This post is for academic purposes only. Credit is to the original author(s).
Do You Want the Job?
They made it clear that while you may not become rich doing the work, your life would be exciting.
That is how a school student summed it up for every hopeful broadcast journalist when she wrote about what her tutors told her.
The adrenalin rush keeps me going. No two days have ever been the same.
. . . and that is what a veteran learned.
Ask yourself these questions. Am I a curious person? Do I ask about people, processes, events and how things happen? Am I skeptical sometimes? Do I like the sound and images of life and human activity: action, conflict, harmony, delight, emotion, surprise or shock? Can I write words that are to be spoken and under stood immediately? Can I write in sentences that offer one thought at a time? Words that fit with sound or moving pictures? If not, can I learn to do that? If you start by ticking Yes to these, then you do go for it.
Forget nine to five or the comfort of routines. Then the stress, flogging to meet constant deadlines because the broadcasting world never sleeps, and spending time on dubious blogs and social media trying to work out what’s real and what is not and who is real and who is a hoaxer or downright liar. Add some disrupted family life, or your social life is disturbed because you leave the party when you hear that a helicopter has crashed into the Town Hall. Sometimes you spend your time waiting, in case something . . . happens!
But you might think: I can make money in banking, or in a new social media start up. You could have your own news website from your bedroom – but who wants to see it and why? Can you make money from it? Do you know what to write anyway? Many wannabe broadcast journalists are aware only of reporters and presenters. But those are not the only jobs.
Your career route could start out with a job with the word ‘assistant’ or ‘trainee’ in the title but then later jobs might variously be described as: newsroom producer/ script-editor/field producer/multimedia producer/video-journalist/website editor/ bureau producer/social media content producer or output producer.
Many broadcast journalists soon decide they prefer production to reporting and take a route which eventually leads to an editor position with people management responsibilities and control over the entire direction and style of a programme, station, channel or network.
Nor should you think it’s only the national channels or networks that matter.
Local is often the best place to start a career and some broadcast journalists stay in their home country or region for their entire career – they know everything and everyone in town is a contact. People can get more passionate about local issues than anything that goes on in global affairs.
You need to have:
- curiosity about everything from your town to the entire world – an information-scout. Combined with a good sense of pictures and sound – understanding how they can show or tell a story in a way that words alone may not.
- digital literacy. A skeptical attitude that includes double or triple checking information. You understand the abilities or limitations of mobile devices for news gathering, user-generated content (material the public sends) and, for TV and websites, big data graphics, visuals and maps.
- an understanding that Google or Wikipedia are not faultless research tools but can be used only as a guide to look further and deeper.
- an ability to generate and develop ideas and to check that you have the facts to back them.
- an ability to communicate quickly and clearly in a team, especially with fast-moving online and social media working methods in a newsroom.
- knowledge of media law: defamation, copyright, court reporting, intellectual property. You know that rumor is not news.
Personal qualities include:
- initiative, commitment, self-motivation and energy;
- drive and resilience under pressure;
- flexibility and adaptability to cope with changing priorities;
- ability to be a good editorial all-rounder.
Underpinning all of these are two abilities wired into the minds of everyone in the news operation: writing skills and an understanding of the needs of the audience no matter what technology is used.
Broadcast news is about showing and hearing people and events, or processes that affect people. The best storytelling takes the audience on a journey. It says – come with me and look or listen to this.
For radio and TV they hear it or see it or both, so make sure you get it into their heads first time. If they have to go to the bother of hearing/seeing it two or three times then the words and the content have failed.
You must have sound and picture aware ness. The team at BBC’s Radio One’s news service, Newsbeat, can write, present, report, shoot and edit their own films – that is as well as their regular radio slots.
You must have an ear for sounds that help a story. Not just people talking but the sound of protest or joy, or birds and bells in the distance. You have to have an eye for an image that explains a story – that could be just a few seconds that crystallise a moment, like a kite flying in a clear blue sky in a place where kite flying was once banned.
Writing for broadcasting is not a natural process in which you just write sentences in your usual way. For The Job you will obviously have done a lot of writing and enjoy the power of words. You read lots of news, books, maybe poetry. Sometimes you read something and you can think: I love that sentence and I wish I’d writ ten a sentence like that. And one day, you will.
A nineteenth-century time-traveler would probably understand most of what is said today, but might think a website is a place where spiders are kept as pets. For a job in broadcasting you should have an interest in words to be spoken and their precise meaning. In any language.
To be a broadcast journalist you will start with this interest and over several years you will begin to have discussions with colleagues about single words in a script. It is not uncommon in newsrooms to hear someone say, ‘what’s another word for . . .?’ and hear if anyone replies with either a useful response, or says ‘look it up’ or just offers some quotation from Ernest Hemingway or George Orwell.
Indeed, there can be quite lively discussions among broadcast journalists about the use or meaning of a single word. Someone starts it off and then everyone else joins in a prolonged debate about whether ‘that word is unacceptable’ or ‘what a terrible cliché he used in that report. . .’ and another expression once heard was ‘any noun can be verbed . . .’ as the discussion gets louder. The public get involved as well.
Being a brilliant world-beater is not enough. You have to prove how good you are: market yourself, persuade them they will miss out if they don’t agree to see you. To succeed you need wit, charm, subtlety, persistence – and heaps of talent. Broadcasting is an industry of many villages. By the time a job is advertised an editor might already have a candidate lined up, so you should make your play before the job ads appear. The candidate-lined-up has to be . . . you.
- Plan your campaign. Make sure you are easy for potential employers to find. You could send a link to a demonstration recording of your work and curriculum vitae (CV) or resume. A demo could include a three-minute radio bulletin followed by a topical interview of no longer than two and a half minutes and a sparkling news report of the same length. It should be professionally presented and labelled. If you do a television demo make sure it is well lit.
- If you send a traditional written and printed CV/resume this should be no more than two pages. A simple format is best – a kaleidoscope of colours is irritating to read. It should give your name and email, relevant broadcast experience (including any freelance work), broadcast training, educational qualifications, any language skills, brief relevant details of previous employment, whether you hold a driving license, a note of personal interests, achievements and the names and addresses of two referees.
- Use a clear classic font such as Arial, Times New Roman or Garamond and tailor it to suit each application. So have: at least ten point size and one-inch margins; black on white; consistent spacing; name and contact details on every page.
- Research organizations. Tailor your application or approach whether it is internship, work experience, freelance work or a contract.
- Connect with potential employers who you’ve met, perhaps at a school careers event, on campus or social networking sites.
- Be aware of what you are putting online that potential employers could see. You need to have what some professionals call a hygienic background, which means a professional and clean social media presence. Be cautious about what you post, including pictures.
- Small and large broadcasters have a culture – find out about that. Some say they have ‘values’ – find out. Even find out how people dress, or what they talk about. Where do they go nearby outside their buildings for coffee breaks? Go and watch and listen. Sit there as if you are doing something on your laptop. Do not behave like a creepy spy – even though that is what you are doing. This is reasonable job research.
Presenter of the Radio 4 Today programme, Sarah Montague says:
Go to your local newspaper, television or radio station and ask if you can make the coffee unpaid, or else generally make yourself useful. I went to Channel Television and offered to make the coffee for two weeks, and that’s how I got into journalism. I can’t remember ever making a single cup though, because as soon as I got my foot in the door, I got to go out and cover stories.
The novelist and writer, Robert Harris, went into the profession at 21:
If you haven’t got the nous to talk your way into journalism, then you probably haven’t got the nous to be a journalist. To that extent, the profession is self-selecting. Persistence pays. There isn’t a conspiracy to keep good people down. And, contrary to popular myth, people are very generous in journalism. Once you’ve got your foot in the door, you get a lot of help from old lags.
Television and radio presenter Jeremy Vine says you should never take no for an answer and never stop knocking on doors:
Be very aware of what you want to do – people come into my studio and say they want to work there and it transpires they’ve never even heard the programme. Volunteer for everything; don’t just work for the rota – come in on your days off. We get students who come in to watch the programme, and they’re thinking: ‘Should I offer to do something?’ and we’re looking at them, thinking: ‘Why haven’t they offered?’ But it’s up to them to force their way on to the programme.
Richard Porter started on a local newspaper and eventually was responsible for the BBC World News channel:
I started at my local newspaper, the Newbury Weekly News. I answered an advert for a trainee after an unspectacular set of A-level results. That was in 1981 and I spent three years being indentured, and going on block release for my NCTJ proficiency qualification. By 1989 I was working on the Western Daily Press in Bristol. Then I joined the BBC in Bristol, working on its evening regional Points West programme as a producer. I then worked my way around the BBC in Newcastle, Leeds and Manchester, before joining News 24 when it launched in 1997. In 2001 I became editor of Breakfast News – horrible hours but I’ve barely ever worked nine to five. Three years later I moved over to BBC World News, and I’ve spent the past decade working in various roles in the BBC’s international news division. I now have responsibility for the BBC World News channel and bbc.com/news (the digital services outside the UK). My advice now would be to go to do the very best you can academically, but combine that with experience and commitment which you can demonstrate to any employer. You have to stand out from the crowd, and showing your experience writing for a student newspaper or creating your own website is highly relevant. And it might sound obvious, but make sure you’ve watched or read or listened to as much output as possible of the organization you are writing to/applying for. I still remember the interviewer for my first ever BBC job telling me how impressed he was that I had obviously done my homework on them.
Everything so far applies whether you are seeking a place on a training scheme, a first job, studying for a broadcast journalism degree, working in print or online journal ism but want to go into broadcasting or want to work freelance.
For freelance exposure do not limit yourself to Facebook or LinkedIn, although you could set up your own website. Get business cards. Go to networking events about broadcast journalism. Target the right people when you pitch ideas. It should be obvious what specialist programmes about food, cars, travel or science are interested in hearing about.
The work market is crowded but is always getting bigger. Never restrict your aims to familiar broadcasters. There is a lot of cross-media journalism in newspapers and there are journalism-based sites like Digital Spy. There can be paid broadcasting work in the many offices of global organizations, public/press relations agencies, government departments and the bigger charities.
If you already know some freelance journalists ask them for their insight and experience. It is an undeniable truth that getting work also often depends on luck, and on who you know. Tell everyone. Tell your friends. You never know who knows who.
Carrying out multiple tasks are part of all broadcast operations. Everyone new to the business is expected to be able to deliver material on all platforms.
As far as a career is concerned, any separation between radio, television and social media or online news has vanished. Multimedia delivery used to be a trend. Now it is entrenched into all broadcast media. When the newcomer is not expected to work as a part of a team, she’s expected to also work independently. It’s not a contradiction. Breaking news means all hands to the task, and yet minutes later she has a specific job to do, such as getting maps or graphics into the system without any spelling errors on place names. Channels damage their credibility with even small errors.
That does not mean that a career decision must be based on courses or training with the title ‘multimedia’ because the reality is that if you study radio or go immediately into television you will find yourself writing for the website anyway and providing video, audio and graphics. Many television news services also provide radio, and vice-versa, so the old silos have broken down.
Look at any broadcast journalism job advertisement anywhere in the world and the description will be very generic, containing sentences which will mention that the job will ask you to work ‘flexibly’ across the full range of accepted journalistic work, including cross-platform and multimedia. You will be asked: ‘Do you have any story ideas?’ For a story idea for broadcasting you can ask yourself:
- Why is this idea important?
- What’s stopping me?
- Is it original, or a new way to look at a traditional subject?
- What would it sound like?
- What would it look like for television – what is there to point a camera at?
- Would my audience be interested in this? Is it something people will talk about?
Ideas that combine sound, pictures, graphics and words must be practical, achievable and original. It means ideas for coverage. Ideas for stories, angles, interviews. It is useful to know what the German writer and scientist Goethe said: ‘Everything has been thought of before. The challenge is to rethink it.’
You will be asked for ‘story ideas’ or how you would fill a news programme on a day when not much seems to be happening.
You will be asked this at an initial job interview, but if you do get the trainee position and eventually a fulltime job this will continue.
The editorial meeting, where decisions are made at various times in the day, is the place for original debate and what is often called creative tension. The newcomer may find that modest silence is fine for a few days – but soon will be expected to take part in what is essentially a democratic process where the newcomer can have as good an idea as the veteran. These meetings also aim to test accuracy, impartiality and balance of coverage.
All large news organizations hold a daily meeting of senior news staff and probably a second meeting later in the day. Smaller programme meetings are also held and everyone can contribute. Special meetings may also be held each week to look forward to planned coverage. This is also a chance to get a snapshot of audience feedback from the website.
One weekly planning meeting at a British TV channel was discussing how to do a story about research into the development of a contraceptive pill for men. The usual ideas came along: interview the scientists in Zurich, get pictures of the laboratories, graphics on how they might work.
This went on for five minutes until the editor pointed out that there were six males and four females in the room. He went around all the men and asked each one of them if they would take this pill? It was a simple question, and therefore unavoidable.
Some of the men said they would ‘rather’ not. That, he told the meeting, could be the story. Will men take it? Nobody had mentioned it. Everyone seemed wired into their technology and conventional methods. The fact is that what make a good broadcast story is all around you.
One potential trainee travelling to an interview saw some skateboarders and thought nothing more about it. Of course she had a pile of story ideas already researched anyway. When those were exhausted over about 20 minutes she was asked for more – the experienced journalist doing the selection kept pressing onwards and upwards – more, more, more? More ideas please?
‘I just saw some skateboarders in a park.’
‘So what about skateboarders?’
Then she was thinking fast.
Yet there is a basic technique.
You are being asked a question at the assessment or interview – so, you ask yourself the questions.
Why do they enjoy skateboarding? What makes a good location or track? Do they get shouted at by drivers? How much is a skateboard anyway? What are skateboards made from? Is there such a thing as skateboard culture or lifestyle? Do they have their own websites? What sound can I get? What pictures can I get? Could I tape a small camera onto a skateboard to get shots of it moving across the concrete?
And then, you might need a reason to do a report about this. Something that makes it current, new or of present interest. Perhaps the local council wants to ban them, or provide them with a facility, or perhaps there is a big skateboard event coming up. Any of these things are enough to give the audience a reason to be interested.
Just talk and think like this and you can come across as bold and interesting, which is what the editor wants. Which bring us to . . .
Preparation is everything, whether you are applying for a job or work experience. Know your local radio and TV station and study their websites in detail. Be familiar with the output and the style. Know about the area – its industry, people, politics and stories. Be familiar with the news the station is running that day and have constructive comments to make about its output and ideas on how to develop those stories. Just be well briefed in current affairs.
- Be prepared to face news writing or voice tests.
- Be early.
- Obviously, be smartly dressed.
- Be prepared for standard interview questions:
- Why do you want to work here?
- What can you offer us – give us examples of what you’ve done?
- How much do you use social media? What social media do you use? How would you find someone? Tell me how to find a circus clown?
- What do you think of the website/channel/station output?
- What do you see yourself doing in five years?
- Do you work well in a team? Give an example?
- What three people anywhere in the world would you love to talk to and what would you ask them?
- Be positive, lively, interesting and above all, enthusiastic. Sit up straight. Do not mumble. Do not talk in the Interrogative – raising your voice at the end of sentences as if life is a question.
Factual Interview Questions and Initiative Testing
There can also be direct factual questions that the candidate cannot possibly know the exact answer to but has to demonstrate a journalistic ability to think in a positive or intuitive way.
Sometimes these questions can seem very unusual but they have a point. When this happens you would not be asked – how would you find out how many surgeons there are in Germany? You might be asked, quite bluntly – How many surgeons are there in Germany? Or Glasgow. Or New York. Or Smallville.
You do not whip out your phone and try to access Wikipedia. You do not say, ‘I have no idea’ or ‘How am I supposed to know that?’ and you do not sit in silent panic.
The person asking the question probably has no idea how many surgeons there are in Germany. Here the rule about never guessing or making assumptions takes on a new direction.
So you could say, ‘I will find out if there is a professional body for surgeons in Germany and ask them’ or you could say that you think on average there is probably one surgeon for every 10,000 people and the population of Germany is about 80 million. That may be wrong of course but if you get that far the editor might be happy with your demonstration of initiative.
Simple factual questions for vacancies or trainee posts on local TV/radio stations might be about local issues, politicians, sport teams or club managers, prominent buildings, people or places or recent news events.
One local radio editor in the UK was in the habit of asking a few quick-fire questions like this and then ending with, ‘Fine OK. Who is the President of France?’ You might have thought you would not be asked that question for work at a small town local station. Either you know, or if not then a reasonable response would be, ‘I don’t know, but I can find out very quickly.’
Assessments and Tests
You should be told in advance if there is to be any kind of test, but that does not always happen. Larger broadcasters can have an entire assessment day for many applicants for trainee schemes.
A group task is usual, often about pitching different multiplatform content ideas around a single news event. It means having ideas for television and radio news and the website and social media. There might also be a deadline for all this.
You could be given a pile of statements, figures and quotations. Then a time period – and a word limit – to write a news story and a headline based on that infor mation. To make it just like reality, the assessment people will then start giving you more information which changes the direction of the story you had started writing.
FORMAL AND PRACTICAL TRAINING FOR BROADCAST JOURNALISM
Good training means a chance to do practical things and to make your mistakes before you get anywhere near real airtime.
There is no single or simple route into broadcast journalism. There are many different types of journalism and ways in which journalism skills can be applied but doing a journalism course in higher education can open the first door. This should provide a broad, if not a full, range of journalism skills and the technical skills which are so important in multiplatform journalism and fit into different media organizations.
Courses which are devoted specifically to broadcast journalism are likely to include plenty of writing, radio and TV production, putting programmes together, reporting, video-journalism and IT skills, media law, regulatory and ethical issues.
Undergraduate courses now teach across print, broadcasting and online journalism to match the converged nature of the industry.
Colleges and media organizations often go into schools to give students a chance to make small news items, present news, learn about doing broadcast interviews and offer tips on ways to enter the business.
In the meantime, there are some things you could do:
- Enter student journalism awards, at school, college, university or some that are organized by broadcasters. Whether you actually win an award or not, just entering will help you stand out from the crowd.
- Learn shorthand – that is how words can be represented as symbols so they can be written as fast as they are spoken. Many broadcast journalists did not bother with shorthand because they felt they did not need it. It is not essential, but could give you an advantage.
- Consider your Unique Selling Point – your USP. Do you have an unusual talent? Have you done something unusual? What’s special about you? It could be something that shows practical skills. Or unusual experiences either in work or just personal. This can make you an interesting candidate and show potential.
- Note phrases you should avoid: ‘I am good with people . . . I am enthusiastic. . . people say I’d look good on TV . . .’ These are phrases they have heard over and over again. You would probably be better off saying, ‘. . . people say I’m nosy . . .’ Write down your reasons for wanting to go into broadcast journalism, memorize them and consider what follow-up questions you could be asked.
- Make it simple for people to find any work you have done, such as a link to your CV and also any items you have written, or anything you have recorded and/or filmed. You could also have a well-maintained blog. It can be very simple but should have a professional look and with good writing skills on show.
- Be a news junkie. Read, listen and watch. All the time. From local news to global.
- Read poetry. It has an economy with words and an almost musical application to word use. This is useful for broadcast journalists who will use the spoken word in scripting.
Never be afraid of rejection. Do not give up. It can take many applications before you find the work to suit you and that matches your skills and experience. Learn from your mistakes. Some broadcasters may never reply. But you cannot be sure that one day, one of them will.
Source: Broadcast Journalism, Techniques of Radio and Television News 7th Edition; Ray Alexander, Peter Stewart