My time at the BBC

media

For any journalist, aspiring or qualified, the opportunity to work at one of the worlds most renowned and recognised broadcasters is simply one too good to be missed. For me ambitions and aspirations of seeing the ‘beeb’ in its full glory were fulfilled on a two-week work placement earlier this month. And what an exciting and thrilling two weeks they turned out to be.

There is something simply surreal about walking into a glass-fronted office tagged with the famous BBC logo from the outside throughout to the inside of the MediaCityUK building. The complex in Salford is superbly stunning. Visually, the array of BBC and other media buildings create a modern and fresh environment. On the inside, the offices are minor in comparison to the stunning panoramic views of Salford Quays. It truly is a wonderful working environment.

Having had experience in newspaper journalism, it was an opportunity to see how television news and journalism actually works. So often, as a viewer, we take for granted the end product of a news programme, forgetting the long hours that have gone into producing a regional programme. I approached with moderate expectations – journalism is an industry where deadlines must be met and where journalists often have their own job to do. However, I was surprised at how warm and engaging some of the staff, producers and journalists alike, were in talking about their roles and offering sound advice.

Much of the fortnight placement involved research, a key component in the journalism and media jigsaw. Working with the BBC’s Sunday Politics team, it was an eye-opener to understand how much research has to take place in order for a report or programme to look and sound professional. Doing research, to some, may sound boring, yet it doesn’t have to be. Selecting and compressing opinions, ideas, facts and figures really helps understand a particular story and in turn gives the average viewer a broad sense of the story they are interacting with.

My enjoyment of simply working in an office and doing something I am passionate about made what could be a tireless and repetitive role become alive. So you would understand my overwhelming joy of shadowing some of the journalists of leading regional news programme North West Tonight. My time spent with the reporters was invaluable. Never before could I ever guess it would take up to three hours to simply film and interview for a 1 minute 45 second piece. Visiting a man who had collected one thousand music albums, an urban artist in Manchester and the cast of Peter Pan certainly gave me flavour of the lighter side of journalism, whilst input, discussion and research into stories such as fracking and ‘troubled families’ emphasised the variation in this fascinating sector.

I did begin to learn and understand some interview techniques. Simply asking questions in everyday life is evidence of probing and journalistic skills. In the modern multimedia environment, I was both surprised and un-surprised at the changing roles that journalists have to play. Surprised, I was in awe that journalists, reporters and correspondents are simply more than the question asker and the person who speaks to the camera; their roles consist of editing their pieces, choosing library footage, adding music and writing scripts, something I presumed was conducted by another member of the team. The journalist of today also plays the role of the editor and, at times, the role of the camera person. When reflecting, it wasn’t really a surprise at all. The level of new media and technology must be used and so it makes sense for editing to be done all by one multimedia, cross-platform journalist.

Work experience at the BBC is notoriously hard to get and so I was very surprised to have received a phone call from the recruitment centre. The way to succeed on any journalism placement, not just at the BBC, is to show passion and interest in the sector you are working in. Ask questions about a journalists role, speak to the producer and ask about doing specific things, such as sitting in the gallery of a live news programme. Always ask for advice on how to make a good career out of the industry, but know when to take a back seat. Engage in ordinary conversation. It could be as trivial as something about the weather or as serious as a little bit of input into a production meeting. If you are assigned a piece of research, go above and beyond what you’ve been asked, and if there is a deadline to meet, then meet it.

I talk of asking about advice and what follows is the general consensus of advice I was given by a whole host of journalists and producers.

Work Experience. Possibly the most important factor. The more experience you have, the more shaped you are to the job and perhaps the more passionate you appear.

Qualifications. Previously not really essential, but today journalism postgraduate courses are highly recognised by a number of universities and courses by the NCTJ. Some undergraduate courses are good, but are perhaps a little too narrow.

Connections. Using social media and emails to connect with journalists, editors and producers. Sometimes having an email contact you can update can make all the difference.

Above all, to me, aspiration and passion is what is essential. Being persistent, determined and strong-minded is all essential not just for a career in journalism and the media, but for anything in any walk of life.

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Newsflash: Why social media may fall behind TV journalism for some time

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It is a rare occasion but when it does happen it creates a ‘sit up and listen’ attitude amongst viewers. Newsflashes have been around for the best part of nearly seventy years across the globe, bringing viewers a breaking story. Conveying drama, theatre and enigma, these broadcasts have exposed the very best of television journalism. An ITV documentary, ‘Newsflash’, looked back at the era of when breaks in schedules were the order of the day. But in the day of 24 hour news and social media, is this concept now at risk of becoming a past tradition?

ITN’s Julie Etchingham narrated the insightful documentary and it certainly proved to be a hit amongst viewers. Newsflashes go beyond providing impartial information to the mass audience. In the documentary, the emotions of some of the most iconic journalists in the British industry were apparent. Martyn Lewis’ crackling voice when announcing the death of Princess Diana and Alastair Stewart’s real upset when discussing the Lockerbie bombing made it clear that journalism goes beyond collating the facts of a breaking news story. It is a real human life story. Having the responsibility of breaking such heart-rendering news is surely difficult. If anything, the emotion portrayed through our journalists, highlights how real journalism is. Such emotion can never be conveyed through social media.

The death of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother in 2002 and the invasion of Iraq are perhaps some of the last major stories to justify newsflashes before the emergence of online media. Social networks such as Twitter now announce breaking stories before they can even reach the airwaves. Online, news corporations have their own websites, which act as a 24 hour service to millions of users, as do mobile phone apps. Today, there is no need for newsflashes, since all of our breaking stories are available on demand 24 hours a day. However, there is still something very special about breaking into ordinary programming to bring viewers unfolding and at times dramatic footage.

The most recent unfolding event was that of the birth of the Royal Baby. Even I have criticised the enormous amount of coverage given. Yet, when looking back, the unfolding enigma and theatre on the steps of the Lindo Wing at Paddington was far from a boring and un-interesting broadcast. From the announcement of the birth to the moments the new parents and their child left the hospital, the world and its media followed extensively the story break. Like many others who have spoken, the extended newsflashes on public and commercial broadcasters were gripping. There was something genuinely exciting about seeing first-hand the pictures of our new heir to the throne. The joy amongst journalists, including the BBC’s Peter Hunt and ITV’s Tim Ewart, was clear; both channels rushed to get the best images and best guests to keep viewers on side. Dedication, passion and heart for a story you simply cannot grasp from an online piece of journalism.

It is incredibly easy to understand that this and so many other stories of recent times could have simply unfolded online. The majority have access to a computer system. But that is not how journalism works. Online journalists are some of the best in the business, but journalism is about connections. Connections with guests, connecting with the story and connecting with the viewer. Television is a great medium to achieve the outcome of this formula. Television is a truly remarkable source of creating tension, creating drama and creating the news. Despite how many may ‘retweet’ or comment on a story, there is little excitement and sense of importance created.

Whilst I openly support television journalism, is there any evidence to suggest that soon social media will be the clear dominant force? There is clear evidence to suggest that social media is heavily breathing down the neck of our television journalists. On the BBC’s Breaking News Twitter account, there are over 7.7million followers. That is close, if not more, than the average rating for one of the main BBC One news bulletins. For those who don’t follow a news service account or attempt to avoid news online, it is a very difficult position. Given the amount of retweets per tweet made, nearly all users on Twitter are exposed to some form of news and information.

I readily admit that I use social media to keep up to date on news. Whether I’m working, away or elsewhere. But there is something quintessentially isolate about a computer generated piece of news. Yes, there is somebody at the other end inputting the news, but they are not a familiar face. The beauty with television journalism is trust. Many journalists have been on screen for years and build rapports with viewers. As you read a tweet about breaking news, it is objective and distant. If the BBC’s business expert Robert Peston announces a breaking piece of financial news, viewers trust his words, they understand and relate to his words, because of his familiarity.

The ‘Newsflash’ programme highlighted much of the programmes that have literally stopped people in their tracks. The September 11th Attacks, The Gulf War and the death of Michael Jackson, amongst others. There is something very special indeed about a breaking news story. It is very difficult to explain, but television journalists do a grand job of keeping viewers informed and enticed. On that note, television journalism still remains at the top of its game. Social media is a convenience but broadcast journalism brings reality and humanisation to a gripping theatrical piece of news.

Visit the ITV Player to see ‘Newsflash’ narrated by Julie Etchingham