OXFORD MEDIA SOCIETY
In this blog segment recent graduates share home truths about the highs and lows of starting a career in the media industry. While this prospect may feel further off than usual under current circumstances, with these insightful interviews we hope to provide some respite and make media-based careers feel that little bit more accessible.
This week we bring you a Q and A with Jack Hunter, journalism trainee at the BBC. The young journalist tells of how he made the most of his time at university, reveals his career confidence on graduating (or lack thereof…) and provides some outside the box isolation entertainment recommendations.
Jack graduated from Oxford in 2018 having won the Today Programme Student Journalist of the Year Award. While studying he was Editor of both Cherwell and The Isis and worked freelance for major news outlets. He is now a journalism trainee at the BBC.
How did you use your time at Oxford to make you more hireable? What skills should students focus on developing to stand out from the crowd?
I can think of three ways I spent my days at university that probably made me more hireable (though I’m not sure gave me the most fulfilling university experience…).
First, I developed a (perhaps unhealthy) fixation with student journalism. In my first week at university, I went to a news meeting of Cherwell, the university newspaper, then based in a grotty attic on St Aldates. I pitched a story, and it made the front page. After that, I began to turn-in significantly more stories for Cherwell than essays for my tutors, and by the end of my first term had become one of its news editors. The first warning sign I’d become overly immersed in the paper came when I was filling in an application form to be editor, sometime in Trinity 2017. I knew something was wrong when I saw that in the space marked ‘college’, I had written ‘Cherwell’. But that’s how it was. For four wonderful, crazy terms Cherwell was my university home, the institution to which I held the most allegiance. That’s where my friends were, that’s where my energy went, that’s where I slept. And, on top of that, it offered the best hands-on training any ambitious student journalist could hope for: learning to write concisely and quickly, digging up stories – and discovering the sheer thrill of seeing them put to print, week after week.
Second – rather tragically, in retrospect – I spent much of my vacations not guffawing on nights out back home, but sleeping on a mattress on the floor of my aunt’s south London flat whilst spending the days doing unpaid work experience. I’d sent off my CV – and enthusiastic covering letter – to the email addresses of every local and national news editor I could get my hands on, and picked up just enough work experience that hiring editors want to see.
Third, I’d realised by my final year at Oxford that being there gave an ambitious young reporter the unique opportunity to get paid by national newspapers to write stories about terrible people at Oxford University doing terrible things at Oxford University.
How confident did you feel about careers when you graduated? Is it fine to feel a little uncertain?
As much as the shabby glamour of the Cherwell offices is enough to make any 20-year-old student feel like they’re the most important investigative reporter since Woodward and Bernstein, I was absolutely terrified about the prospect of a real-life journalistic career beyond university.
Thankfully though, I had the unbelievable good fortune of winning the Today Programme’s Student Journalist of the Year Award at the start of my third year. While it’s definitely an incredibly competitive industry to break into, in my experience many baby-boomer editors are incredibly keen to help young journalists, and really want (and need) to hear their voices and experiences.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Probably getting grilled by Andrew Neil as part of the BBC’s 2019 election dress-rehearsal (he told me I did a better job of being interviewed as John McDonnell than John McDonnell would have managed himself).
Are there any parts of the job you haven’t enjoyed as much + why?
For anyone who has watched an episode of the comedy W1A, you might be pleasantly surprised and/or dispirited to discover that much of its characterisation of the endless meetings and corporate doublespeak within the Beeb is pretty accurate. And I have been endlessly haunted by the fear of being the real-life reincarnation of the show’s hopeless, awkward intern Will Humphries (without the Mamma Mia 2 sex appeal).
What does your average 9-5 look like / is it 9-5?
Working on the Today programme, I try to wake up early enough to hear most of the programme go out live (and, being a recovering humanities student, almost invariably fail in that task). Then I read that morning’s papers, and try and come up with some ideas to pitch in meetings – looking for new angles on existing stories, new stories on existing angles, or interesting people we could interview. The rest of my day is generally filled by multiple frantic phone calls, even more frantic emails – all interspersed with multiple cups of coffee.
Greatest professional achievement?
A couple of months ago I had a long-read article, about a movement of self-professed ‘climate doomers’ who think society is going to collapse in the next five years, published on the BBC website. It was the result of a couple of months of research, interviews, and infiltration of Facebook groups, and it made the front page of the BBC News site – so I was very pleased.
Where would you like to be in 5 years time?
Either running the BBC or, at the least, still in a job, reporting and writing in some capacity. As long as I’m not working in PR or management consultancy, I’ll consider it a triumph.
Favourite book you’ve read recently? The autobiography of Seymour Hirsch, the investigative reporter who uncovered the My Lai massacre, was absolutely riveting and inspiring.
Favourite podcast? The New Statesman podcast (shamelessly).
Favourite film or series? Normal People (of course…).
Most uplifting news? While trying to think of uplifting news right now is incredibly difficult, I would say hearing that some kids I met in a Greek refugee camp last summer have just had their first English lessons since the lockdown over Zoom.