You are here

broadcast journalist career image

Broadcast Journalist

Broadcast journalists are the faces and voices of news and current affairs programmes. They also work behind the scenes, gathering news and writing scripts.

They must marry their journalistic skills with an ability to present each story through the most telling sounds or pictures.

Their daily tasks might include:

  • generating ideas for stories, or taking a brief from a news editor/producer
  • researching stories through personal contacts, the internet and other sources
  • deciding on the most appropriate angle to approach the story
  • booking and briefing interviewees
  • recording interviews - in person, or through telephone or studio links - and sometimes conducting them live
  • speaking directly to camera or tape.

Broadcast journalists are usually contracted to work for 39 hours a week. In practice, long and unpredictable hours are common. Broadcast journalists work in busy newsrooms and studios. They travel to cover stories and a driving licence is essential.

Salaries range from around £15,000 for trainees and new entrants, to over £100,000 for the most high-profile broadcast journalists.

A broadcast journalist needs:

  • excellent news-gathering and reporting skills
  • a clear and professional broadcasting voice
  • a persuasive manner and the ability to draw information from people
  • a feel for what makes a story and how best to present it to particular audiences
  • the ability to think creatively and see all potential angles of a story
  • an interest in current affairs and people.

Journalists are employed by news agencies and production companies as well as the national and local TV and radio networks - terrestrial, digital, cable and satellite. Competition for jobs is fierce, and it is essential to get practical experience.

Most broadcast journalists have a degree, which can be in any subject.

There are three main entry routes into broadcast journalism: some enter after completing a pre-entry degree or postgraduate broadcast journalism course, accredited by the Broadcast Journalism Training Council (BJTC); others seek places on an employers' training scheme; some start out in newspapers.

New entrants develop their skills on the job. Trainees may shadow an experienced journalist, assisting in research or arranging interviews, before gradually taking on their own assignments. Employers may offer technical training in the use of recording and editing equipment.

Career progress is usually by moving to a bigger station or programme. Broadcast journalists may become special correspondents or presenters. Some become programme or series producers or editors, or move into management.

What is the work like?

Broadcast journalists research and present news items for broadcast on radio, TV and online. Their job is to tell each story in a compelling way - combining the facts with the most apt sounds or pictures.

Many journalists appear on the air as presenters or reporters. Most also carry out backroom roles, writing bulletins and scripts.

The range of material spans the entire spectrum of current affairs - from international politics to local 'human interest' stories.

The treatment of stories is similarly varied. A broadcast journalist may spend some time putting together a package of recorded material for a bulletin or documentary, or they may have to report live from the scene of a major incident as it unfolds.

The rolling deadlines of 24-hour news and the rising use of online media, in tandem with traditional broadcasting, make for an exciting and often demanding environment.

Daily tasks may include:

  • generating ideas for stories, or taking a brief from a news editor/producer
  • researching stories through personal contacts, the internet and other sources
  • deciding on the most appropriate angle to approach the story
  • booking and briefing interviewees
  • recording interviews - in person, or through telephone or studio links - and sometimes conducting them live
  • speaking directly to camera or tape
  • finding appropriate images or sounds - either by recording fresh material, or retrieving them from library stock
  • writing introductions and scripting film material
  • adapting material for use in other formats and programmes.

Radio journalists often record and edit their own material, using specialised equipment. In television, reporters are traditionally accompanied by a camera operator and sometimes sound and lighting technicians. Increasingly, however, they are expected to capture video material themselves.

In both TV and radio, journalists work closely with technical and reporting colleagues. They report to a news editor or producer.

Most journalists work for a particular programme. They may have to tailor material for different audiences - for example, producing a short clip for a news bulletin and a longer piece for a current affairs show. They are also expected to record podcasts or write bulletins and blogs for the organisation's website.

Hours and environment

Broadcast journalists are usually contracted to work for 39 hours a week. In practice, the nature of news broadcasting means that long and unpredictable hours are common. Journalists are expected to work flexibly in response to breaking stories.

In 24-hour news operations journalists may work shifts, including some early starts, nights, weekends and holidays.

Broadcast journalists work in busy newsrooms and in studios. They travel to cover stories and a driving licence is essential. Their work may mean overnight stays away from home.

Salary and other benefits

These figures are only a guide, as actual rates of pay may vary, depending on the employer and where people live.

  • Salaries for trainees and new entrants may start from around £15,000 a year.
  • Salaries for more experienced broadcast journalists may range from £25,000 to £40,000 per year.
  • Some senior broadcast journalists may earn more than £100,000 a year.

Freelance rates vary, depending on experience and track record. The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) and the Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU) can advise on rates. Broadcast journalists may receive allowances for working shifts and unsocial hours.

Skills and personal qualities

A broadcast journalist needs:

  • excellent news-gathering and reporting skills
  • a clear and professional broadcasting voice
  • a persuasive manner and the ability to draw information from people
  • a feel for what makes a story and how best to present it to particular audiences
  • excellent writing skills
  • the ability to think creatively and see all potential angles of a story
  • confidence
  • quick reactions
  • to be effective under the pressure of deadlines
  • to be objective, fair and balanced in the treatment of stories
  • technical knowledge and skills in using a range of audio and/or visual equipment
  • accuracy
  • a knowledge of the law, ethics and industry regulation as they affect journalists
  • self-motivation
  • flexibility
  • a smart appearance.

Interests

It is important to have an interest in:

  • current affairs
  • people
  • the way news is presented by different broadcasters.

Getting in

There are opportunities throughout the UK for broadcast journalists. Employers include:

  • the BBC
  • ITN
  • national television companies - ITV, Channel 4, five and S4C (Wales)
  • commercial radio stations
  • digital, cable and satellite networks
  • news agencies
  • independent production companies which provide feature material to broadcasters
  • services broadcasting (for the armed forces).

Increasingly, trained broadcast journalists are also being employed by newspapers, which need skilled people to develop their video and audio material online.

Competition for jobs is fierce. It is essential to gain extensive work experience, for example in student, hospital or community media.

Many journalists work freelance or on fixed term contracts. Vacancies may be advertised in specialist trade publications, such as the BBC's in-house journal Ariel or Broadcast and Media Week. They may also appear in the national and local press and on the broadcasters' own websites.

Some traineeships are advertised on the Broadcast Journalism Training Council (BJTC) website. Other sources of vacancies may be www.journalism.co.uk and www.broadcastfreelancer.com.

Entry routes

The large majority of broadcast journalists have a degree. This may be in any subject. For a degree, the usual minimum entry requirements are two A levels plus five GCSEs (A*-C), or equivalent qualifications.

The Diploma in creative and media may be relevant for this area of work.

There are three main entry routes into broadcast journalism:

  • The pre-entry route: entrants join a broadcast organisation after completing a degree or postgraduate course in broadcast journalism. Most courses last one academic year and are accredited by the BJTC.
  • The direct entry route: new entrants are recruited onto an employers' training scheme, for example with the BBC or Sky, directly from university. Competition for such places is fierce. It is important to check entry requirements with the employer.
  • Some people move into radio or television after gaining experience in newspapers.

For pre-entry journalism courses, entry requirements vary and applicants should check with course providers for specific details. They should also make sure that the course offers the right balance of theory and practical experience, including work placements. The BJTC website offers advice on how to assess courses.

A degree is not always essential. In all cases it is important to demonstrate practical experience and commitment, ideally with examples of work on a short CD or DVD showreel.

Broadcast journalists typically start in local radio before moving into regional and then national radio or television.

Training

New entrants develop their skills on the job. Trainees may shadow an experienced journalist, assisting in research or arranging interviews, before gradually taking on their own assignments.

Employers may offer technical training in the use of recording and editing equipment.

Short courses in specific journalistic skills or new technologies are run by organisations such as BBC Training and Development, BJTC, NUJ and NCTJ. Colleges and private training providers also offer short courses.

Getting on

Broadcast journalists progress by moving to a bigger-audience programme or network. They may then become special correspondents, news anchors or presenters.

Experienced journalists may be promoted to a programme producer or editor role. They may also move into management or become a series editor or executive editor.

Further information

BECTU (Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph and Theatre Union), 373-377 Clapham Road, London SW9 9BT. 020 7346 0900. Website: www.bectu.org.uk

BBC Recruitment, PO Box 48305, London W12 6YE. 0870 333 1330. Website: www.bbc.co.uk/jobs

BBC Training & Development, 35 Marylebone High Street, London W1U 4PX. 0370 010 0264. Website: www.bbctraining.com

Broadcast Journalism Training Council (BJTC), 18 Miller's Close, Rippingale near Bourne, Lincolnshire PE10 0TH. 01778 440025. Website: www.bjtc.org.uk

Community Media Association, the Workstation, 15 Paternoster Row, Sheffield S1 2BX. 0114 279 5219. Website: www.commedia.org.uk

National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ), The New Granary, Station Road, Newport, Saffron Walden CB11 3PL. 01799 544014. Website: www.nctj.com

National Union of Journalists (NUJ), Headland House, 308-312 Gray's Inn Road, London WC1X 8DP. 020 7278 7916. Website: www.nuj.org.uk

The Radio Academy, 5 Market Place, London W1W 8AE. 020 7927 9920. Website: www.radioacademy.org

Skillset, Focus Point, 21 Caledonian Road, London N1 9GB. Free careers helpline: 08080 300 900. Website: www.skillset.org/careers

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.

Career and Course Articles: 

online magazines