News Presenter, ITV News
BA Performing Arts, 1996
Why did you choose Middlesex University for your degree?
At the time I applied to Middlesex the BA Performing Arts course had a really good reputation within A Level colleges and I knew a couple of older friends who had been there so it was one of several places I went to for interviews and auditions.
I really liked it there so when I got offered a place it was right up there in my top choices. I also had the options of going to Birmingham University to do a drama/dance degree or to Glasgow University to take a TV and film course, but the idea of coming to London and doing the BAPA course really appealed to me. I just loved the whole vibe of Trent Park. It was a lovely place for that sort of scene – the arts, drama, dance, music, TV production - it was just great.
What elements of your course did you enjoy the most?
There was quite a lot of variety and you could really tailor the course to suit yourself because there were so many different modules within it. Drama, music and dance were the core subjects – my core subject was Drama – another third of the course covered a variety of subjects across the Performing Arts, but then for the final third of the course you could choose from a vast array of modules. I chose several TV production modules, quite a few dance ones and script writing to name but a few. In the final year, a fellow student and I collaborated to write, direct, choreograph and perform an original piece of theatre which I was really proud of.
What is your fondest memory of your time at Middlesex?
One memory that springs to mind is when we were doing a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream and we went and rehearsed in the forest near the University late at night. Some of the artier and way-out things that we did do stick in my mind as a bit alternative and a little bit ridiculous, but they were all good times! I made some of my best friends at Middlesex who have remained friends for life.
How did your course help you get where you are today?
Obviously TV production is linked to what I've gone into and I learnt a lot at Middlesex that was actually really useful when I first started trying to find work. When I started studying I very much enjoyed the whole acting and performing side but by the time I left I wasn't sure that it was necessarily the career path I wanted to follow. I was definitely more interested in television presenting and production and the course helped me realise that.
There was no element of journalism on my course but some of the technical skills I picked up at Middlesex - such as how to edit, how to use cameras and working in a TV studio - have been helpful, especially the editing as that is something I still do all the time.
The other thing about a performing arts degree is that it gives you an element of confidence for performing and putting yourself out there, which is something that I obviously have to do now when I'm going on live TV.
How did you get your first foot on the ladder?
My journey into journalism is quite unconventional within the industry really. There are some people with performing backgrounds but generally people come through journalistic training and degree courses.
I was very keen on presenting and after I graduated I managed to get a placement working for free in a newsroom at a place called European Business News, which later merged with NBC to produce the news for CNBC. It just happened to be the place I fell into really as a friend of my sister's worked there, but it turned out that I fell into the thing that really suited me, and that was how I got into journalism.
After my two weeks' work experience finished, a runner job came up and the editor said: 'Could you do that until Christmas?' So I had a couple of months' work but basically I ended up staying there for over two years, working my way up on the production side until I became an assistant producer. In that time I also started doing some voiceover reports.
What was it like when you first made the jump to journalism?
Coming from an arts background it was great to get a good grounding in the TV industry while I was at EBN and CNBC, but I found the subject of 100% business news too dry at times. I applied for jobs elsewhere but struggled to get anywhere with presenting roles, but I did manage to get a great job as a production journalist with ITN. I had just turned 24 at the time and I got some brilliant extra training with ITN. All of my journalistic training and skills were learnt in the workplace really.
What does a typical day consist of for you?
On most working days I set my alarm for 3.30am because my first job of the day is presenting and producing the local London bulletins for ITV's breakfast show Daybreak.
A cab picks me up just after 4am and it's about a 40 minute journey to the studios so, while I'm in the cab, I'm checking for news stories to include in our bulletin. Once I get in I check what has been left in a handover from the night before. It's then a case of checking that everything we have for the bulletins is ok, tweaking and updating the stories, putting my make-up on and then we're first on air just after 6am.
It's quite a busy time for those first few hours as we broadcast three hourly bulletins with the latest news, weather and travel but I have a producer to help me and the time flies by until about 8.15am. After that I switch out of presenting mode and into reporting mode to work as a correspondent on the national lunchtime news for ITV. I work on a variety of stories which may involve going out filming or doing a live spot in the studio. Other days I am working with material which is already in the building so it's just a case of writing and editing a report together.
When I work at weekends I take on more of a sole presenting role, anchoring national ITV news and ITV London news bulletins.
What would be your advice for somebody who wants to follow in your footsteps?
For any job in journalism I'd suggest that while you're still studying at university, you try and use your holidays to get work experience, as that that will help put you one step ahead of other people once you've graduated.
It's a cliché but a lot of it is about contacts and getting that first 'in' really. I spent the first few years working behind the scenes and looking for opportunities to get on screen, but there are people who have worked in the industry for 20 or 30 years so you're competing against a really high calibre of experience. You have to be realistic and not get disheartened early on.
If you go into a newsroom there are always ways in which you can find opportunities to help someone do something or learn about something new so it's important to make the most of those openings too.
How did you get your first on-screen break?
My first onscreen presenting opportunity came when I was at ITN working on 5 News in the late 90s. It was a very new channel and newsroom at the time which was working on quite a low budget so they were up for us doing all sorts of things; whether technically or journalistically.
I was covering a production shift normally done by a colleague who was on holiday (he's now a Sky News presenter) and he also happened to present a short minute and a half bulletin as part of his shift. The editor asked me if I'd ever presented before. I said: 'Well no, but I have done this, this and this' and - to be honest - I blagged it a bit, so she asked me to do a screen test and said that if it was ok then I could present the bulletin. At the time I was thinking, 'Oh my God' because I'd been trying really hard for that sort of opportunity for ages and then it just suddenly appeared… thankfully, it worked out and I started presenting bulletins regularly from then on top of my production work. My first official presenting job was with ITV Yorkshire in 2001 which I applied for through an advert in The Guardian.
The thought of getting that break might seem impossible to some people. What words of encouragement would you offer?
I'd just say try your best to get a foot in the door. It's really hard as you don't always want to work for free, but without being too pushy, try and engage with people and be helpful and keen. If you have the talent then people will recognise it. It is competitive but somebody has got to do it, so yes the jobs might seem unattainable but someone has to do it and why not you? It can be hard, but if you're prepared to rise to the challenge then there's no reason you can't do it.
What are the pros and cons of working in the industry?
The pros are that you get a really varied job, especially in news. It's fast paced and really exciting. I get to meet really interesting people from all walks of life. Obviously I'm working with other journalists – who are often themselves very engaging people - and we're out interviewing people from all different backgrounds, whether that's someone who has just broken a record for some extraordinary feat, or whether they're a film star or a politician – there's a huge variety. You're also at the sharp end as history is being made.
The cons are perhaps the hours. I have quite a good balance between work and life now, but ten years ago I put work first and arguably had to do that to be where I am now. There were times when I felt like I had to prioritise work and my career above everything else because it's very competitive. There are often times when you need to make sure that you're there at the front of the queue.
What has been your biggest scoop or the best story you've covered?
Sometimes it's just the luck of the dice when you're working and what happens. I happened to be working the night of the Haiti earthquake. That was a huge foreign story and although I was covering it from London we had to try and get content out of a developing country which had just been hit by a massive earthquake to fill a half hour programme a few hours later.
I don't think I've had a significant journalistic scoop that nobody else has if I'm honest (must work on that!). One of the first big celebrities I interviewed was Russell Crowe and I was really worried because he has a reputation for being a bit feisty, particularly with journalists, but he was actually really nice so that was a relief. Some of the bigger stories I've worked on include the Boxing Day Tsunami, the search for Madeleine McCann, and more recently Hurricane Sandy and the death of Margaret Thatcher. Working on the 2012 London Olympics and presenting from the Olympic Park was definitely a highlight too.
Follow Faye on Twitter @FayeBarker