My Mentor: Barbara Serra on Rod Liddle
'Rod ran the show his own way, breaking stories, setting his own agenda'
Monday 15 January 2007
I managed to land my first job on the Today programme when Rod Liddle was editor. Fresh out of university, I found it a bit intimidating. I don't know what preconceptions I had, but he wasn't at all what I expected of a Today editor. The cliché everyone uses about Rod is that he's a maverick. Today is the BBC's flagship programme where there is maybe a pressure to be a certain way, and I think he broke the mould.
Rod had a very broad knowledge; he knew as much about music and popular culture as about Westminster intrigue. In news meetings, he wouldn't just go for the worthy stories but would pick out those that had a broader appeal. He ran the show the way I imagine newspapers are run - breaking stories, coming up with ideas, very much setting his own agenda.
He is a very clever man; brilliant, witty and sharp. He was scary as well, but he made working there fun and exciting. He treated everyone equally and appreciated everyone's input. He took chances on stories and on people; it was Rod who hired Andrew Gilligan.
The main things he taught me were not to be intimidated, and to be true to myself and maintain my individuality. I remember being caught in the crossfire between him and John Humphrys and calls from Alastair Campbell after the 8.10am interview; Rod would always stand his ground. He wasn't intimidated by authority - a good thing to learn early. I also learnt from him that it is OK to stand out. On the face of it he didn't fit in, but you don't always have to fit in to make your mark.
I think at Al-Jazeera English we're living up to our promise of setting the agenda, certainly in the Middle East, which goes back to what Rod taught me. It's harder on TV because you need the right clips and pictures, but you shouldn't let that stop you from digging more and being ambitious with your journalism.
Barbara Serra is Al-Jazeera's weekend news anchor in London
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