I want your job: TV news producer

Rob Cole has produced TV news for decades now, working on anything from celebrities to global wars. He shares the benefit of his considerable experience in the industry

From agony aunt columns in a weekly regional newspaper in Bury, to covering the brutality of the Bosnian War, Rob Cole has worked in news his whole life.

These days he’s a freelance news editor for various TV stations, having worked for the BBC, Sky, and Reuters TV. His most recent stint was head of media at Save the Children.

His time behind the cameras has coincided with huge changes in the way news is reported – from a time when everyone bought local newspapers, through the birth of 24-hour rolling news, and now the onset of the Internet. But what we want to know is: how did he get his job?

How he got into the industry

Well, today’s grads might be surprised to hear that it was perfectly possible to start a career in news without even going to university, let alone with a costly journalism Masters. Instead, you went straight into a traineeship on a local paper and took exams after three years at a partnered training college.

“I left school at 18, having finished my A-Levels, and decided I wanted to get into journalism,” says Rob. “The way that was advised at the time was not going to university and getting a degree as it is now – it was actually to do a year’s course on a pre-entry journalism course.”

From there, it was a meandering route through regional newspapers of increasing size and importance – changing jobs was still very easy in the early 80s. And after a stint in Dubai on the Khaleej Times, Rob got shifts on Yorkshire TV’s newsdesk, again at a time when regional TV had more power and profile.

“I was there only six months, before applying for a job at TV-AM – which is called Daybreak these days. Against the odds, I got a job. They took on four journalists, including a guy who’s been a friend of mine ever since, called Mazer Mahmood, who’s more commonly known as the Fake Sheikh…”

A change of scene again in the early 90s, when Rob joined a TV news agency that would become Reuters TV: “I went from doing Kylie and Jason in the studio to being asked after about three weeks whether I wanted to go to Sarajevo because a war was about to start. It was something I’d always wanted to do but never thought I’d get close to it.”

The life of a war reporter is completely different. The 90s were a violent time around the world, so it was, from a certain perspective, a good time to do it.

“I covered all the Bosnian War on a month-on month-off basis, and it became my little war. I also did all the Africa stuff, Rwanda, Burundi. It was really grim, but an amazing experience. But after eight years, it takes a bit of a toll on you, mentally and physically.”

So he quit that, and managed to find his way into the BBC. There were several happy years there, before Rob finally found himself freelancing, for the Beeb, for Sky and for various others.

What’s the work like?

So what’s the job like on a day-to-day basis? Rob’s always been a foreign news editor, so his focus is obviously on news from around the world. As you can imagine, there’s a lot of that.

As a foreign editor Rob would come in early, having checked his phone, Twitter, and listened to as many news programmes as he could, before deciding on the news priorities of the day. With so much news, running the foreign desk has the air of a never-ending contest – constantly searching to get his journalists’ news presented above other desks.

Once you have a story it's then a matter of making sure that wherever the correspondent is, the report comes into the building – through satellite phone, Internet or other routes – and is ready to run on air on time.

Then, of course, there’s the friendly rivalry with other networks: ‘getting one over the other networks’ being a serious highlight. There’s nothing like getting a note from editors at a rival broadcaster congratulating on a job well done.

The lowlights, on the other hand, are much grimmer: “I’ve had colleagues injured and killed.”

How you can get the job

Says Rob: “I get loads of applications. I always endeavour to reply to every single one, but from my own experience people don’t get back to you, so I would advise you to keep trying. Don’t be put off; people in the business admire people who are more tenacious for obvious reasons.”

Try a work placement. “We had quite a few people at Sky who worked for us and who got jobs from it. If someone comes in at 21 for two months and they’re good, you’ll look out for their name when they come back, as opposed to the 60 other people who are going to apply that year.”

Definitely be keen about everything. “We have had too many interns who thought they knew about it all. You have to be helpful, keep asking to do things for people, be really enthusiastic. Don’t just take it as a work placement – it might be your big chance. You have to give it a try.”

And, of course, take a real interest in current affairs. “You have to be constantly on it, a news junkie. Even if you’re a creative producer, doing graphics, you still have to care. You can’t want to go into media because it sounds quite glam, because it won’t really work. You have to really want it.”

Luck’s involved too, of course. ‘You might write to just the right person at the right time’.

What will the job look like in 10 years?

In some ways, Rob’s job should remain fairly constant for the next few years.

“They will always need someone to make decisions and take responsibility for newsgathering. However, what will change is the way in which news is delivered. When I started in TV, the usual crew would be a reporter, producer, a camera operator, a sound person, and sometimes even a separate lighting person. They would be loaded down with equipment and the camera and sound operators would be locked together by a cable.

“Within a few years, the crew had been whittled down to a camera operator and the reporter. Now there's just the reporter and an all-singing, all-dancing camera operator who also edits and feeds the material - if you're lucky!

“In 10 years, the reporter will be the entire crew, shooting all their own material on a smartphone, then editing and voicing that material, before sending it to head office, where it will end up going straight on air. The reporter will then turn the phone around, press the live app button, and do a live into the same programme.

“Actually, this is all fairly common now. The technology will just get quicker and quicker and smaller and smaller. At least it means that there won't be the incidence of back pain that troubled the news crews of the past!”

The other big change is that people will abandon conventional TVs like they’ve abandoned newspapers. Eventually, it’ll all be online. If you're thinking of news, perhaps that's where you should aim too.

Rob was speaking on behalf of HBO's The Newsroom. Season One is out today on DVD and Blu-ray from HBO Home Entertainment.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Primary Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd are seeking KS...

Foundation Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd are seeking EY...

NQT's needed

£100 - £120 per day + Paying from £100 to £120 per day: Randstad Education Lee...

Year 6 Teacher

£21000 - £31000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Full time Year 6 class te...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform