In the latest of our summer series of exclusive interviews with top professionals, we talk to the BBC's Defence Correspondent, Caroline Wyatt. She offers her advice and tips for JMU Journalism students, and reveals how her career took shape.
Born in Australia, Caroline Wyatt was later adopted by a
British diplomat, with whom she travelled the world.
Could she have guessed just how far she would go?
After making an early decision to go into journalism, Wyatt
took a post-graduate journalism diploma at City University,
before landing a job with the BBC aged 23. Having held a
number of different posts during her time at the BBC, she
began her current role as Defence Correspondent in 2007.
While viewers simply watch Wyatt inform them about
important military matters, her job involves a lot more work
behind the scenes.
She told JMU Journalism: “It's a great job - probably the best
I've ever had. Before I became defence correspondent, I
already had some experience of covering conflict in places
such as Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan. That was excellent
“There's an awful lot the audience doesn't see in
terms of the work we do - the essentials, such as the initial
research, reading around a story, and meeting people and
getting solid background on stories or issues long before
anything reaches the screen or the airwaves.”
Luck plays a part
Wyatt, who graduated from the University of Southampton
with a degree in English and German, admitted she feels
“very lucky in my career, in terms of being able to do the jobs
I've always wanted”. Those roles have seen her report for the
BBC from Berlin, Paris and Moscow, but it is her current
position which has provided the greatest satisfaction.
She added: “This is the job I feel matters most, and probably
the job I feel most passionate about doing, though it
sometimes keeps me awake at night, worrying if I have been
fair to people in the reports I've done.”
There are, of course, always negative aspects: “News is
capricious, and a big story on one day can be a very small
story on another, and you may do a lot of work only to see a
story dropped from the running order if a major news story
breaks. Broadcasting today is also a lot busier than it was
20 years ago, before the advent of 24-hour news or the
ability to use satellite or mobile phones anywhere in the world.
“It’s often exciting, whether that's travelling to new places or uncovering a story or aspect of a story that is new. And working as part of a team has its own satisfactions. I am not sure I would want to go to a war zone on my own, as some print journalists and now some video journalists do. I think they are extremely brave, as we always travel in a team of at least two people.”
Wyatt believes the key attributes required to be a successful journalist are “determination, persistence, tenacity, stamina and intellectual curiosity - and a lot of hard work”. She added: “Luck also plays a huge part in any career, but you can help make your own luck by working hard, offering to do things when everyone else has gone home, or working over Christmas, weekends, nights or holiday periods - especially when you're starting out.
“It also helps hugely to have a mentor or mentors - journalists you can look up to, and ask for advice. I was lucky enough to have a brilliant tutor on my post-grad journalism course at City University called Linda Christmas, who has always been there as a mentor and now friend, as well as some great bosses who have helped and encouraged me at various stages in my career.”
Journalism is 'a privilege'
Asked what advice she would give to young, aspiring journalists, Wyatt said: “Go into the area of journalism you feel the most passionate about, whether that's defence and foreign affairs, or economics and business, or fashion or entertainment. And make sure you have a very understanding family or partner, as they may not see you much for a while if you're on a big or breaking story.
“To anyone wanting to pursue a career as a defence or foreign correspondent, I would say think long and hard before doing it - and if you still want to do it, then go for it. It is a fantastic and life-enhancing job, full of excitement and adventure, interspersed with a lot of boredom, panic and sitting at airports, or lugging 150kg of kit from place to place.”
Finally, Wyatt was enthusiastic in encouraging people to take up journalism: “It is a privilege to be able to see other people's lives, report on them, and be an eye-witness to events, and it remains remarkable and sometimes awe-inspiring to experience different cultures, people and places at moments of huge change. I can only recommend pursuing a career in journalism as long as you feel passionate about it, and don't mind the fact that it is unlikely to make you rich, although it will offer a rich and varied life!”
EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW by Helen Dodd, Website Editor
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