Broadcast journalism graduate Rachel Humphreys gives some advice on how to stand out in a busy radio newsroom…
Work experience placements. They come in all shapes and sizes. They can be busy, or boring, or not long enough. Some are life affirming, others underwhelming and some, according to David Cameron are ‘Real’ (which presumably means that by default some are also imaginary).
Whatever the placement, they are often awkward, as you try to navigate your way around an alien work environment that you may be in for only a week of your life.
A week of your life which could land you your dream job – if you approach it in the right way.
A few weeks ago a rare thing happened to me in that, as opposed to begging to be allowed to gain some experience in a BBC radio newsroom, I was invited to join the team at BBC Radio Devon on the promise that I may be offered some freelance work.
Having done several placements at small commercial stations where I had been limited to writing copy I was excited to be given the run of a news desk.
I seized the opportunity and worked as hard as I could while I was there. After undertaking lengthy online training courses I did some live reporting, made a package, put a story together and barely had time to make a cup of tea.
I loved it, but was told on the Friday, “sorry, you’re going to need a bit more experience before you can work here as a freelancer.”
Tough words for a broadcast MA graduate feeling slightly jaded after what feels like a lifetime of work placements.
I am of course going back, because the training I can gain is invaluable and the team at BBC Devon are really supportive.
This time however, I am going to be more prepared, and if there’s one thing I’ve learnt about radio broadcasting, this can only be achieved by arming yourself with two things; a good acronym and a strong cup of TEA.
T is for ‘Try”
After a busy day reporting, my news editor asked me to edit a package together for the 6pm bulletin. Hours of computer based nightmares later I was told that it wasn’t needed, but that it “would be nice to listen to it tomorrow”.
Further hours of computer trickery ensued until I gave up, went home and edited the piece into the early hours on my laptop. I got commended for effort, but was told that I should have stayed in the newsroom.
What if my package had been needed for a later slot? My editor was disappointed that I didn’t try to overcome the technical issues and instead found an easy way out. Next time, I’ll try a lot harder, even if it means staying in the newsroom all night.
What I produced wasn’t broadcast ready, and therefore I wasn’t either.
E is for “energy”
I did my placement the week after finishing my course and was exhausted. Despite pushing through on a Strepsils-based diet, I felt I would have contributed a lot more if I’d had more energy.
Always make sure you’re in the best frame of mind to carry out a work placement. You may find yourself lugging heavy kit around or be asked to come up with headline stories on the spot and undoubtedly you’ll have to work long hours.
Plan how you’re going to get to the station and avoid organising placements in locations that will take hours to get to – from experience energy used travelling could be better exerted on the job.
A is for “ahead of the game”
I was a brownie so I’ve grown up with the motto “be prepared”, but never underestimate how much you are going to need to know before you work on a regional news desk. It’s a big ask but you need to try and be one step ahead of your news team before you’ve even met them.
You’ll need to learn the patch your covering, from the names of councilors to the main issues that repeatedly affect the area and also be able to pitch new, original stories. Listen to bulletins – what topics are missing? Use the Internet to your advantage.
I found stories on www.change.org – a petition site that highlights issues which often go unreported but can be of interest.
TEA won’t guarantee you paid work, but it will help you to impress and get the most out of a placement. Be ambitious and work will come your way – hopefully the real and not the imaginary kind.
Rachel Humphreys is a freelance broadcast journalist. Since finishing an MA in broadcast journalism from City University she has worked for the BBC and Channel 4. Currently she is an Assistant Producer at LBC Radio in London