If you’re worried you’ve left it too late to break into your dream career, here’s a success story you need to read about. Today Alex Bassingham works as a TV researcher and journalist for the BBC, but she’s a former dancer, actress and law graduate who never studied journalism. As her story shows, you don’t always have to follow a formal route to make it in your dream career, sometimes you just need to think laterally.
Name: Alexandra Bassingham
Job title: BBC Broadcast journalist/researcher
Years since changing career path: 7
TAP: You haven’t followed a straight path to get into TV production, tell us about it.
AB: I originally trained as a dancer and actress in theatre. I was lucky enough to get to tour the US for the first time when I was 17, but after several years of castings, I decided I needed to exercise my brain a little more! I’d always been fascinated by law, so at the age of 24, I started a law degree. It was a huge change, but by the time I’d finished my degree I wanted to do more legal work, so I went to South Africa and volunteered as a human rights advocate.
I then did a master’s degree in public law (LLM). Because I chose to do my master’s part-time, I was able to land a job as a tour guide at the BBC in Bristol. This involved teaching members of the public about news broadcasting and natural history programming (we have the amazing Natural History Unit in Bristol).
As I was finishing my studies, I knew I wanted to get into news, so I met with the TV news editor and he suggested I try floor managing to get more hands-on experience, so I did. I then went from that to training as a production assistant and have gradually fought to move to the editorial side.
It’s paid off and I’ve now been a researcher for programmes like BBC Coast and Crimewatch Roadshow. I also write for the BBC News live page.
TAP: How did you know that moving into TV production was the right thing for you?
AB: Simply because it doesn’t feel like work. I get to meet ordinary people with incredible stories that inspire me, and the adrenaline rush from working on big outside broadcasts is amazing. I also love creating content and my job lets me do that every day. I can just grab a phone and go film and then edit a story that I feel passionate about.
Working as a production assistant in the gallery is also amazing and really is the best teamwork. It’s just like being a cast member – you all have your roles and support each other. All that matters is getting on air, staying on air and delivering great content.
TAP: What would you say was the most important thing you did/didn’t do to succeed?
AB: I always remained open to trying alternative options and was never afraid of change. When I came into news, my skill set was far more inclined towards editorial, but I was happy to do more technical roles when they came up because I knew that being involved in some way was better than not being involved at all! From taking what was available I’ve learnt a lot of valuable skills that have given me a well-rounded experience in TV production.
Also, I just go for stuff. I used to think ‘I don’t have the skills for that’ and then hear that the job went to someone who didn’t tick all the boxes either. So, now I just go for it. Even when I don’t get the job, I always learn from it and end up widening my network, because applying for a role lets people know where my interests lie.
TAP: Did you ever feel at a disadvantage and how did you overcome that?
AB: Absolutely, and I still do because I don’t have a formal journalistic qualification. But I’ve realised (and still have to remind myself sometimes) that I have a strong skill set and the more experience I gain, the more I stand out. I won’t lie and say that having the qualification doesn’t help, but it isn’t the be all and end all. If you don’t have a journalism degree and want to get into this line of work, just make sure you have strong experience and are willing to try an alternative approach to get where you want to be.
TAP: What’s the one thing anyone wishing to break into TV news production from another field should do?
AB: Get as much work experience as possible. Student and local TV or radio are great places to start, as is hospital radio. They all give you a chance to get hands-on experience – get used to speaking into a microphone, reporting and listening to your reports.
There are also so many free editing tools around now that there’s no reason why you can’t build your skills by making your own videos, vlogging and playing around with broadcasting tools. Even doing something like your own Facebook lives is great practice. You don’t have to broadcast them to anyone, but just watch the videos back and critique them.
TAP: Can you share three resources that you think are invaluable for breaking into TV news production?
- The BBC careers website has really helpful tips and videos. Even after seven years in the field, I still look at it for advice, tips and obviously jobs. The BBC’s trainee schemes are advertised on this website too, and that’s a scheme that’s definitely worth applying for.
- McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists. This is such a great book for budding journalists as it teaches you all you need to know about media law. You’ll need this in your career (a good understanding of topics like copyright and defamation is needed by every TV journalist), so it doesn’t hurt to start reading about media law early on.
- Online news websites and Twitter. Every part of the news is online nowadays, so it’s important for you to start thinking about what makes a good and attention-grabbing headline or story. If you scroll past something, ask yourself why it didn’t interest you. What would you have done differently? Once that becomes second nature, you’ll be thinking like a journalist.
TAP: Finally, what is the biggest misconception about working in TV?
AB: That it’s glamourous!
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