Imogen Barrer, an ITV News producer, passes on three key pieces of advice from her mentor, Alan Grady, executive producer, Sky News.
Try as many things as possible when you’re starting out.
Since finishing journalism school, I’ve worked for four broadcasting companies, with different roles at three of them.
When I told Alan I was worried that my varied CV made me appear flaky and indecisive, he reassured me that a wide range of experience – whether gathered at different organisations, or just one – is a good thing.
“Now is the time to try different roles and see what really interests you”, he told me. Are you an Output Producer? Try newsgathering. Working in general news? Develop a specialism. Give online a go, or pick up a camera again. Because how will you know where you want to work and what you want to do if you don’t try different things? Versatility is an asset in every newsroom, and Alan taught me that it’s okay to put up your hand and say, ‘I want to try something else for a while.’
You can only do your best.
As a young journalist, it’s those mistakes I made for the very first time that have stuck with me. Thoughts such as ‘how could I do something so stupid?’ and ‘I’m really, really bad at this job,’ linger long after that fateful programme has gone to air. Whether it’s a typo on a TV aston, or a factual error you let slip into a presenter’s briefing notes – if you’re anything like me, you can end up stewing over it for days afterwards.
Alan gave me some advice that helps soothe the guilt. “Sometimes, you’ve got to say to yourself, ‘I’m just doing my best.’”
Some mistakes are unavoidable and come from inexperience. Some are made because you had 50 other things to do / were too scared to ask for help / hadn’t had enough coffee. But Alan has taught me that it’s okay to say ‘I’m sorry, I did my best’, and learn from it.
His message also helps in dealing with criticism. “Some of the worst things that people will ever say to you in your career will be said now, in your early years as a journalist,” he told me with a laugh.
When you’re near the bottom of the food chain, you can take comments made under pressure to heart. But Alan’s advice has taught me not to beat myself up too much. “You made a mistake. It’s telly. No-one died.” And repeat.
Your journalism career is important, but so is having a life.
In this industry, long and unsociable hours go hand-in-hand. The story doesn’t finish at 5pm, so neither do we. Hard work and a willingness to put in over-time are valued traits in most careers, and journalism is no exception. But I learnt from Alan that I shouldn’t feel guilty about prioritising my personal life as well.
A while ago, I was weighing up a job opportunity that meant fewer hours and a shorter commute. When talking it over with Alan, I told him I had been reluctant to let those factors affect my decision at all. His answer? Having more time for life outside of work makes you less likely to resent the job and helps you stay passionate about journalism.
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