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Michael Hamilton. Broadcast Journalist. BBC
No news is NOT good news: Basic I know, but I’ve had people apply to me for broadcast journalist jobs with music radio presenting demos. I need to hear a bulletin before I consider anyone – and ideally one that’s been live on air somewhere rather than just a mocked-up demo.
Sending a presenting demo also tells me you want to be a jock and aren’t passionate about journalism. The same goes for anyone thinking sending a package/wrap they made while at college is an acceptable demo – it’s not. News editors will usually bin applications without a news bulletin immediately.
First impressions matter: I want to hear you, and I want to hear you make a strong start. If I don’t like what I hear straight away, I might not bother listening to the rest. A news editor snowed under with masses of demos and limited time definitely won’t. Make sure the bulletin you’re sending is great right from the start.
Does every story sound the same? It shouldn’t. I sound different in real life breaking the news that someone’s died to exclaiming that my football team have scored, and I reckon I sound different relaying those types of stories in my bulletins too.
I prefer bulletin readers who sound human and authoritative, rather than reading through their nose like a BBC newsreader from the beginning of broadcasting, but that’s my personal taste and obviously the style depends on who you’re applying to. More on that in a moment.
Write as you speak: I re-write everything, even the IRN copy that comes down from Sky at the last minute before a bulletin if there’s time. How my colleagues write isn’t bad or wrong, it’s just usually written how they would say it, and not how I would. Write it as you would say it and even the newsreaders with the best delivery will sound even better.
Fit the vacancy: Ideally your bulletin will be similar in style to the one you’re applying for. So, a sports bulletin when you’re applying to read news on Heart or a youthy, 90 second student station news bulletin when you’re applying to BBC Local Radio doesn’t really show the news editor that you’d sound at home on their station.
Go the extra mile and write and record a bulletin in the style of the place you’re applying to. (You should have been listening to the station already anyway as part of your research before contacting them.)
If you have got live bulletin-reading experience, then I would say use that as your demo though (despite what I’ve just said). I’m a bit unsure as to whether most news editors would prefer this to a mocked-up bulletin in their style – this is just my opinion. But personally I always tend towards sending something through that’s been on air as I like to know what they sound like live on the radio – I’m suspicious mocked-up ones might be over produced. (I’m also in the blessed position where I’ve read bulletins on everything from Galaxy and XFM to BBC Locals, so I’ve got lots to pick from!) Ultimately, do what you think makes you sound best.
In my experience, news editors will generally get you in to record something for them before they let you loose on air as a freelancer (or as part of the interview process for a job) – so this is testing how you’d sound on their station. And make sure you’ve done lots of practice – I did some off air bulletins somewhere a year ago with a view to freelancing and it still panicked me far more than doing live stuff on the bigger stations i worked for.
If the job’s going to also involve reporting, then do include a good package/wrap/interview you’ve done too.
Yesterday’s news is tomorrow’s fish and chip wrappers: You ought to be developing and improving all the time, so not sending in your most recent material is a no-brainer. This is especially true at the beginning of your career when your learning curve will be at it’s sharpest. News editors might also wonder if you’ve done no news reading since 2007 if that’s when your bulletin leading on the Northern Rock crisis was from.
Feedback: If you don’t get the gig, ask for feedback on your demo. The reality is it’s so competitive right now that you can have a great demo and not even get an interview, but it’s silly not to ask for the news editor’s thoughts (just beware they might be too busy to give straight away, or at all.) You should also take the chance to record a bulletin while you’re on work experience at a station – it’s a great chance to use a great studio to record a top demo (although obviously not when you’re supposed to be doing something else!) And once you’ve got feedback – act on it.