school, I loved me a good diary, filling reams of pages with the pains of being a teenager. Unsurprisingly, this moved from the page to the internet. I deleted my LiveJournal long ago, but I’m sure my angsty web-posts exist somewhere, still.

Things changed when I was about 16, when my grandfather died in a fire. At the time, I didn’t really want to write about it. In fact, it wasn’t until years later I actually did. Writing stopped being an escape. I found it elsewhere – in my Art classes, in martial arts… but you’d rarely find me putting a pen to paper for anything other than schoolwork.

I didn’t want to write about not being accepted to Oxbridge, falling in love for the first time or going to university. I’m sure I did from time to time – but I stopped documenting my feelings as voraciously as before. I didn’t even make up stories anymore.

It only really got started again when I decided I wanted to be a journalist. But that’s different from my anonymous LiveJournal and my offline diaries because, suddenly, it felt so much more serious. Anytime I blogged, I felt the weight of potential employers bearing down on me.

But now I’m fortunate enough to write in my day-to-day job, I think I might try to take some things offline. Of course, I’m not going to stop blogging – it’s fun! Contrary to what the rest of this post might suggest, I actually quite like it when people read my work. But, in my spare time at least, I think I’m going to try writing more for myself than anyone else.

So, an end to chastising myself for not updating this blog. I need to go back to basics.

Catch you later, Caerdydd

photo (28)

This week, I left my city – Cardiff.

I’ve always thought of it as my city, though I grew up some 5 miles away in a small village. Cardiff’s been just a stone’s throw away for most of my life.

But now I have a job in London, the big daddy of cities.  They may both be capitals,  but Cardiff and London are worlds apart.

My Mum often says I’m a city girl and it’s true – I was always drawn to Cardiff. In primary school, I filled reams of pages with stories about the stone dragon on top of City Hall, convinced it came alive at night. Cardiff’s where I got up to most of my mischief and it’s where I’ve met many a friend.

In contrast, once upon a time, I hated London. I hated how big it was, I hated the swarm of tourists occupying what seemed like every inch of the pavement and I hated the looming, grey tower blocks.

Cardiff, on the other hand, was more manageable. A pocket-sized city, if you will. Everything I loved was within walking distance of a train station. It never seemed scary, even the bits people tell you not to go to. It always seemed so manageable, compared to the overwhelming business of London.

My feelings towards London softened over time – mostly because I went to visit friends living there rather than go on sightseeing tours or school trips. It’s just as well, because I realised a London move would be inevitable for my career, sooner or later. And even though I’ve been expecting this move for some time, even though I know Cardiff will always be there, I felt a little ping of sadness as my train rolled out of Cardiff Central station towards London Paddington.

There are little things I’ll miss – like the cash machines asking if you’d prefer Welsh or English (I always pick Welsh), that bloke who drums on bins in Queen Street and the tiny arcades, though quieter than they were, still full of gems. I’ve been away before, but this is the first time I feel like it will be quite some time before I come back for an extended stay.

But I’m sure I’ll catch you later, Caerdydd.

This post is part of my 2014 challenge to write more. Check out my other challenges here.

My 2014

len banner

So 2013 has been a mixed bag.

Highlights include getting a job working for local papers I grew up reading, moving back to Cardiff, completing my very first half marathon, learning the ukulele… not to mention getting the chance for a whole new start in London with a certain job I’m really quite excited about.

But I’d be lying if I said it was all hunky dory. For various reasons, have had a rough couple of months of late and I let a lot of my personal projects slide. We can’t be having that, can we?

Traditionally, I do extremely badly with New Year’s resolutions. I remember the year I planned to run at 6am three times a week before lectures and found myself hitting the snooze button as soon as my first morning jog came along. Hopefully I’ll do a bit better this year,

My friend Howard did a great challenge in 2013. At the end of it, he’s come out with 12 songs, 52 portraits and 365 happy thoughts.

2013 lacked a little focus, so I’ve been planning a 12/52/365 challenge of my own, based around the things I love doing and what I’d like to achieve.

12: Just sew

I’ve been sewing (and blogging about it) for going on five years now – gulp! Since I began working full time, it’s become more and more difficult to keep up my sewing at a decent pace. Earlier this year I popped a list of all those projects I’ve passed up into a fancy jar, which currently gathers dust on my bedside table. For each month of 2014, I’ll take a Can’t out of the jar and get it done, once and for all. Some things, like a coat for example, will take up the whole month with just one project while others can comprise of lots of different ones. I want to push the boundaries of what I can sew by getting out of my comfort zone. Should be fun! I’ll update on my progress over on my sewing blog Seamless.

52: Writing for fun

There was a time all I did was write. I filled reams of notebooks full of angsty teenage prose back in the day and I’ve been blogging on and off for years. Of course, as a reporter I write news stories more or less every day – but I barely write for fun at all anymore. Every week, I’d like to write something just for fun. I’m not going to set any limits on what I write because then I probably won’t do it! We’ll see what happens on that front. I’ll post them all on the blog here.

365: Visual diary

Back when I was studying Art for A-Level, I did this awesome project which involved drawing a visual diary in a second-hand book I found in a charity shop in Barry. It was good fun and an excuse to play with paints, inks and CRAYONS. It might turn out a bit poo as I haven’t drawn for years. But again – let’s see how it goes. I’ll be posting them on a Tumblr over here.

There are lots of other things I’d like to fit in around these challenges, like running, more ukulele playing, brushing up on my German… but I’ll figure it out as I go along!

HAPPY 2014 EVERYONE! Now I’m off to drink a lot of champagne.

Since when is Judo off-limits for women?

The Olympics has such a wide variety of sports, it’s understandable not every newsroom has expert commentators on what are minority sports any other time of the year.

When Gemma Gibbons fought for her silver medal yesterday, there were plenty of commentators on Twitter confused about Judo’s rules. The award for complete miscomprehension of the sport goes to Andrew Brown of the Telegraph, who wrote a stunningly sexist blog post about how “disturbing” women’s Judo is.

With those judo contestants – and I realise this will probably sound appallingly sexist – I couldn’t help wondering about their soft limbs battered black and blue with bruises. Would it bother me to see one of my own daughters savagely attacking another woman on a judo mat for people’s entertainment?

I can almost guarantee that had any of Gibbons’ male teammates achieved the first British Judo medal in 12 years, then we wouldn’t even be debating about how violent a sport it supposedly is. Female judoka are not the delicate flowers Brown appears to believe they are. Almost every female martial artist I know lives and breathes their chosen discipline, taking pride in their bruises and, quite frankly, showing the men a thing or two.

I can understand why someone would find it difficult to watch two people exchanging blows. What I don’t understand is how people can rave about boxing greats or a men’s Judo match and then deride women’s full-contact sports as being unnecessarily violent. There are a few people in the comments on that article saying Judo is just dandy, but women’s boxing is horrible.

You can’t have one rule for Judo and another for boxing, either you accept women practice these sports or you just don’t watch, because they’re going to carry on training just the same.

Not to mention, there’s more skill in a Judo match than just smashing your opponent to the ground using strength alone. The throw which won Gibbons’ place in the final was a really beautiful bit of Judo in a testing environment. There’s a reason these are called “martial arts” – the best fighters are often the ones with the sharpest technique.

Swansea University Jiu Jitsu 2010 – 2011

I started doing Karate and Jiu Jitsu not because I wanted to smash lumps out of people but because I wanted to learn how to defend myself. There were times I so badly wanted to quit – I found sparring really difficult, grappling even more so and the hip throws which are the bread and butter of the Jitsu Foundation’s syllabus just didn’t seem to work for me.

But I stayed because slowly, but surely, I became more confident in the knowledge I could defend myself if I needed to. Martial arts are about so much more than violence. They’re about camaraderie with your training buddies, belief in yourself and enormous skill to be able to outwit your opponents.

I’m not training right now for financial reasons, but these are just some of the reasons I miss spending time in the dojo.

Obviously, there’s always the risk of getting hurt because these are full-contact activities, but you can get hurt doing almost any of the Olympic sports. The very reason you bow to your opponent is because you’re both acknowledging this may happen in the course of your fight.

These journalists and commentators who are calling this a brutal sport have no idea what they’re talking about and unless they’re willing to step on a mat and try it out for themselves, they never will. I’m pretty sure Brown would be aghast if he saw some of us female martial artists fighting men twice our size – but I’d hope he’d appreciate how well we hold our own.

A delightfully British opening ceremony

Hats off to Danny Boyle, there wasn’t much in the Olympic opening ceremony which didn’t make me burst with pride at my Britishness.

Bear in mind this is coming from a fiercely proud Welshie who is almost always Cymraeg first and foremost. Case in point: while living in Germany, I never told people I was from Grossbritannien, it would always be Wales and woe betide anyone who dared say: “Ach so, du kommst aus England!”

I’m so used to asserting my Welshness, the Britishness is left behind somewhat. More often than not, it feels like two distinct parts of my national identity, with any GB pride I might have being wheeled out on special occasions.

What Danny Boyle did last night was celebrate the best of what makes the UK so loved, from its history to its quintessentially British humour. As the ceremony unfolded, the UK (myself included) furiously tweeted their delight and it became clear this ceremony was as much for us as it was to show the world what we’re really about.

There are times during such ceremonies when I feel like a very English scene is being played out, rather than one of the Isles as a whole. But the ceremony made clear from the start this was a triumph from the UK, not just England and not even just London.

Boyle showed the UK at its very heart and he absolutely nailed it. I hope the political bigwigs are wringing their hands after the impassioned celebration of the NHS (with a touch Rowling, the author whose books made my childhood) and as far as I’m concerned, the Queen actually jumped out of that helicopter.

As jubilant as the ceremony was, the sombre touches were a stroke of mastery and the tribute to those who lost their lives a day after London won the bid was moving beyond words.

For me, so too was seeing boxing legend Muhammad Ali carrying the flag. I’m no boxer, but he’s always been a particular hero of mine and watching him was both inspiring and heartbreaking. As far as I’m concerned, he’s still the greatest.

The whole thing was utterly, utterly bonkers, just like our country – and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

What I’ve been up to – Placements and Photoshoots

I swear, I haven’t spent so much time on trains since I was travelling here, there and everywhere in Germany.

April was placement month, when the Cardiff students were scattered across various UK newsrooms putting the skills we’ve learnt during term time to use in the real world. My first placement was ‘oop North at the Press in York.

York is a ridiculously pretty city and completely different from Cardiff. A change of scenery was just what I needed, really. The most difficult part was being chucked into the deep end in a city I’d never visited. Finding stories was a challenge, but that’s exactly why I decided to go somewhere completely different.

As it goes, I pitched some story ideas and features and didn’t do too badly after all! Highlights included this feature on Lindy Hop (a dance I’m now addicted to) and this story about a newsagent shutting in the city centre, which caused a far bigger ruckus than I’d anticipated.

After a week’s respite in Cardiff, it was off to the other end of the country to Brighton, where I spent a week at journalism.co.uk. I’m really glad I got to spend some time on an online desk during the placement window, particularly as I’m a bit of a keen bean when it comes to digital journalism. I was lucky enough to attend the PPA conference, which meant I got to hear speakers from Stylist magazine as well as the Big Issue.

There was a particular googly-eyed moment when Simon Rogers gave a presentation on data journalism at the Guardian – this resulted in a feature on the website about some of their best data-visualisations. It’s an area I’ve had a play with, but after the presentation, I’d really like to hone my data journalism skills some more.

While writing a short blogpost about the Big Issue’s presentation at the conference, I noticed the Big Issue’s 1,000th issue is coming out next week, so I managed to organise to speak to both founder John Bird and editor Paul McNamee for a feature article due next week on the website.

Before all this I helped fellow blogger and CJS alumni Amy Davies with a photoshoot – she works for a camera magazine, so she gets the enviable job of testing out all their fancy new equipment on willing test subjects. Check out her full blogpost here for more hilarious shots of me looking bemused and/or staring into the distance…

A blog a day for Me Made May

For the month of May, I’m wearing at least one ‘me-made’ item of clothing – but I’m also hoping to blog about it every day too.

One of the sewing community’s most prolific and popular sewing bloggers, Zoe, holds her Me-Made challenge once or twice a year, where she challenges herself to wear nothing but her self-made garments and asks other bloggers to join her. Those taking part share their outfits via the Flickr page or on Facebook as well as on their blogs. I’m liking sharing on Twitter at the moment, it seems to work fairly well, although I predict my images tab will look very self-obsessed and vain by the end of the month…

Because I’m only wearing one me-made garment a day, I’ve decided to try and blog every day as well. Possibly not the best idea in the month I’m due to travel to Brighton as well as the impending doom that is exam time. But, I feel it’ll do me and my blog good to actually make a conscious effort to blog every day. I imagine I’ll miss a couple, but blogging 5/6 times a week will be a lot better than around once a week.

My only worry is finding something new to talk about every day. I’ve based it around the premise of writing about a different garment each day, but I have to wonder how boring it’ll get. Normally, Seamless posts get a decent amount of feedback, so it’ll be interesting to see if the comments drop when posts are daily and a little less thought out rather than weekly and topic-based. It’ll be the first time Seamless is more of a diary, if you will.

So, we’ll see what happens. Do check out Seamless, even if you’re not too fussed on sewing.