Broadcast seeds

HOW to break into broadcasting? That's where the real money for investigative journalism is these days, after all.

Branch Committee member Marc Wadsworth opened by outlining his own career, in which he was once hired as a press reviewer by a show that "needed some black faces" and then un-hired when the BBC discovered his political background. "If you're subversive enough," he concluded, "you can turn it around and get paid for it."

The current broadcasting regime means that most work available will be freelance. When Marc pitches ideas to producers, he is told to go away and bring them back as independent productions. They won't take up "amorphous ideas". You have to look at existing programme slots, pick one, study it, and target a show for it. "These media are deeply conservative."

"If you think Fleet Street is cut-throat, try broadcasting." Theft of ideas from independents is common, as is asking job applicants to "just jot down half a dozen ideas" which then are mysteriously re-had by existing staff. The NUJ and technicians' union BECTU are working on a code of practice with the BBC but, meanwhile, never talk about "ideas". Instead, write down "proposals" which are covered by commercial confidence - and do not include, for example, your key contacts.

So many people want to get their foot in the door by any means necessary that independent producers can get people to work for nothing a "promise" of promotion. You're better off, arc said, to setting up your own indy with some friends. These tend to be skeletal, consisting of an executive producer and two staff who hire freelances.

Member Jenny Vaughan drew our attention to a little-known job that can pay better than programme-making: broadcast support or learning support. Writing about a TV programme that hasn't been made yet is a challenge, but the BBC pays £120 per day and C4 £140.

Finally, the price of success - especially in an area like race issues - is broadcasters expecting free advice and punditry. It can be hard to ask "Look, I'm freelance: what're you paying?" But do it.

May/Jun 2000
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Last modified: 08 May 2000
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