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Getting Ahead In... Journalism

In this edition of Getting Ahead In… we speak to BA Music and English Literary Studies alumnus Andrew Bailey about his career in broadcast journalism.

Andrew BaileyTell me a bit about your current role.

I’m the Senior News Editor for Sky News, working at the Home Desk. My job is to decide which UK or ‘home’ news stories Sky covers on a day-to-day basis. I choose which stories I think we should run from the thousands that break every hour and then decide how we’re going to cover those stories, be that through television or our mobile platforms.

I then allocate resource to each story to get them to the right channel, and I liaise with colleagues across the newsroom to monitor how those stories are progressing throughout the day, and allocate cameramen and women where they’re needed.

A simple way of thinking about it is that the Home Desk is the brain of the operation, sending signals to the rest of the Sky News team about what we broadcast and how. There is then a Foreign Desk that does the exact same thing for foreign news.

What made you choose to pursue broadcasting and journalism?

From an early age I decided I wanted to be a journalist. When I came to Middlesex I quickly discovered there was a student magazine and by the end of my first year I had volunteered to start writing for that. I did some music and gig reviews, which gave me the taste for journalism again, and that passion just started eating away at me.

By my second year I’d got a real taste for writing and performing and I continued to pursue that over the years until I had enough money to put myself through a master’s in broadcast journalism. I knew by that point that that’s what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to write for newspapers or magazines, I wanted to tell stories to people on TV or radio.

What do you find particularly fulfilling about your work?

Being able to tell stories every day, and sharing the truth with our viewers and our online users. I’m very inquisitive and love getting to the very heart of a story. Now I’m at Sky News I have a great team and brilliant resources that mean we can really go at a story until we find the truth, which I find extremely fulfilling because so the truth is so often hidden.

It’s also fulfilling just being able to play a small part in the careers of so many of the reporters and correspondents that I work with here. The choices that I make on the stories that they cover can give them a fantastic platform, and I can be a sounding board for some of their fantastic ideas.

"You have to have self-confidence and believe in yourself, but you also have to have a bit of humility".

What are the challenges?

The challenges are in accepting that you don’t always get it right. When you’re working in an environment like this you have to realise that you’re all human beings and you can’t always be the first ones to break the story, even though every fibre of your being wants to be the first on location and for Sky News to get the exclusive. You have to accept that you can’t always be first. But we’d rather be second and right than first and wrong.

What skills do you think are crucial to succeeding in your field?

If you want to work in broadcast journalism you need to be very tenacious. You have to be able to find stories, dig around and not take ‘no’ for an answer, but you also need to be tenacious in your own career. You will get knocked back, you will make mistakes and you’re entering an extremely competitive industry.

You have to have self-confidence and believe in yourself, but you also have to have a bit of humility. The best journalists are those who recognise the human aspect of the story and aren’t just focused on delivering something for a deadline. You need to recognise that when there is a tragedy that people are deeply affected and that we should reflect that in how we tell those stories and not be afraid to be emotional.

AfghanistanTell me about your biggest career highlight to date.

I could talk about a number of different things I’ve done during my time at Sky News, but career-wise my absolute highlight would have to be broadcasting from Iraq back in 2009 with Absolute Radio.

It was during a very turbulent period, where Britain was starting to pull its resources out of Iraq and hand over to the Americans. I took a small team and flew out for a week of live broadcasts from Basra, where we did something that had never been done before.

As well as hosting news bulletins both morning and night, we hosted whole programs from Iraq that ranged from mother’s day broadcasts where soldiers spoke to their mothers live on the radio, to a late night radio show on military technology. It wasn’t just news but it was the human stories behind the scenes of what was happening. I love interviewing people so just talking to people and trying to find a story was the most exciting thing I’d ever done, though highly dangerous if I’m really honest.

We had to be under armed guard with an armed convoy whenever we left the military base. It was the first time the Ministry of Defence had worked with a news programme like that before, and being able to lead the team doing that was a really unique experience and without doubt the highlight of my career.

What advice would you give to someone hoping to follow a similar career path?

If you’re a student, of any age, then my first tip would be to make the most of your time at university and see if you can get work experience anywhere you can. See if you can volunteer to work in hospital radio or local radio, see if there is a website running in your area that’s telling local news or somewhere that needs a social media account running for them.

Having experience is so crucial because it shows any future employers that you’ve shown an interest in that field, no matter what you’re studying at the time. If you’ve got an interest in journalism and telling stories try and find a way.

My advice to alumni who are thinking about how they can get into the industry is to get some training in the field and mentoring from professionals in the industry. You should also consider doing postgraduate courses that are approved by the Broadcast Journalism Training Council. There are many of these around the UK and they give you all the things that you need from a really good grounding of law and the structure of government, to how to look on camera and speak on radio.

After that it’s up to you, you’ve got to go out there and impress, through work experience and volunteering if necessary. Work your way up - that’s what my story was! I went from local radio, to regional, to national and now TV, all from some work experience that I got while I was doing my master’s.

Photo credit: Stuart Edwards

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