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Radio reflections of 2016

bbc-lancsThis time last year, I made a decision that would affect how my whole year would pan out. I decided, after much consideration, to go back to freelancing. This was such a big decision because staff jobs in radio are like gold dust. But in 2016, I took a leap of faith.

As a result of that ‘Sliding Doors’ moment, I have had wonderful experiences and am going to share some of those with you in this blog. I spent the majority of my time in newsrooms across the North West. This past year has been quite extraordinary journalistically, in the stories that have dominated the headlines.

Just some stand out moments were when I was newsreading for Revolution 96.2 the day of the Hillsborough Verdicts, at Wireless Group the day Theresa May became Britain’s new Prime Minister and at BBC Lancashire the day after ‘Brexit’, as well as the day the announcement of the government’s decision to allow fracking in the county – a day when people from across the BBC were looking at my scripts.

I left 2BR in February and spent six months as a freelancer, before settling down at BBC Lancashire. Much of my freelancing was spent double shifting. Looking back now, I don’t know how I had the energy! I would finish a morning shift at one radio station, have lunch as quick as I could, then hot foot it down the M6 to the INRIX travel centre. I had some fixed hours there that helped guarantee while I was freelancing I could at least afford to pay the rent and bills for my flat.

There wasn’t a week I went without work though – one of my new year’s resolutions for 2017 is to have a holiday! I have been an INRIX travel broadcaster for almost three years and was pleased to get chance to be an information editor and see the other side of how the bulletins are put together. The travel hub is a hive of activity and it was great to be part of the afternoon team.

Rejoining BBC Lancashire was like I’d never been away! I was originally with the station in 2013 as a Broadcast Assistant and came back as a Broadcast Journalist in 2016. I’ve done almost every role in the newsroom from reading sport bulletins during the Euro 2016, the Olympics and Paralympics. To updating the Lancashire ‘Local Live’ pages of our website – covering the progress of Graham Liver and the team pulling a bed from Pudsey to Bare in aid of BBC Children in Need for BBC News Online. No two days are the same and I love the variety of my work.

My usual role is producing Gary Hickson at teatime, which is a real honour. When I was first with BBC Lancashire I was mostly a reporter for Gary’s programme and it’s great to produce the show I had previously worked so closely on. Gary is a talented broadcaster who brings out the best in me, keeps my feet on the ground and the programme’s rising RAJAR ratings speak for themselves.

It’s a dream come true to read news bulletins on the BBC and I count that as my biggest achievement of the year. I thrive in a live breaking news environment and it’s liberating to have so much creative freedom. I’ve loved bantering on the breakfast team, reading the extended news bulletins at one o’clock and the doing the double headed news with Gary at five o’clock too.

We embrace social media and I was proud to be the first person at the station to do a live news bulletin both on-air concurrently while broadcasting on Facebook Live. At the time of writing, Facebook stats show that broadcast has reached almost 94,000 people. Amazing… and it brings a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘Face for the radio’! You can see it HERE.

That’s just a snapshot; there’s been so many memorable moments to mention. Thanks to everyone who’s made 2016 such an enjoyable year. As for 2017… stay tuned! 

Graham Liver interviewing me for a BBC Children in Need outside broadcast.

Journalism – a class of its own?

The essence of a journalist in a nutshell is to report news. Think of where news is generated; the possibilities are endless. News – whether it’s good or bad – can spring up from any situation. Granted, the chance of a newsworthy story increases for people in the public eye but a bulletin doesn’t have to resemble who’s on Jonathan Ross’ chat show sofa because it’s important that ordinary voices are heard and their stories are told too. In fact, those are often the most interesting.

In order to tell these stories appropriately, we need a diverse range of journalists who hail from a variety of backgrounds. This is so important for many reasons, including empathy with a interviewee, a range of contacts and  knowing where to look – having a good nose for a story.

The problem with the industry at the moment is that the amount of diversity on offer is grately restricted and that’s  because the most tried and tested way in is through the education system. It doesn’t matter about student loans because, at the end of the day, an undergraduate degree still costs £9,000 a year and for post-grads, the cost varies uni to uni, but it’ll be around the £5,000 mark for a year, without the same amount of student loan support available.

It’s a massive commitment to make when you decide you want to be a journo but it sorts out the wheat from the chaff because it’s a lot of time and money to spend pursuing a dream career. Which is why I would always recommend a budding journalist do what I did and get as much hands-on experience as possible before deciding which direction to take.

I stand by the comment I made on Twitter earlier this month…

Citizen journalism has it’s place but, if you want to make this a profession rather than a hobby,  you need to be an accredited journalist before you can even think about applying for certain jobs. That’s for a reason because media law knowledge is vital in keeping any work accurate and trustworthy – two key qualities of a good journalist. You wouldn’t call someone a Doctor because they can open a bottle of Calpol and it shouldn’t be a parallel in journalism.

However, I appreciate the price tag of the education system can be very elitist. This is on top of needing to do a lot of unpaid work-experience to learn your craft, so you need to be able to support yourself somehow. As well as knowing how to drive and having your own car available, which is all very desirable, on top of enthusiasm and dedication to the craft.

I’m not saying it’s right or  wrong – it’s just how the industry is. In order to become a journalist, education and subject knowledge is important because you need to be able to write well. Even if you’re a broadcast journalist, phonetic spellings akin to that of text talk belong in pronunciation brackets, not your script. You will also have to write web stories online increasingly as the digital world around us continues to evolve too. That’s all on top of probably the most essential skill – you need to be a good communicator.

There is a light at the end of this academic tunnel though and on-the-job training seems to be on the rise. As I’ve written in previous blog posts, I wouldn’t change my journalism training at UCLan for the world; I learnt so much there, made great friends and found myself as a person. Although, I’m like the idea of work while you learn schemes increasing because they aim to attract a diverse range of people to the journalism profession vocationally and that therefore allows more stories to be heard.

The BBC run the Journalism Trainee Scheme and ITV have announced their Break into News initiative. Student, community and hospital radio also rightly deserve their place as excellent training grounds and I’m one of many journalists who cut their teeth that way. The Journalism  Diversity Fund is also available to help with fees for those who want to access the academic route.

Let’s focus on attracting diverse journalists into the profession with a wide range of life experiences that reflect the stories we want to tell because the audience want to hear them – in an engaging and trustworthy way. That’s how we become top of the class.