Our guest this week is Glen Mulcahy, innovation lead at the Irish broadcaster RTÉ, who shares his view on the skills a young journalist needs today and tips on how to stand out in the competitive media job market.
What is your job title and what does that mean?
My job title is innovation lead, RTÉ Technology. It means 3 things in general. I’m responsible for researching, experimenting with and reporting on new technology (particularly disruptive consumer technology) to the chief technology officer.
I have a remit to work with the different areas of RTÉ, to explore business technology opportunities based on my research. I have a responsibility for skill based technology training like shooting, editing on various devices like smartphones, DSLRs and VJ cameras etc.
How did you get started in the industry?
I could give you an extremely long answer to that but I will spare you my life story. Punchline: fate played a big hand in it!
From my early teens I knew I wanted to work in TV. My father was a big tech fan and trusted me, at 13, to use his Betamax camera and recorder deck to shoot parades and things. I bought my first Video camera at 16 (super VHS) and started shooting corporates and weddings until 19-20.
I applied to get in to all of the media courses in Ireland after secondary school but was refused, so I ended up taking my backup choice which was an ordinary degree in art and design.
I was extremely lucky that the course I was accepted for was pushing the boundaries in experimental art installation and video. So by default I gravitated to photography and video and specialised in both, and some design and computer animation.
Through several twists of fate and some short stints working on film production as a locations PA I eventually went back for a one year fixed term contract to Waterford IT as the technician for the Department of Humanities (where I studied).
Upon leaving I got a job as head of resources in the Galway Film Centre, a film resource centre in the west of Ireland and that in turn led me to a job working as a broadcast engineer in the Irish language TV station TG4. After four years as a broadcast engineer I applied for a job as resources manager in the TG4 newsroom. This involved managing the ENG crews, studio facilities and production team.Your passion will likely present opportunities to build a community and a following.Glen Mulcahy, RTÉ
I worked in that role for eight years before transferring to the national broadcaster RTÉ in Dublin. The role in Dublin was production development manager and it involved more research and training than previous roles. After four years, I got a promotion to innovation lead working directly to the CTO, Richard Waghorn – I’m in this role just over two years at this stage.
What do you most look forward to at the start of your day?
I have a routine which will qualify me as an absolute nerd I expect, but each morning over coffee, on my iPhone, I check (in this order) Twitter, Email, Facebook and then Zite, Spotter, Kite and Prismatic.
For me it's a modern day version of reading the newspaper but with content specifically tailored to my interests. I used to subscribe to over 100 RSS feeds! That morning digest often creates topics or leads to pursue later in the day. Then to get an overview of general news I listen to radio in the car on the way to work.
What does a normal day look like for you? In emoji.
What three tools or apps do you use the most for work?
Tools: iPhone, iMac (in the office), MacBook Air (out of the office);
Apps: Keynote, Photoshop and Final Cut Pro.
What would you focus on if you were training as a journalist now?
I think journalism students need to make sure that they leave university with a diverse set of skills and not fall into the trap of specialising in any area too much. Get experience in radio – make radio documentaries and podcasts. Learn photography – take lots of photographs (as distinct from snaps and selfies).
Combine these two core skills in the art of telling visual stories, explore video, editing, social media, SEO, data mining and research and coding if you have an aptitude. Most importantly find a topic that you are passionate about and keep ideas in that area bubbling away as pet projects.
As you develop your personal brand as a storyteller, your passion will likely present opportunities to build a community and a following. See my #mojomanifesto infographic.
What skills do you think are important to your role?
I do think a genuine interest in technology and hunger for information about new technology trends are a core part of the role. Beyond that you have to be a good people person with negotiation skills. Being a trainer requires a shift in mindset which allows you to temporarily forget what you know and perceive learning from the eyes of a trainee. That's helpful when creating courses and mentoring people with new skills.
Finally the role often creates situations where you are challenging the norm and presenting disruptive and sometimes radical solutions, so you have to have thick skin and be somewhat of a maverick – big organisations are rarely receptive to change and disruption to the status quo.
What has your current job taught you about the industry?
The media industry in general is in a state of massive disruption where all the structures, processes and workflows that have taken decades to evolve are being radically challenged and changed.
Traditional organisations have an opportunity to create a role/team to assess and evaluate both the disruption and the opportunities, but the most important thing is that the conversations about these challenges are frequent and engaged at every level of the organization.Paying lip service to roles which evaluate disruptive trends is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, a perfect exercise in futility.Glen Mulcahy, RTÉ
Paying lip service to roles which evaluate disruptive trends is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic – a perfect exercise in futility. We can make it through this massive disruption but we must adopt a more open and pragmatic view of our core values and business proposition and not be blinded by empirical legacies.
What would you say to someone applying to work at your organisation?
Be prepared to stand out. “Good enough” is not actually good enough anymore.
Aim for exceptional. When I sit on interview panels for days on end it's generally quite difficult to remember any particular candidate without looking at notes. If someone sits in front of me and shows initiative, interest, proven track record in pushing boundaries, investigative instinct and technological awareness they will get my attention.
A diversity of skills is a must-have. If they slide a tablet or smartphone across the table to show their YouTube channel of stories they have shot with various devices and can immediately give me the names of 10 influencers they follow on social media I will remember them.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
The very first boss I ever had, a man called Jon Dimond, said to me at 15: “Know something about everything and everything about some one thing and you’ll do all-right”. Those words have stuck with me to this day. Not bad advice for a journalism trainee.
Next week, we'll be hearing from Elliot Bentley, graphics editor at The Wall Street Journal. In the meantime, check out our previous Q&As with, among others, Ramaa Sharma of BBC World Service and Fusion's director of interactive and animation Mariana Santos.
Free daily newsletter
- Tip: How to check if the research quoted in your story is trustworthy
- Tip: Take note of this advice to become a better writer
- Tip: Check out this resource for flying drones in the United States
- Tip: Bookmark these headline rewrites for inspiration
- Tip: Remember this advice while livestreaming on YouTube