NICK POLLARD the former boss of Sky News comes to Coventry on the 30th of September to speak about his career in Journalism at the popular Coventry Conversations series. In the run up to his talk here’s the vital information about the man and his prolific career in journalism.How I became interested in journalism
It was the only sector that allowed you to enjoy yourself and get paid for it and go to the pub at the end of the day.
Was as a trainee reporter at the Birkenhead News. I was 17 and did all the usual local newspaper stuff – court reports, news stories, human interest and the like. To be honest, until my first day I had no idea what it would be like, but as soon as I started I knew it was for me.
The biggest stories I’ve worked on were the death of Diana and September 11 which were both huge stories in different ways. There’s one experience that particularly sticks in my mind and that’s when I went to China in 1996 to provide pool coverage of the Queen’s historic visit. I was standing on a watchtower on the Great Wall of China outside Beijing watching this helicopter move up the valley, carrying our a satellite truck swaying beneath it in a net. I’d paid £30,000 in small denomination notes to make sure that this was done and it was a nerve wracking experience. But we got a world first, transmitting the first live TV pictures of the Great Wall of China.
The worst times were probably knocking on people’s doors as a newspaper reporter when someone had died. But one of the things you learn very quickly is that you can make an incredible amount of difference, depending on how you handle it. If you handle it well you can actually help them through it but if you handle it badly you can do a lot of harm. It’s one of the things that working on a local paper teaches you – how to deal with people and situations.
When I was at ITN in 1984 as a producer I got handed the job of organising the D-Day 40th anniversary coverage. No one thought it would be a big story but it turned out to be a brilliant opportunity. By spring it had become clear that it would become this enormous set piece, with Reagan and Thatcher visiting Normandy. It became this huge symbol of the peak of the Cold War, with Russia frozen out and the two allies determined to beat Communism in the way that they defeated the Nazis 40 years before. I remember talking to my boss David Nicholas the night before and saying that I didn’t feel I was up to it. Back in 1969 he had been the producer in charge of broadcasting the moon landing and he said that on the way he was physically sick, he was so nervous. That made me feel better and it went on to give me a lot of confidence.
I had very rudimentary training and did a NCTJ course on block release through the local paper. It gave me a reasonable grounding in the basics such as law and shorthand. The course was six weeks in the first year and six weeks in the second year and took place in this pretty grotty college that nowadays goes by the rather grander title of the University of West Lancashire. I have, however, got a certificate somewhere for 140 words per minute shorthand of which I was quite proud.
Mentors and heroes
My first ever news editor on the Birkenhead News was a guy called Arthur Johnson. He was only a few years older than me at 23 but over the three years I was there he taught me absolutely everything, not only about journalism but about having fun along the way. He was a great mentor. Another was David Nicholas, who was my boss at ITN and was a fantastic guy. Another hero for me, who I worked with for over 10 years, was Alistair Burnett. For most of my ITN career I worked on the Ten o’Clock News and he was the main presenter for most of that time. He was a fantastic journalist, you’d spend hours polishing a script only to have him rewrite it in 30 minutes and make it better – all the while knocking back vast quantities of scotch.
My advice to those starting out now
Attitude is everything. It doesn’t matter what your depth of expertise is or your academic knowledge. Far fewer people come up through the ranks these days and most had some sort of technical knowledge having gone through a graduate trainee scheme. You can get a pretty long way in journalism just by being good technically, but the very best people have that indefinable something extra which I don’t think can be taught.