Student goes from BBC work experience to freelance reporter whilst still at uni

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The BBC work experience scheme is now open for applications until 27 February. We asked a student who gained work experience at the BBC for some insider tips and insight.

Alex Watson, TV & Broadcasting student, is in his final year and works in his holidays as a freelance reporter for the BBC.

Alex applied on the BBC website for a work experience placement back in 2014 and was unsuccessful. He didn’t let that put him off and tried again in 2015. That time he was successful.

Alex’s tips for the BBC application

Application questions range from the usual “do you have the right to work in the UK?” and other standardised eligibility questions. These tend to be where there are pass/fail answers in the system, so check these carefully. I once put down ‘Yes’ to “have you been employed by the BBC in the last 12 months?” and it was instantly rejected…

Then you have questions relating to the operational info for your specific placement – which BBC base you want to be placed in, dates you are available, and confirming you know that you’re not expecting any expenses or other form of payment during the course of the placement.

For these answers, you should try to be flexible (like putting a wide range of dates rather than just one or two specific weeks you have available)… Lastly, you have the questions where you let your creativity and passion shine through, like the critique of a radio show or “Please tell us why you are interested in this particular placement and demonstrate your passion and knowledge for this placement” – the 300 word limit is what makes these quite tricky, you need to try and show off your best experience and what makes you unique without waffling on too much. Try to sell your best qualities and then back them up with an example of when you had to use that skill.

If you don’t ask, you don’t get

The 2015 experience led to freelance work by being persistent, and probably slightly annoying in constantly badgering my boss… Initially as I was coming to the end of my five day placement, I made it very clear that I’d be around for the rest of summer if they needed another pair of hands for anything! Luckily for me, they did. After a nice two week break, I was back at BBC Radio Jersey working as a reporter. This was still unpaid work experience, but this was arranged by my boss locally rather than having to go through the rigorous online process again.

The 2015 NatWest Island Games (yes, it’s a real thing – a weird and wonderful thing) was taking place in Jersey so the staff reporters were being sent off to different venues, covering local teams competing in all manner of different sports.

Tunisia terror attacks – stepping in to interview a family

While they were off watching beach volleyball or doing other equally fun sounding jobs, I was based in the newsroom. During this time, the 2015 Tunisia terror attacks took place and a local family were on holiday at the resort where the attack happened. They had just returned to the island and were happy to speak to a reporter. However, all the pros were out covering sport so I had to go slightly out of my comfort zone and conduct an interview all by myself. It was nerve-wracking as I’d never had any training in dealing with what was quite a sensitive topic. I didn’t know how distressed they might have been, so I was very cautious. Fortunately for me, they were lovely and probably a lot better at talking on the radio than I was!

Listen to Alex’s interview:

After my extra week of work experience I’d probably be pushing my luck asking for any more placement weeks, but I stayed in touch with my boss throughout the following year at uni. I think initially it was a ‘thank you for having me’ email, and I was then asked if I had any feedback regarding my time at BBC Jersey. I can only imagine I sent an answer quite a bit longer (or maybe better – who knows!) than what they must be used to, as it was passed on to BBC HR and I was asked to re-write it as a blog to be published on the BBC’s careers website.

Becoming a Freelance Reporter

Throughout the next year at uni I stayed in touch, offered to help when I heard they had any big Outside Broadcasts coming up like Children in Need etc. and did my final unpaid work placement in the summer of 2016, where I helped out a lot with the TV news as well as radio, and the possibility of some paid work over Christmas was mentioned. Fortunately for me, that came through and I spent last Christmas break as a Freelance Reporter for BBC Radio Jersey.

Working with the same team, it was great to hear how they thought I’d developed since that first placement. Now I was going out creating exciting packages (like the one below), combining interviewing techniques, audio editing, and my least favourite task of all time… wandering up and down a high street bothering Christmas shoppers with vox pop questions. Bringing what I’ve learned together from previous placements and the course was great.

As a Freelance Reporter, I’m brought in when the BBC are in need of a few extra journalists to cover stories (like when everyone’s off on their Christmas holidays). My job varies every day – it’s a cliché to say “no two days are the same” but it’s true – what’s happening in the area you have to cover (so for me, the Channel Islands) drives what you do on a daily basis.  I’ve had to put calls in to book guests for radio shows, writing scripts as well as producing my own interviews and packages which go out on air.

Although I’m mostly based in radio, I’ve also been able to spend some time working with colleagues in TV and BBC News Online.

alex-watson-filming-battle-of-flowers-floats
Alex filming Battle of Flowers

I worked as a camera operator for the BBC’s Jersey Battle of Flowers coverage (yet again, yes this is an actual thing… I still can’t really explain it! – but I gave it a go in this blog post) and as an online reporter, I needed to take news in from various sources, including press releases, social media etc. and rapidly turn them around into news stories for BBC News’ “Local Live” feeds (if you go to any BBC regional news site, it’s the live feed of breaking news stories throughout the day).

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Battle of Flowers – Alice in Wonderland float

If you want to get some work experience at the BBC in radio, TV, marketing, digital media and more, see the BBC website for how to apply.

Prospective students can find out more about the BSc (Hons) TV and Broadcasting course on the University of Portsmouth’s website.

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