Back next week with the year’s most impactful articles
on DTB in 2017.
Now I’d like to share a guest article by a fellow broadcast educator/mentor from England, Richard Horsman. When I read Richard’s article on his blog (rhorsman.blogspot.co.uk) I knew I wanted to share it and with his permission, I am. Enjoy!
I spent 23 years in all training broadcast journalists, the first decade or so of that whilst still working long hours in a broadcast newsroom at The Pulse in Bradford, latterly as News Editor through some turbulent times.
I’ve been extremely privileged throughout my professional career. I didn’t have a day of unemployment between 1 October 1980, when I was taken on as a copywriter at Pennine Radio, and 31 August this year. That’s remarkable given the volatile nature of the radio industry.
More importantly, at a human level, I’ve been extremely privileged to work with over four hundred trainees who passed through my courses.
I’ve always refused to use the word “student”. My trainees are treated like newbies in a newsroom from day one. It serves most of them well. Those who respond positively to the ethos avoid the pitfalls.
Too often “students” are whiny creatures, especially as undergraduates, living in a small and narcissistic world of lectures, assignments and (for many, by no means all) an all-consuming social life.
Given the choice of an interviewee, they’ll look to someone like themselves. Given a choice of topic, they gravitate to education, housing, binge drinking and sexual health. Relating to the lives and interests of an audience of over-forties on BBC local radio doesn’t cross their self-obsessed minds.
Many lecturers indulge lax student attitudes by being lenient towards late arrival in sessions, and no-shows are tolerated so long as they’re not too frequent. Students are rarely professional in their appearance, and increasingly lack even basic conversational skills, never mind the sophisticated interpersonal communication techniques required to get a quote out of a reluctant interviewee.
Don’t even mention “talking to someone on the telephone”. I’ve seen some skulk away down a corridor with a mobile rather than hold a simple conversation in an open office.
It’s also fair to say “students” are not popular in newsrooms.
I’ve lost count of the number of employers with horror stories of placement candidates they’ve encountered (not mine) who turn up late for blue-chip placements, sit in a corner showing no initiative throughout the attachment, play with an iPhone and miss that once in a lifetime opportunity to impress.
So we need professionally-minded news trainees, not students. At least not that kind of students.
My trainees are treated very differently.
Historically, they’ve been dragged from student haunts in Hyde Park, Woodhouse and Headingley and the shiny bars and clubs of Leeds to report on real stories in Bradford, a multicultural and socially disadvantaged city just 9 miles away, but which for many could as well be on Mars.
In all but the last couple of years I have required male trainees to wear collar and tie, at least for the first few weeks until the expectation of smartness when facing members of the public becomes ingrained.
We start our transmission days on BCB Radio with a bulletin at 0800. A kind of earlies, the best I can do given the sorry state of public transport. This is Yorkshire, not London. 0500 starts are not an option and would upset University security.
Trainees describe the immersive, month long BCB newsroom experience as being “like a freelance gig you can’t be sacked from”. Unlike the real world, they can still come back for a second and a third day even if their performance on the first wasn’t up to scratch.
There are tears, of course there are.
Facing a live mic, in front of a real audience, is a daunting experience. There’s no option to stop and start again, no possibility of dissolving into giggles when there are four thousand real BCB listeners in the audience, whose lives are affected by the content of your bulletin. Not just your mates through the glass, having a fun experience in a class at Uni.
I always had a rule that in the newsroom I was an editor, and would behave as such. In my office I could be a compassionate tutor when having private conversations about strengths, weaknesses and outside concerns. At least one cohort referred to my office as “the situation room” … as in “Dickie wants to see you in the situation room”.
Dickie. Using the name was a privilege the trainees earned, once that had been through the process and proved themselves competent to run the newsroom unaided. Once they’d taken the phone call offering a job, or battled the demons holding them back from overcoming their fears on air.
Beyond all this, it’s a true privilege for me when a young person, or even more so a mature career-changer, puts their future in my hands. A privilege and an enormous responsibility.
The process involves an amazing degree of trust for trainees to get out of their comfort zone, to go on air, to walk down a strange road, to keep editing at three minutes to transmission, to accept a placement hundreds of miles from home. It’s often life-changing stuff, and I hope I delivered my side of the bargain in the majority of cases.
The process is pure alchemy. Raw trainees go in, golden journalists come out. At the end of the course there is a directness in the gaze and a firmness in the handshake that means that person will convince an editor to take a chance on them in a live environment with audiences far, far bigger than BCB. If I can deliver that, I rate it a success.
I’m not giving up teaching completely. I’ve just completed a fortnight in which Leeds Trinity trainees made four excellent hour long programmes, broadcast live. I’m starting a visiting role at Sheffield University in the new year, with a course that has won many accolades. And I’ll be back running a month on air (actually three weeks) for BCB in April. I’m up for a bit of travel, if any of my overseas audience fancy a novel input from a mildly eccentric and strongly opinionated Brit.
In conclusion – it’s been an immense privilege to be able to contribute something to the development of so many journalists, so many of whom now hold senior editorial and presentation roles in news at levels I could never dream of achieving on national radio and TV.
I’m so grateful to have had that opportunity in life, and to have this recognised by the BJTC as the voice of the industry in broadcast training.
I’ve never been lauded with academic honours, I really don’t fit in that world. I leave my faculty position as I arrived, a plain “Mr”, but I’m so proud of my BJTC award … and even more so with what my trainees have achieved over the years.
Next objective? National treasure.