John Schofield was a reporter I much admired, and I was honoured to be asked by the John Schofield Trust to help mentor young journalists at an early stage in their career. I think all reporters and producers, at whatever stage, can benefit from having a mentor. I was (and remain) lucky enough to have a great mentor in my journalism tutor at City University, Linda Christmas, who has been a huge source of support, encouragement and advice for many years now.
It can help enormously to have someone who can act as a dispassionate but trusted sounding board; someone who can offer their advice and thoughts from a different perspective, and with the benefit of longer experience.
Journalism today is an even harder trade to start in today than it was when I joined the BBC in 1991, often with a less clear career path and much greater competition. Mentoring for the Trust is a wonderful opportunity to try to help someone at an earlier stage on that path.
Had you ever done anything like this before?
I have unofficially mentored several young reporters over the past few years, usually people I’ve worked with in bureaux abroad, and also have a mentee who is one of the very talented young bilingual reporters at the BBC.
But I suspect I am still a trainee mentor, as am finding out how it works as I go along – and much depends on what the mentee would like, and how often they want to meet and chat.
How much of a commitment is it?
So far, it has involved meeting up or emailing at relatively regular intervals, though the demands of both our jobs mean there is no set date for meetings. But I think that my mentee knows that I’m happy to be there as a listening ear whenever she needs one.
How have you found the experience so far?
So far, I’ve found it a really interesting experience and have been reminded of how enthusiastic and energetic a young journalist can be. I don’t know what my mentee thinks of the experience, but I have the sense that she is incredibly focused and determined, with a real natural talent for investigative journalism. I think she will go far. Hopefully I can help her avoid some of the mistakes I made, but be wise enough to advise that there are many different paths within journalism, and that every individual ultimately needs to make their own decisions about what suits them best.
It’s also been a great reminder of what enthused me about journalism when I started a million years ago, before they invented the mobile phone or the internet, and of how much we now expect of those starting out, in terms of technical knowledge and skills on top of the basics of journalism, which haven’t changed.
What do you feel that you get out of it?
I really like the sense that as an older journalist, you have the chance to offer some perspective, be that congratulations on the things that go well (in a business that is not as good as it should be in giving feedback or praise) and encouragement if there are setbacks. It has also made me more aware of the incredible talent that is out there, and given me rather greater optimism about the future of journalism in a trade which tends to be rather pessimistic about its own future in an age of ‘citizen journalism’, freesheets and user-generated content.
I think that mentoring a young journalist has reminded me that there is a real responsibility and a need to help the reporters of the future who, like John Schofield, will go to places to see for themselves and report fairly, impartially but also vividly on what they see there, and in time become the trusted voices and sources of accurate, credible and informative news for the listener and viewer.