Interview with a senior journalist
Updated: Aug 22, 2021
Right now, I’m a trainee reporter. I’ve taken a certain set of exams to get to this level and after two years working as a trainee, I’ll complete my NQJ exams. This essentially means that I’ll become a fully qualified senior reporter and in other words... no more exams! If you want to find out about how I got to this point, click here.
I thought it would be interesting to talk to someone that I will (hopefully) be in a similar position to in five years.
Meet Ginny Sanderson…
Ginny is a senior news reporter at The Scotsman. Until a few weeks ago, she was at the Eastbourne Herald. She started there as a trainee like me, and stayed for four years before moving to Scotland a couple of weeks ago.
She was originally from a small village called Bishops Waltham in Hampshire, but moved around a lot due to her dad being in the navy – she even lived in Gibraltar for a few years!
Ginny studied English and American Literature at the University of Kent in Canterbury. Whilst there, she was the editor for the uni paper, which made her realise journalism was for her. So after uni, she took a fast-track NCTJ course in Brighton, and landed a job as a trainee reporter at Sussex Newspapers.
Why did you want to be a journalist?
“I always loved writing and obviously books, but I wanted to make a difference and felt like journalism stood out for me rather than academia. What appealed to me was speaking to a wide group of people.
“Being able to translate and communicate complex ideas into something everyone can understand is hugely important. Whether it’s deciphering the jargon in a planning document or the subtext of political language, we are there to tell people what is happening without dressing it up or twisting it – so they can make up their own minds.”
How would you describe your time as a trainee reporter?
“I had a great time as a trainee reporter. Every day you are thrown into a new story and I loved exploring and getting to know my patch. I think I gained a lot of confidence, particularly in my interviewing technique.
“As quite a shy person (with a classic millennial fear of talking over the phone) I gradually learned the best ways of approaching an interview. When to take a more informal, chatty tone, and when to perhaps be more direct and not be afraid to ask difficult questions. I’m still an awkward person, but I’ve come a long way!
“One of my favourite memories is when I was invited to write about a Hogwarts-style school of wizardry LARP (live action roleplay) which had been launched at Herstmonceux Castle. We got to dress up in robes and wander around the castle while students were creating their own stories, attending lessons, searching for dragon eggs, and zapping each other with imaginary spells. It was utterly bonkers but brilliant.
“Then one day I was called to the Brighton i360 to be on the Royal Rota for a visit from Prince Philip. That was very surreal.
“I’ve interview hundreds of people and learned about so many things.”
How did you find the NQJ exams?
“I think I was one of the last candidates for the previous set of exams which I understand are very different to what they do now. We had to have a portfolio of about 20 pieces of work, and our exams were in law, a news story, and an interview.
“I remember towards the exams it was tough, but we got a lot of support from JPI Media. There’s training days and refresher days and I went to various places around the country for these. You also get days off before the exams to revise which really helps.
“The law paper was hard but a great refresher and obviously you need to know that stuff every day. The interview I remember being a bit strange, but it does really help hone your interviewing techniques.”
What’s your favourite part of being a journalist?
“Every day is different and every day you’re talking to someone new. The hardest part is dealing with armchair critics on social media. I hope journalists can regain the trust lost in recent years. We are only human, and we make mistakes.”
What story really stands out to you that you’re proud of producing?
“There’s a couple that stand out. It’s really incredible when something positive happens. from something you wrote. One story was a horrendous emergency accommodation a woman was living in with her small children, which the council stopped using following the story.
“Another was the Save Our Downs campaign. The council basically tried to sell some protected downland and the town would not have it. Environmentalist were up in arms. I remember covering the numerous protests, interviewing campaigners and local politicians. Eventually the council decided to have a sort of local referendum asking people if they would rather sell the downs or face cuts to frontline services. We also held a poll in the paper and the answer was a resounding no. Eastbourne Borough Council listened.
“Also a campaign I’ve worked on at the Herald is the Heart Beat campaign, which aims to get more public access defibrillators around the town. We helped publicise it as much as possible and one of our stories resulted in a very generous donation which really made a difference. The campaign was nominated for a national award and we went to the ceremony in Manchester – it didn’t win but we were happy and proud to be there.”
Any tips for anyone wanting to go into journalism?
"Our job is making things as clear as possible. Language should be used to enlighten, not obscure. And at a very basic level, our job is to talk about things.
"The amazing AnneMarie Field (chief reporter at the Herald) taught me that writing an intro to a story should be what you would tell your neighbour over the fence.
"There’s a massive fire down the road rather than Emergency services are heading to a neighbourhood where there is have been reports of a fire.
"Obviously, keep is accurate. Don’t put words in a story you wouldn’t actually say out loud. Also, when studying for my NCTJ my media law teacher told me to read George Orwell’s essay Politics and the English Language. This has stayed with me ever since – so definitely read that." (Here is a link to that essay)
Have you interviewed any celebs?
"I don’t know if all these count as celebs, but I’ve been lucky enough to interview a lot of interesting people. Raymond Briggs, who write The Snowman, was amazing to talk to as I had been read his books as a child.
"Then there’s Theresa May, and Tim Marton who owns Wetherspoons.
"I had a great chat with a death eater from the Harry Potter movies, Jon Campling. He was the one from Deathly Hallows who stopped the train with his hand and a moody look.
"We weren’t allowed to interview them, but I was in the presence of Harry and Meghan when they came to visit Sussex, they were very glamourous."
How does it work to have a journalism career outside of London?
"Local journalism is sometimes looked down on, or viewed as a stepping-stone to a career in national journalism in London. That is sometimes the case, but it is vital as it is - to communities and to democracy.
"We write about all the little things that matter to people that national newspapers never could. Often, our stories are snaffled up by agencies and become national news.
"Look at the amazing work done by the Yorkshire Post, or Manchester Evening News. Their journalism is outstanding and their reporters are tireless and truly care about their communities. Then you’re got papers like The Scotsman, which is considered a national in its own right, but it is made in Edinburgh.
"Meanwhile, this pandemic is going to change a lot of things about the way we work. One good thing about working from home is that, in the future, you will hopefully be able to work on a national from your living room, wherever that is, if you wanted to."
What are your career aims for the next 10 years?
"To still be doing this! But hopefully be paid a bit more."
I did an interview with the University of Leicester which covers my journey from A levels to working as a trainee reporter