Award-winning newscaster Mark Austin spoke to NCTJ students at this year’s Student Council forum at Press Association in London about his career and offered advice to those starting out in journalism.
Mark, who is co-presenter of ITV’s News at Ten, first congratulated the students on their choice of career and also on the route that they are taking, saying that NCTJ training is ”brilliant preparation for a career in journalism.”
Mark had just returned from Egypt and spoke about his experiences of reporting events there, including the coming together of traditional and new media and how he had been able to arrange interviews via Facebook and Twitter. While he was reporting, the use of social media became so powerful the Egyptian government even shut down the internet, followed by the satellite communication links.
To get around this Mark said: “We were able to use satellite phones and small video cameras to broadcast live without the authorities knowing.
“Technology is now such that you cannot control the media.”
Like a number of other countries Egypt has no free press and he said the British media “have a duty to go to places like this and report on things that locals cannot report on.”
And despite the different environments Mark told the students: “I used the same tools when reporting in Egypt as when working on old stories with the Bournemouth Echo.
“The things you’re doing now are going to be fundamental to your careers.”
After a short talk about his experiences, Mark took questions from the students on his career and the industry.
When asked if being a foreign correspondent had become more dangerous since 9/11, he replied: “It has always been dangerous to report on wars, however the thing that changed after 9/11 is that journalists have now become targets.”
Mark commented that journalists are now often viewed as extensions of their governments and find it hard to make contacts on both sides of a conflict. This means that they can often only report from one side. In addition it can be so difficult and dangerous to move around a country that the media have to be embedded in the military and this can make it hard to report impartially.
As a foreign correspondent Mark confessed he has witnessed many terrible things, including the civil war and slaughtered children in Rwanda. When questioned about these he talked about how journalists have to learn to come to terms with what they see and separate it from their real lives – something that some journalists find much more difficult than others.
Mark was also asked about how he feels UK media compares to other countries and said: “The great thing about British journalism is that it’s very open and reports on important stories all over the world.”
He compared British reporting to that of the US and opined that American journalism tends to be parochial, only reporting stories with direct links to the US, while the UK is far more open to other countries.
After meeting the 44 student representatives at the event, Mark tweeted that the future of good journalism was in safe hands:
“Just spoken to NCTJ students in London. Good audience, sharp questions. Journalism in good hands.”
Mark completed his NCTJ training at Highbury College before becoming a reporter for the Bournemouth Echo. He then worked as both a news and sports reporter for the BBC before moving to ITN. He then anchored ITV’s Evening News programme until 2008 when he replaced Trevor McDonald on News at Ten.