Getting into media – interview with Tim Bishop
Tim Bishop has worked in the media for more than 30 years. He was news editor of the Eastern Daily Press; editor of the Norwich Evening News; a senior lecturer for the NCTJ at Highbury College, Portsmouth, and head of region for the BBC East. He is chief executive at the Forum Trust in Norwich.
Is a postgraduate course a good way to get into the profession?
Postgraduate courses in media vary in quality and some may not equip you for the roles you’ll be looking for. Some employers will want students who have studied media law; some may value pure broadcast skills, others skills acquired from newspapers. Don’t underestimate the value of work experience as well as studying. Some courses are better than others at establishing links between employers and students.
What do tutors look for when they are sifting through applications for such courses?
We always looked for people who said things like: ‘I’ve always wanted to be in… radio …newspapers.’ The vast majority of people had a first degree and then came on to postgraduate media courses.
Will any course get you a job in the media – or are some preferred?
The people in broadcasting with newspaper training backgrounds were really good at certain aspects of the tasks, but may have been lacking broadcasting skills; others may have had good broadcasting skills, but lacked, say, legal training. NCTJ courses remain a gold standard, but there are a lot of accredited schools – look for those combining a sound base in journalism with the practical. Practical skills make you of instant use – take video recording, for example. If you are trained how to interview and record and you have the core journalism skills, you’ll stand out.
Once they’ve done a postgraduate journalism course, is there anything job applicants can do to make themselves stand out in the crowd?
To aspiring journalists, I’d say, get experience of work. Again, it comes down to displaying useful practical skills. Internships are good – anything up to six months unpaid is fine, after that it always felt to me that it’s exploitation, so ensure the terms of your employment are clear at the start. Volunteering is useful; it gets you broad experience quickly, so it’s still a really good route in. We had plenty of students who worked in the afternoon for two hours, manning the phones – by working for the BBC they got a foot in the door. Even if you don’t get a job at the place you’re volunteering it’s good experience, something you can show you’ve done when you’re next going for a job.
Can you still work your way up from runner to producer without doing a journalism course? Does a postgrad course guarantee a high-level career?
Yes I can instantly think of two I’ve met since who went on to good careers. You don’t see many people these days who don’t understand that however much you’ve paid for your course and however much you’ve done at Uni, you’re starting again, and that may include being asked to make the tea. You must come to work prepared to get your hands dirty. It’s no different to any other career. Show willing. My Mum’s hairdresser has a similar approach. From the people who come on work experience he chooses his Saturday staff, the best of those become full-time staff. Some of them work Saturdays sweeping floors for up to two years while they’re at school. He always says he can teach them to cut hair, he looks for the right attitude first. He’s so right.
However good your course, read around your subject and get to know more about it. Get to know what you can do well. Editors want someone who can work in an office with others – even if they have to show them how to do certain tasks, they want them to be able to answer the phones and be useful quickly. They’ll learn more by being there and asking questions at the right moment.
Is there still a chance to specialise and be, say, a sports journalist or investigative journalist?
I think there is. If what you care about is sport there’s always a market to tell people about sport and there’s still scope for practical journalistic skills. There’s a whole new raft of local TV stations starting up now giving a new take on the industry. If you’ve got the right skills and the right training you’ve got the best chance of getting a job.
Print, online or broadcast journalism – which aspect of your career have you enjoyed most?
I enjoyed it all, it always felt a privilege.
What other jobs can a postgraduate course in journalism lead to?
The journalists I started out with are all doing different things now. Their journalistic skills have led to all sorts of other careers. One has been a high level adviser to the prime minister, one is in marketing and PR for industry, another is in sport. Journalists are good at finding things out, good at writing, good at deadlines.
What the biggest single attribute an editor looks for in job applicants?
Confidence, not arrogance.