Credit: Jeffrey Buchbinder on Unsplash

There is more to broadcast journalism than the radio hosts you hear and the TV presenters you see - plenty of technical staff ensure that everything works like clockwork.

At a virtual event held by the BBC Young Reporter scheme, BBC staff offered pointers on how to break into the technical side of the media industry.

'You cannot fake passion'

"Be prepared to keep trying," says Abi Mroczynska, multi-skilled technical operator for the BBC.

Before applying for, and getting rejected from, many jobs at the BBC, she had come through the apprenticeship scheme. There is no substitute for perseverance and passion, she said, when first starting out.

These days Mroczynska works mainly as a studio director for shows on BBC Radio 4 and Radio 5 Live. She described it as directing TV without the pictures.

That often means having "hands on faders", but also making sure shows stick to a tight schedule. On top of that, she hooks up FaceTime and Skype interviews as covid-19 has forced her team to think about alternatives.

Be a people person

The logistics are just one facet of the job. Be prepared to demonstrate a lot of social skills too, chatting with presenters and teams whilst on air but avoiding to throw them off-script. Finally, you will need to learn to calm down the nerves of guests.

Social skills are a key part of a floor manager's toolkit. Neil Johnson, senior technical operator for the BBC, could be considered the glue that holds a show together.

The exact tasks differ depending on the type of show but generally, his job is to ensure the show runs smoothly, queuing presenters and guests, and importantly, keeping everyone happy.

"You’ve got to be a very approachable person because you are dealing with people who have gotten up very early in the morning or have been up all night, or they’re inexperienced - or very experienced," he explains.

He added that passion is the main ingredient to a successful floor manager. To get his job, he used to watch the credits to see who was leading TV shows, then write to those people and offer his services as a runner (someone who runs basic errands for a show). He said, however, that passion alone was not enough. You must crucially also understand how being a runner is one cog in a wider machine.

When he oversees the BBC apprentices, he always looks for people who have this level of awareness.

"You need to show the person who is assessing you that you at least comprehend the type of business you want to get into."

Be competitive

"Surround yourself with people who are better than you," says Joy Roxas, senior UX (user experience) designer, visual and data journalism, BBC News.

The visual journalism team is there to unlock the potential of multimedia storytelling and rigorous journalism across desktop, tablet, mobile and TV. Having an eclectic background can pay dividends with this kind of role, she said.

The media is a very competitive space. As a result, you are surrounded by colleagues with a range of backgrounds and experiences. This can bring the best out of you. 

Roxas started out in the world of graphic design but has over time progressed into user experience design by adding more skills, like coding. She described her current role as an intersection between psychological and technical work.

Audiences expect app interfaces to work, for example, without a hitch. Getting things to work properly is one thing but making it visually appealing is even more important. That is where it pays to try and learn from people of all backgrounds and add more strings to your bow.

Ditch the fancy equipment

Most young people will not have the luxury of high-end equipment. But you have something of equal calibre in your pocket, said Joe Darlow, a multi-skilled senior technical operator for BBC News.

He often operates from satellite trucks (albeit the smallest variation), streaming video to the studio.

At other times, he will work in studios using portable single cameras. New journalists can learn the essentials with a much more lightweight option: their smartphones. This is great for getting familiar with types of shots, lighting, sound and sequences.

"You don’t need fancy film equipment," he says. "Quite a lot of television news these days is made with an iPhone."

Get inspired and experiment

This was echoed by Omar Mehtab, journalist for BBC Click, the broadcaster's flagship tech show.

You will see him experimenting with green screens and gimbles but often a simple cavalier mic and lighting rig will be sufficient to shoot packages.

His advice was to nail the basics, and when shooting, secure the essential shots. However, also allocate some extra time for experimental shots. Take inspiration from what you may have seen in documentaries or other styles of videos on the internet.

"Don’t be afraid to go against industry standards - you might unlock something pretty awesome," he says. "Get the safety shots out of the way first and then go wild."

Being experimental comes at the risk of self-doubt and feelings of imposter syndrome.

Mehtab said that nerves were normal, so try not to dwell on them. Sometimes, this can help you push your own boundaries.

"You don’t need to keep these feelings in because you think you'll appear like you don’t know what you’re doing," he says. "Consult people, it’s normal to be nervous."

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