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Do You Have the Skills to Work in TV?

So you want to work in TV but do you have the necessary skills to gain entry?

 

You may be providing training for those entering the media, but are you giving your students the right sort of education to equip them for the current media workplace?

 

You work in TV already but did you know that many of you have gaps in the essential skills required to keep you ahead of the game?

 

Skillset, the body that supports skills in the UK’s creative industries, has released the results of a survey into the skills currently required of journalists. It makes for interesting reading and it is VERY relevant to YOU whether in or out of work.

First, let me explain why journalism is important if you want to work in TV. If you studied media you probably know the answer already. If you don’t then you should write to your college and give ‘em hell for not explaining it and how journalistic skills are crucial in television production!

 
I confess I always saw ‘journalism’ as reporters in macs chewing on a pencil with a shorthand notebook, interviewing, writing and creating stories for the newspapers. It took me a while to realise making television is journalism. It’s about telling stories and if you don’t have the necessary skills to find and tell those stories you are not suitably equipped for a career in television production.

 

And we are not just talking producers and researchers here. A good cameraman understands he is telling a story and need to get the relevant pictures to help tell that story. An editor has the job of putting the final structure of that story together but if the rest of the team – from sound and lighting to presenters and producer – have not done their job that editor is going to struggle. Everyone needs to understand what the final result is meant to be in order to do his or her job effectively. Do you know what the story is?

 

The Skillset survey suggests that many media students and journalists are not getting enough suitable training given the changing face of technology and the mass media. Employers in the media are complaining that the people they hire are lacking essential skills. I have long suspected too many media colleges are not providing the necessary education and this survey seems to support that suspicion. Of course there are good courses and not so good courses – and that is another survey and article altogether. (Would love to hear from some of those media studies course leaders…)

 

The survey says journalists are too often lacking in both the traditional skills – writing; telling stories; researching – and the modern skills – using the computer, video and the web. The traditional skills are as important as they’ve ever been but the message is that the media landscape is changing as a result of the web and changing technology, and we all need to learn how to marry the traditional with the new.

In his Forward to the report Kim Fletcher, Chairman of the National Council for the Training of Journalists, makes it clear that we cannot afford to ignore the revolution currently underway in the media:

 

“What do you do when the familiar world begins to change? Well, you can pull the duvet over your head and pretend it isn’t happening. That’s comforting at first, but when you don’t get involved, you shouldn’t be surprised to find yourself left behind.  Or, taking a deep breath, you throw yourself into the action and have a hand in shaping the future. That’s surely the right course for all those involved in training the next generation of journalists.

 The world of the media has certainly been moving at frightening pace and in scary ways. We no longer know where the money’s coming from. Deadlines aren’t clear any more. Those old distinctions between print and broadcast have broken down. Journalists may still call themselves newspaper reporters, but they travel with a  video  camera  and  a microphone  alongside  their notebook. Broadcasters write blogs in between the bulletins. Online reporters ask why you actually need a printer”.

 

The survey set out to discover what skills journalists need today and whether they were getting enough training to give them those skills.

 

It turns out that 71 per cent of employers report skills gaps among new entrant journalists. Television and radio companies and larger companies reported skills gaps slightly higher than the average. The areas more commonly reported in TV and radio as having skills gaps are apparently interviewing; radio presentation; public affairs; health and safety; and hazardous assignments (isn’t every TV job a potentially hazardous assignment?!).

The survey identified skills gaps in both the traditional and the new:

  • The main traditional skills gaps reported are: finding own stories; use of language; writing; media law; shorthand; and newsgathering. In particular, the standard of written English among new entrants was flagged both in the survey and interviews as a major cause for concern.
  • The main new skills gaps reported are: video skills; writing for search engine optimisation; writing for multi-platforms (24-hour rolling news); assembling news bulletins and audio/video packages; using the Freedom of Information Act; and prioritising ways to tell a story.

And as an interesting aside, it says that voice coaching is a particular skills gap within television and radio, while within the magazine sector, new skills such as user-generated content, podcasts and blogging feature strongly.

 

Essentially media employers need and want people who understand and are effective with the skills of working in and with the web alongside the usual journalistic skills. 

Employers were asked if they were providing formal training for new entrants and of the television production companies who responded 29% said yes they were. However, I would query what those results really mean given most of this ‘training’ was ‘in-house support on the job by another member of staff’. Hmmm…

No doubt there are many inspirational managers out there taking time out of their busy, stressful jobs to train the newcomers and no doubt there are very many busy, stressed managers who reckon sending the runner to deal with an irate television contributor is ‘in-house training’!

One of the interesting parts of the survey included quotes from employers about what’s missing in many TV workers and journalists, including the tendency to take the easy option when getting a story – relying on PR handouts, for example. They want and need people who can ferret out new stories and then tell the story well.  Can you do that? Not just surfing the net, cutting and pasting – really getting out, discovering new things and interesting people and broadcasting their story?

One executive says:

“Reporters expect things to land in their laps and they don’t have to work for it. It’s a job and not a vocation [to them] and there’s lots of attitude when anyone is expected to go the extra mile. Initiative in getting stories is long gone and seems never to return.”

 

The conclusion was that the basic skills of journalism and broadcasting remain critical and that key skills for new entrants would be:

• An ability to work across the media platforms (internet, broadcast, print., etc) “That is absolutely essential.”

• The ability to hold on to the traditional values of journalism while modernising around the new platforms;

• An open mind-set.

 

So what if you’ve never studied media or journalism, or what if you have but still lack these necessary skills? Well fear not – there are solutions:

  • Try and find a job that will include some form of in-house training (yeah right, I hear you cry – can’t get a job full stop!);
  • Study the Skillset site and find a course to improve your skills;
  • Pay for a relevant training course (‘now you’re having a laugh’, you declare, ‘how can I afford that?);
  • Do it yourself. Yes it’s free, it available and it’s possible and over the next few posts I‘ll suggest some ways you can do that.

A few years ago I was completely ignorant of the world of blogging, web sites, social networking and the rest of it. My learning curve on this site has been steep and fascinating and no-one taught me how to do it. I learnt along the way by doing it myself. And along the way I have finally come to understand the nature of this media revolution.

ITV spent large sums of money tying to educate senior managers like me on the ways of the web and how it impacted on our television business. Bless ‘em they even forked out £300 worth of iPod for each of us in the hope it would teach us oldies something about modern ways. After a whole weekend away (in very comfortable surroundings, thank you) I understood nothing and I am not convinced the bosses actually understood what they were trying to tell us! Sometimes the only way to learn is to immerse yourself in it.

So this is what I suggest – LEARN TO DO IT YOURSELF. Don’t sit around waiting for the call or the email, starting filling in your skills gaps. I’m happy to help. The more you learn and teach yourself the better equipped you will be to take advantage of the revolution that’s going on in our media.

The good news about this revolution – brought to us, of course, by the wonder of the world wide web – is that it gives the individual more creative freedom and a better chance of being part of a global media than ever – and I mean EVER -before. Exciting? You betcha! And you don’t necessarily have to be in a TV job to be a part of it.

Coming up over the next few weeks I’ll talk more on the revolution, how you can use it to your advantage and offer practical suggestions on how you can go about ‘doing it yourself’ – and hopefully giving yourself an advantage in the media workplace at the same time.

For now I suggest you go read that report. It will inform you. It will tell you what employers in the media want today. The press has gone to town on the revelation that media entrants aren’t getting enough suitable training. True but we’re not going to sit around waiting for someone to pick us up now are we? No we ain’t!

Here’s the link to the Skillset Report:

http://www.skillset.org/uploads/pdf/asset_13022.pdf?2

And the Guardian’s report on it:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2011/nov/17/indie-tv-producers-training?INTCMP=SRCH

And if you want to be a part of all this and get the next updates completely free, then you need to subscribe (form over there on the right) and it’ll land neatly in your inbox.

13 comments

  • Chris Dodd says:

    Totally agree with this.

    But having graduated uni – and been given pretty basic production skills, I have spent the last year, working on my own project and learning that a journalism course would have been far more useful than the media course I did.

    The problem that I have is that I can not afford to work as a runner. I can’t afford to buy extra training, and the opportunities are few and far between.

    I’m *hoping* that by making my own film, I can showcase my skills and maybe bypass the first rung of the ladder, but it’s a long-shot.

    Yes issues with training do need to be addressed, but more so is the need to look at fair and free access to opportunities for people who maybe can not fund themselves while they work for less than a living wage as a runner.

    The industry needs to look seriously at how it recruits new entrants, there are masses of people with skills gained both from formal training and personal experience. Currently recruiters doesn’t seem to seek out these people as a priority though.

  • Kenresa Stratford says:

    Totally agree with this and with Chris’ article below.

    In the year since I’ve graduated I have noticed that it is my writing skills which are not catching the eye of potential employers. I find that I am not persuasive enough. I have the skills and the relevant work experience, but not matter how hard I try or how many jobs I am applying too, I can’t quite grasp the recruiters attention.

    I feel that I could have benefited from at least a module on journalism during uni, if only to gain written skills. At least I could effectively tell the story of my CV and skills! Especially, as friends who did broadcast journalism seem to have broken into the industry whilst the 2010 television production graduates are still finding themselves a place in the media industry.

    • Shu says:

      Yes! And thank both you and Chris for adding your thoughts. I have been meaning to do an article about journalism because, despite never having studied it myself, I do think it is potentially far more useful than a media degree. Obviously it depends on what you finally want to do. Maybe some people, being unsure of the final goal, find a general media studies degree useful in working out which role suits them best. However, most of the production roles I have needed to fill in my career have really needed people with strong journalistic skills.
      Certainly in factual and fact ent formats we need people who can research and write a compelling and succinct brief, write scripts, write up new programme proposals.
      In my next article I am going to suggest ways to polish up those skills if have haven’t already been trained in them.
      If university media courses are not covering basic writing skills then they should be shot!!
      Shu

      • Chris Dodd says:

        Kenresa I understand where you are coming from. It’s also difficult with regards to CVs as advice is generally mixed.

        ie. Some people suggest you create something that stands out, others suggest that you keep it plain and traditional.

        Unfortunately you only get one shot at applying for a job, and responses are few and far between if you are unsuccessful, so there is very little opportunity for feedback (both in terms of how good your application was, or the skills you should maybe polish up on!)

        I think one of the core issues with media courses, is that you will be taught a specific way of doing things – often from people who have long since retired from the industry. (For example my 2nd year production tutor used to cut and splice for Match of the Day!!). Whilst these methods are fine within the context of your course (after all who marks the work?!) I think from the perspective of employers this is seen as an issue – which is why there is such a strong reliance on industry experience.

        In terms of journalism, one thing I have always thought about media courses, is that you can teach almost anyone to point a camera at something. The real talent is in the construction of the shots and spinning information into a compelling story.

        The media industry is, at it’s core, a method for story telling.

        While story telling is a talent as much as it is a skill, it is something you can learn and develop outside of the classroom. There are loads of online resources, and lets face it, it’s something you practice daily through talking to people.

        I am part of a project called ‘Help Me Investigate’ which is basically a crowed sourcing tool for people with an interest in journalism or for people who are looking to investigate area’s such as Welfare, Education and Health services.

        I’ve used it a lot with the project I’m working on, and has helped, not only in terms of learning investigative methods, but also how to turn information into a story.

        You can find out more at: helpmeinvestigate.com and start off by helping other people investigate stuff.

        In the meantime, good luck with the job hunt!

        Chris

  • J says:

    That’s the problem Chris, too many people like you leave uni and want to by pass making the tea.. I didnt even go to uni and was scared of the idea of living in London on a runner wage.. but I just got on with it and showed I was keen to be given a chance and 5 years now working in TV I’ve never looked back.. you can’t play it safe in this industry.. You either take the plunge or forget it..

    • Chris Dodd says:

      Hi J.

      Thanks for your reply.

      I wouldn’t say that I am example of any ‘problem’

      I am under no illusion that my degree means anything to media recruiters (I actually signed up for my degree as something to fall back on)

      I’m not in a position where I think I am ‘too good’ to be the guy who makes the tea – in fact I have far more experience in tea making than I do in TV production (I do it at least 10 times a day and I also make great coffee.)

      I would imagine that it is a far bigger risk to invest time and money in doing my own thing, and hoping I can use it to crowbar my way into the industry, but again, I don’t expect that it’ll help me get the director general job at the BBC.

      My personal situation means that I am kinda tied down to where I live. Good or bad, this is my situation, and I’m trying to work around the obstacles this creates – which isn’t easy – but is something I’m willing to do.

  • Sam Stefano says:

    I have excellent journalism skills, I write for magazines, had essays published but still can’t get anywhere near the broadcasters. I have applied for 57 jobs at the BBC in 2 years and had zero joy. I have a good 2:1 media degree and tonnes of experience.Television jobs are handed to friends and family of existing employees or vacancies go internal.

  • Jake Barton says:

    Fascinating and informative blog. Even for a browser with no burning desire to enter the TV industry this blog is never less than fascinating. Keep it up.

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    […] Let me refer you to a previous post where we quoted from a recent Skillset survey on the skills required by employers of journalists: […]

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