Whether you’ve got your sights set on presenting Newsnight, fancy a tour as a foreign correspondent or are raring to report about your local area, a BJTC accredited postgraduate course is a one of the places to start your career in broadcasting. Spending nine months training for your dream job can be a life changing experience. Yes, it’s expensive. There’s no such thing as a cheap education anymore. But if journalism is what you want to do, it can be the best kick-start to your career.
Every year I interview potential candidates for our Postgraduate Diploma in Broadcast Journalism at London College of Communication. We meet fantastically enthusiastic applicants and uncover some great talent. It’s always a shame when we have to turn people down, and I’m sure many of them go on to get places elsewhere and have great careers. But we can only make a judgement based on how people perform on the day.
So, in an effort to help those of you contemplating a career in journalism, here are some tips for an interview day:
1. Listen to and watch the news
It sounds obvious. If you’re applying for a course in broadcast journalism, there’s a certain expectation that you own a TV/radio/laptop and keep up with current affairs. It’s really not hard to do. Most radio stations broadcast a news bulletin on the hour. Listen to it, and have a think about why the top story is at the top, and the bottom story is at the bottom. Pay attention to the kind of language the bulletin’s written in. Is it conversational, or formal? If you normally listen to commercial radio, try tuning into the BBC instead, or vice versa. Listen to a quality news programme every day (BBC Radio 4’s Today, for example) and you’ll be infinitely better informed. Similarly try to watch (or catch up online) an extended TV news bulletin on a daily basis. Vary your watching – BBC, ITV, C4 and Sky.
2. Take notice of who’s on air
Simple questions such as “Who’s your favourite broadcaster?” can inexplicably stump some candidates. This is when the mention of being a “huge radio fan” in their CV starts to look a bit suspect. There are many household names in TV and radio journalism: Eamonn Holmes, John Humphrys, Kirsty Young… find out who they are and why they’re well known if their names are new to you. We will often ask candidates whose job they would like, in an ideal world, so be prepared.
3. Read a range of newspapers from cover to cover
Not every day. But don’t stick to the same paper all week, especially if it’s one you pick up for free. And try not to get all your news online. Why? Because the temptation is to stick to the stories and articles that grab you, rather than reading a cross-section of the paper. A journalist is like a magpie, picking up bits of information about this and that and putting them to future use. So, if you normally ignore the sport section, start reading a paper from the back for a change. Don’t brush over the business, take a peek. You never know when it might come in handy.
4. Don’t lie
You will be found out. And it will be excruciating for you and the interviewer. It is so easy to exaggerate your interests or experience on paper. Less easy to answer a few simple, direct, questions. You say you love LBC radio, so who is the breakfast presenter? As a self-confessed political junkie, can you name the foreign secretary? And if you find you can’t answer a question, just say so, or ask to come back to it.
5. Be curious
This was the advice I was told to pass on by several senior BBC editors recently. Whatever kind of journalism you’re interested in, and whatever route you take into it, curiosity has to be at the heart of what you do. Journalists are constantly asked for ideas, ideas, ideas. So have a look at the area around you and start asking questions. What’s the number one concern of people living in your street? Find out and you might have an original story to talk about in an interview.
6. Don’t panic
Like other colleges, our selection days are made up of a range of exercises. If you feel like you’ve flunked one, don’t let it spoil your day. Interviewers honestly do want people to do well, and certainly don’t expect everyone to get everything right. Selection days at the LCC are designed to give you a taster of what the course will be like, as much as give us an idea of whether it’s right for you.
Whatever route you take into journalism, I hope you find this advice useful. I like to think it doesn’t just apply to broadcasting but all sorts of journalism courses and interviews. It’s a tough old business out there, but get a foot in the door and it’s one of the best jobs in the world.
Rebecca Pearce is a former BBC journalist, now lecturing in Broadcast Journalism at London College of Communication. The course was the first of its kind in the country and has trained many of today’s successful broadcasters and editors, including Helen Boaden and Jon Sopel. Recent graduates have won awards from the BJTC, IRN and the Radio Academy. You can contact Rebecca at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her @PearceRL or follow the course @LCCNewsroom.
Photo courtesy of friskierisky
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