Sarah Clarke is a reporter and presenter for UTV Live.
I studied law and French at Queen’s University in Belfast and I did seriously consider practising as a lawyer but if I’m honest my heart was never in it.
I graduated in 2002 and worked for a couple of years before deciding to apply for the postgrad in journalism at Ulster University. In that time I was an admin assistant and script reader for the BBC drama department, a traffic and travel reporter with BBC Radio Ulster and a newsreader with a local independent radio station, Q97.
But I soon realised from talking to many senior people in the industry that if I wanted to pursue a career as a journalist I needed a NCTJ-accredited qualification. Competition for the course was fierce but I’d done a lot of work experience with a variety of papers – a weekly, a daily broadsheet and a Sunday tabloid – and so I had a portfolio of published articles. My persistence paid off and I started the course in 2004.
It was invaluable in so many ways. Possibly most importantly for the work placement which, for me, led to paid work with the Irish News. I continued to combine those shifts with the freelance work I had with the BBC and the Q Network. Freelancing and completing the course was actively encouraged by our course director Colm Murphy – ultimately we wanted to get a job in the industry at the end and quite a few of us did. It was busy but fun.
Maybe it was the linguist in me but I actually really enjoyed shorthand. It was a bit like learning another language and I would find myself practising it in front of the TV. While I’m a bit rusty now I still find myself using it, especially in court.
The importance of accuracy and attention to detail was instilled in us. I remember David Armstrong the editor of the Portadown Times, where I did one of many stints of work experience, saying if you couldn’t get the basics right then you couldn’t be trusted to get anything right. That piece of advice has stuck with me.
One of our lecturers Martin Cowley – formerly of the Irish Times and Reuters – was very approachable, unassuming and a brilliant writer. He reiterated how less is often more in news writing and how a good journalist is always tracking down stories anywhere and everywhere. It helps if you are innately curious (or nosey) which, let’s face it, all of us are.
While I already had a background in law, the media law was a useful refresher and absolutely essential in this job.
There were, I think, about 12 on the course and UTV interviewed us all for a traineeship. I was the reserve candidate and when I later applied for a radio journalist job with the company that summer I was successful. And so began my broadcast career at UTV – 10 years ago in October.
I worked my way up from the radio desk combining it with continuity and production and I’m now a reporter and presenter for our flagship news programme. Most recently I was part of the UTV Live Tonight team awarded an RTS for best news coverage.
Other highlights of my career have included reporting on the publication of the Saville Report into Bloody Sunday, the Pope’s visit to Britain, the royal wedding, the Queen’s visit to the Republic of Ireland and even interviewing One Direction’s Louis Tomlinson. In this job you never know what the day will bring.