From student journalist to Sky Sports News

lady confenceIt’s great to be part of the wider NCTJ family and speaking to you aspiring journalists, and a little bit surreal to be honest, as only a couple of years ago, I was sitting exactly where you are now.

As a little introduction, my name is Jo and I’m currently working as a sub-editor for Sky Sports News after initially being given a place on their graduate trainee scheme. I just wanted to share with you a little bit about my experience and how I got to where I am in the hope that some of what I say is useful to you as you undergo your studies and embark on your own journalism careers.

The fact that Sky Sports News recognises the NCTJ qualification as such a great training tool speaks volumes for the courses you are currently doing – they won’t even consider applicants for the graduate scheme without it and I can whole heartedly say it gave me a fantastic base to work from when entering the field for the first time.

I always knew I wanted to work in the media and, more specifically, the sports media. I grew up playing sport and watching sport. I loved to write and I even asked for a dictaphone for my eighth birthday when all my friends were getting Furbies! I got an athletics scholarship to study at a high school in New York when I was 17 and their whole sporting culture and sports media culture had me hooked and it confirmed that this was the industry I wanted to work in.

I studied an under-grad at Stirling University in sports and media studies, which gave me a really good grasp of a wide-range of things from a theoretical point of view but when looking for jobs afterwards, it was clear that I really needed more practical qualifications and that my work experience at the university paper and radio show quite frankly just wasn’t enough. That’s when I did more research and found out about the NCTJ courses. I applied to Glasgow Caledonian University and was accepted on to their post-graduate multimedia journalism course.

Through my brief job hunt, it became really obvious just how important work experience was. Like a lot of industries nowadays, it is competitive, not only for jobs but for unpaid work experience placements. But getting experience is absolutely essential to get a taste for the industry, show prospective employers you’re serious, to develop skills and make contacts. Throughout the course I did a number of placements over the year including at the local Real Radio station, Omni Sport and at STV news.

I did a variety of roles from being chief tea-maker to simply shadowing reporters, which then led on to writing some scripts, going out on interviews and eventually putting together reports. The thing I learnt the most was that of hard work and perseverance. I’ve always been of the thinking that hard work gets rewarded and in this industry nothing gets handed to you on a plate. Often in placements it was very much a ‘sink or swim’ scenario, and I was always determined not to drown. It’s so important that people get to know who you are, that you can show a bit of initiative and that you’re prepared to work hard, no matter what the job.

I did everything from going to an opening of a road (exciting stuff) to vox-popping people on the street about who was going to win The X-Factor. And although ultimately I knew that wasn’t the kind of reporting I wanted to be doing, when people see that you are keen to volunteer for jobs no-one else really wants, will work hard and produce results they’re going to take notice. My work experience at both Real Radio and STV turned into getting the odd paid shift after that and ultimately that speaks volumes on a CV.

At University I often had conversations with people about how to even get the work experience in the first place and there was never an obvious answer or one specific route. Sometimes it’s sheer perseverance, other times it is using contacts and people you know. The NCTJ has great links to a lot of media organisations; a lot of lecturers used to work in publications so will have contacts. Events like the Student Council are fantastic opportunities to meet people in the industry who potentially could be your next employer so talk to them and make them remember you.

A big chunk of my life story I’ve kind of missed out, but I think it’s important to know: I worked as a waitress, then a manager, at Pizza Hut from the age of 16 and it paid my way through University and funded my post-grad. Now lecturers won’t be too happy with me sharing the fact that throughout my post-grad, as well as the 30-odd hours spent at Uni, the hours of weekly assignments, the short-hand homework and fitting in my work experience, I also worked in Pizza Hut for 30 hours a week.

It was tough, but again, I think it’s a big part of who I am now. I think the skills I developed as well as the life experience, dealing with people day-in, day-out really shaped me as a person and it also showed I’m not afraid of a bit of hard-work. Sky Sports News very much cares about the qualifications and work experience you have, but they also look at the person behind the qualifications. I’m by no means encouraging you to go out and apply for jobs in a fast-food joint, but what I’m trying to show is that life experience and personality is also really important in this industry. You might have the best C.V. and portfolio in the world but if you can’t talk to people or work as part of a team then it counts for nothing.

The combination of all that I’ve spoken about is ultimately what got me on to the graduate scheme at Sky Sports News. During the graduate training, my background along with the NCTJ training stood me in fantastic stead to hit the ground running. I felt equipped to be able to use the editing equipment and write scripts from day one. The real practical side of the course combined with my work experience in various newsrooms made me feel more confident about my ability and what I could bring to the table.

I also kept on with my theory of working hard and not expecting everything to be handed to me. I made an effort to speak to everyone that I could within the newsroom, from the editors on the news desk to the reporters and presenters. I never moaned, I did extra hours and didn’t take my holiday allowance.  And all these things ended up with rewards: I was initially given a three month contract that was extended to a year; after my initial stint on reporting, I was given reporting shifts to go out and cover stories on my own and I felt privileged to be interviewing some of the biggest names in sport. I voiced and packaged reports and constantly asked for feedback so I could learn, develop and show that I was keen to work hard to improve.

I got to spend a year working across every department in the news room, something not many people get to experience. It gave me such a great understanding of how the channel works and how each team contributes to creating such great output. And ultimately it led to a staff job on one of the production teams. Subbing somewhere like Sky Sports News is great, with the nature of a 24-hour news channel, it’s busy, it’s fast-paced, we have to turn around pictures and write accurate, snappy scripts quickly but without sacrificing quality. We never know what breaking news stories are around the corner and every day I work across different sports and am challenged to broaden my knowledge.

I feel extremely lucky to be where I am at the moment. When I went for my interview to be accepted to the post-grad course in Glasgow, my lecturer asked me where I would want to be in five years’ time – and my answer was Sky Sports News. I had a goal, and I worked extremely hard to achieve that goal and I’m a firm believer that everyone here can do the same. Without wanting to sound too cheesy, I said I felt ‘lucky’ but you definitely make your own luck in this industry.