At the Student Radio Awards last night (6th November 2014) Calum Macdonald won gold in the best male presenter category. I’m absolutely delighted on two fronts.

First, he’s from my old student station Fresh Air – which hasn’t won anything for absolutely ages!

But more importantly, his entry truly was exceptional. Why? Because he is the presenter of a news programme.


Breaking the mould

I think this is an important moment for the student radio awards and for the best presenter categories. 99% of all entries to these categories are similar in nature, and too often emulate successful entertainment radio formats, often to slightly boring effect.

You can hear the ‘advice on how to create a good demo’ shining though in many entries – but that makes them predictable. You have the standard hilarious anecdote, talking up to the vocal, a crunch and roll, back-announcing tracks and so on.

CalumawardBut Calum’s entry is completely different. It focuses on his presentation of news content. It shows that you don’t have to sound like Greg James to win this award (who in fact was a judge for this category). It’s entirely refreshing that a news presenter was spotted for his considerable talent and that engagement with politics and current affairs got him a win in a category normally reserved for music/entertainment presenters.

And, before you say “shouldn’t this entry be in the best journalistic category…?” – no. This entry (you can listen below) does not focus on the news content itself but on Calum’s presentation of it. And he shows us that he can present live radio, is adept at interviews, is comfortable presenting OBs in front of a live audience, has fantastic energy and authority presenting the headlines, and can have fun along with it.

News is cool

I always feel like broadcast journalism doesn’t get enough of a look in when it comes to student radio events. And that’s probably a reflection of the fact that so many people in student radio really just want a job on the music side at Radio 1.

Don’t get me wrong – there are some remarkably good student radio news teams. I chaired the best journalistic category this year and the quality was staggeringly good.

But the wider focus always seems to fall back to ‘showbiz’, which is so often seen as the thing to aspire too.

Perhaps a few people starting out in radio will hear Calum’s entry and be inspired to think about current affairs rather than popstars – because serious radio journalism absolutely is cool. It really means something. It has a direct and sometimes significant impact of people’s lives.

ps. Keep an eye on Calum – he’s going places.


There’s a new RadioCentre-commissioned report which says, according to Radio Today, that ‘Radio 1 and Radio 2 are failing’. RadioCentre is the industry body for commercial radio. The survey behind the report is independent. But I’m not so sure about this article, because it reads a bit like a RadioCentre press release: read the article here.


 …according to independent research commissioned by RadioCentre…nearly half (46%) think that Radio 1 is the same, or only slightly different to Capital FM

In the name of accuracy you cannot lump these two things together. The phrases ‘the same’ and ‘slightly different’ are very different things. If 46% of all Radio 1 listeners think it’s ‘the same’ as Capital FM there’s perhaps a problem. However if 46% think it’s ‘slightly different’ then Radio 1 must be doing something right. Especially because presumably the remaining 54% think it’s ‘different’ or ‘very different’.

Whatever the breakdown within that 46%, the MAJORITY of those surveyed actually think Radio 1 is MORE than ‘slightly different’ to Capital FM.

Only 6% of its listeners associated the station with social action and documentaries and 25% with programming for young teenagers

Did the survey question ask people about the phrase ‘social action’? In which case I’m amazed anyone said ‘yes’ at all. It’s a not a phrase most people use. And surely only a small percentage of Radio 1’s output is ‘social action’, therefore if 6% of listeners know about it that doesn’t sound too bad. More than 25% of Radio 1’s audience is NOT ‘young teenagers’ therefore for 25% of those surveyed to ‘associate the station with programming for young teenagers’ is not surprising.

And although Radio 1 is supposed to be aimed at people aged 29 years and under, 30% of 35-44 think it is aimed at them

Or to put it another way: more than two thirds of Radio 1’s ‘older’ audience (35-44) acknowledge that the station is NOT aimed at them.

I don’t know about you but I think it’s amazing that two-thirds of people will admit that they probably shouldn’t be listening to the station they actually listen to.

On we go to Radio 2:

Radio 2 listeners wanted to hear less mainstream chart music (35%)

Isn’t the key finding that ‘65% of Radio 2 listeners are AT THE VERY LEAST ‘happy’ with the amount of mainstream chart music on the station’? Why report the minority, unsurprising comment, headlined as the main finding?

Of the specific service requirements for Radio 2, only 21% said they associated the station with extending musical tastes

‘Only’ 21%? For a station as ‘mainstream’ as Radio 2 I think it’s not such a bad thing that a fifth of people in this survey cite the station as a ‘taste-maker’. In the previous paragraph of the report we’re told that half of the audience ‘highly associate’ the music with Magic and Heart. Are we told what percentage of people think that Magic and Heart are taste-making? No. My guess is the result might be lower.

only…11% associated the station with original comedy and just 17% with arts programming

There’s that ‘only’ word again. Less than 11% of Radio 2’s output has anything to do with original comedy. Less than 17% of Radio 2’s output is what you’d define as ‘arts programming’. So, these figures sound pretty good. Why are they written up as a bad thing?

Siobhan Kenny, Chief Executive of RadioCentre, will unveil key findings from the research at a fringe meeting on the future of the BBC at the Conservative Party Conference today. In particular, she will call for tougher regulation of the BBC to help prioritise the delivery of public service output in future




Important caveats:

  • I love Radio Today, even if not this article.
  • A survey like this raises important questions about the BBC and these should be debated. Always. Here I’m discussing the way statistics are used to form ‘findings’.
  • Disclosure: I work at Radio 2 and hey, I happen to like the BBC. However – this article is about the reporting of surveys, statistics and numbers. I’ve written previous similar articles on the same subject where I also slag off the BBC.

ie. Should I stay up all night/get up early/plan a party/book a day off work?

The path to victory...for someone. (Actually the path up Ben Vrackie near Pitlochry).

The path to victory…for someone. (Actually the path up Ben Vrackie near Pitlochry).

The Short Answer

It’s impossible to be accurate. Especially because it’s a first-of-its kind vote with more than four million registered voters.

But the best-guess is ‘around 7am’ on Friday 19th.

The Process

Polls open at 7am on Thursday 18th with voters answering the question “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

Polls close at 10pm. Counting begins at 32 regional centres.

Ballots have to make it from the farthest flung bits of Scotland to these centres. For that reason helicopters are being used in some areas, and the WEATHER could actually slow the whole thing down. Really.

The 32 counting centres will report results through the night. Results will trickle in until we know the final result.

The Final Result

Here’s the important bit! The chief counting officer, Mary Pitcaithly, is the person who will tell the world whether it’s a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. If you’re bleary-eyed on Friday morning and she steps onto live TV listen carefully – she might be telling you the result.

IMPORTANTLY – she will announce who has won BEFORE the final result is known. She will do this as soon as it’s mathematically impossible for the other side to win.


Counting starts when the polls close at 10pm on Thursday 18th.

Early results could trickle in from around 1am.

Most of the results will pour in from 3 – 6am.

The result of the referendum (though not necessarily the ‘final’ count total) is expected around 7am.

So – if you’re a referendum die-harder with no job you’ll want to plan a party which runs from late evening on the Thursday through to Friday morning.

Most people with a keen interest might want to get to bed early and get up around 3am to track the results as they come in.

Or you could get up at 7am and hope the result hasn’t been announced yet.

The recount theory/problem

When the final result comes in, everyone’s agreed: that’s that. No recount. Even if there’s only one vote in it. The result sticks.

However, at each of the 32 counting stations, both the yes and no camp can request one recount.

And there’s a lot at stake. Obviously.

Ideally people will have a good reason to request a recount. And it’ll be up to the counting officers to allow them or not. But a good theory – explained to me by very reputable sources – is that recounts could be likely in just about all 32 regions. This vote is forever (supposedly…). And the losing side in each area has nothing to lose by requesting a recount.

Therefore – the timetable of the whole thing could be derailed by a long series of recounts.

So if you’re a REAL referendum die-harder, plan the party, stay up all night, and make sure you’ve booked the day off work on Friday in case of bad weather or lots of recounts.

Read more here: the official document explaining how it all works.

Perhaps you’ve seen this image doing the rounds:


Since @OliverJamesUK posted it on 6th July it’s gone viral. Thousands retweeted it immediately, others nicked it and re-posted it, campaigners and celebrities like Frankie Boyle shared it, and it’s all over Facebook timelines.

But is it accurate? And where’s the picture from?

This is not about the pros or cons of the Work Capability Assessments. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest they’ve gone wrong in many instances, and the Atos contract is due to come to an end. This is about how a simple, powerful message can spread on social media even when people don’t really know what it is they’re sharing.

This picture was actually tweeted a few times over previous months, but never got much attention. It actually dates back to a rally against disability welfare cuts held on 28th September 2013. More pictures here… The fact that it’s gone viral this time suggests that the wording of the tweet was important.

The flowers are meant to represent “more than 10,000 people who died shortly after undergoing the Atos Work Capability Assessment“.

But hang on – the number of people who underwent the assessment is very different from the number of people who were actually declared fit for work, as the tweet stated.

So how many really was it?

The protest last September, and the ‘10,000’ people the flowers were for, are based on the table below, which comes from a DWP report from July 2012.


What does it mean? Those 10,600 people started the fit-for-work assessment.

  • Of those, 2,200 never completed the assessment
  • 7,100 were placed in the ‘support group’. These people were specifically deemed not fit to work.

The DWP states in that report:

“Those in the Support Group receive unconditional support due to the nature of their illness, which can include degenerative conditions, terminal illness and severe disability.”

  • The remaining 1,300 were placed in a ‘work related activity group’.

From the DWP:

“Those in this group are not expected to work, but are provided with help and support to prepare for work where possible.”

And here’s the most important bit regarding our original tweet. From the last page of the report:

“Data on the number of ESA claimants that have died following a fit for work decision is not available, as the Department does not hold information on a death if the person has already left benefit.”

So is the original tweet accurate? Absolutely not. Do people sharing it think it’s factually accurate and shows a new, current picture? Almost certainly.

Confusing a desire for accuracy with giving an opinion

The difficulty with writing things like this is that people jump to the conclusion that you’re somehow arguing one side or the other on the issue itself. I’m not. Just because I’m pointing out that the tweet is misleading doesn’t mean I don’t agree with its sentiment.

This exchange on Twitter regarding the ‘flower tweet’ is typical – if you go looking there are many like it:


Politics aside, @guy_herbert is right that a number with no context is unhelpful. Statistics are an important business. But when you question them on such an emotive topic people become angry, as if because you want accuracy you don’t care for those 10,600 individuals who died.

If you believe in a cause and want to campaign on it, those in power will ignore you if your numbers don’t add up, or if your facts are not facts. So if you want to share things to further a social cause, I would argue that asking what exactly it is you’re sharing, and whether it might be accurate before you click ‘retweet’ can help.

At this year’s Student Radio Conference I gave a talk titled ‘Editing is Sexy’. The first thing I said was perhaps more accurate:

Instead of ‘Editing is sexy’ this talk should really be called this: ‘Getting better at audio editing will give you better career prospects in radio’

I was talking to people in student radio, but I think it’s good advice for anyone working in radio. Below is a summary of my thinking. Basically: don’t neglect the art of editing audio.



A cheesy metaphor

If you work as a blacksmith you need to be able to use a hammer. Sure – if you’re starting your own blacksmith business these days you might need to have good people skills, management skills, marketing and social media skills. You might need to employ other people and be an all-round good entrepreneur and businessperson. You might want to run big blacksmith events and even stream them live online. But fundamentally, if your profession is blacksmithery, you need to be able to use a hammer.

A blacksmith works with metal and uses a hammer to shape it.

A radio employee works with audio and uses audio editing to shape it.

Cheesy. But true. And cheesy metaphors taste the best.


This really is top secret. Don’t tell anyone.

Are you ready for this?

A LOT of people who work in radio…perhaps even MOST people who work in radio…AREN’T that good at editing audio.

That’s the secret. The emphasis is important there.

And once you know that – you know that getting better at editing audio is an easy way to get ahead.

What do I mean by ‘editing’ here?

I’m mainly talking about the ability to edit audio. Do I mean video as well? Yes – I probably do, and the basic nuts and bolts of editing audio or video aren’t that dissimilar.

And getting better at ‘editing’ doesn’t mean becoming an editing ‘expert’. All I’m talking about here is giving audio editing the basic attention it deserves.

Here’s what I said at the Student Radio Conference:

All I’m trying to sell you is the idea that getting better at editing should be something you think about. If you do that, and the person sitting next to you doesn’t, you’re giving yourself an advantage over them that you didn’t have before.

Some of you will be complete beginners. It’s fine to practice editing just speech with no effects or music. You don’t need fancy software – get used to using Audacity – it’s free – it’s fine.

What I’m talking about here is just doing something, anything, to get better at editing. It might be running a podcast. Editing your station’s SRA award entries. Trying to make a few jingles for the features on your show. Just anything that gets you editing.

Me me me

My argument is, unsurprisingly, partly based on my own experience. I have no doubt that at every stage of my career thus far being slightly more proficient at editing than the person sitting next to me has helped me out.

Again – I stress that I’m not talking about really advanced editing techniques.

At the moment I get to create reports and packages for the largest current affairs programme in Europe. I have creative freedom and can only do it because I can edit audio quickly; the turnaround time isn’t long. I think this is great. Thanks, editing.

Thing I’ve made recently are over here. Below is one recent example where I was proud to bring together journalism and editing to deliver FACTS and SCIENCE to a huge audience. It’s nothing special but the fact I get to do this day in, day out, is.


(At the conference I was also asked about putting together radio packages like the above in a short space of time – the answer to which is in this blog post about making radio packages quickly.)

The radio industry agrees…

People working in radio who I spoke to about my talk wholeheartedly agreed with what I had to say. Whether in music or news, commercial or BBC – editing is just as important. Jacob for example, a brilliant producer at Radio 1, was clear that editing both audio and video are vital skills if you want to work there.

And in news-radio, here are a couple more comments I gathered ahead of the student radio conference. Jeremy Vine says that editing is vital for creating good radio packages and reports:

I attended a great event at the University of Lincoln yesterday (‘Headspace‘, April 2014) – a ‘general’ networking thingy involving media/radio/audio students and a bunch of people like me. Thanks to Zara Healy for organising it.

Headspace Poster

I had a few thoughts from the day to share, which might be of use to media students in Lincoln and beyond: 

At Q&A events, ask good questions

A lot of questions we were asked yesterday were about ‘how to make a good impression on people in the industry’. The whole event was built around students asking questions. And people immediately made a good impression when they asked a good question. So there’s one simple answer!

That is so true both at events like this, but also any time you’re chatting to people in your industry (ie. when you’re ‘networking’, as much as that word is slightly horrible). Ask good questions.

A lot of people yesterday didn’t try to ask any questions. Why not? Are you not interested? Not curious? Not passionate about your future career? Not confident enough to ask?

Then, a lot of people ask incredibly generic and predictable questions. There’s nothing wrong with this, if you have a question and want to ask it – good – it’s important that you do so, even if it’s not a ‘new’ question. These questions are along the lines of “how do I get a job as a radio presenter?”. “How can I get work experience?”. “What tips do you have to get into radio?”.

But the people who really make an impression ask precise and practical questions and are clearly interested in the answer. “I love driving radio desks; how can I persuade the manager at my local radio station to let me get some practice there?”. “I want to be a presenter. Should I send people a demo on CD, MP3, or with a link to my Soundcloud?”. These are still simple questions, but they are focused.

Even better/in addition – ask someone a question specific to what they do, and make the question interesting. “You do xyz. If I wanted your job one day, what’s the one skill you would focus on if you were me?”. It’s just a thousand times more interesting than the question “how do I get a job?”.

Email people!

This is an easy hit – and a really simple and non-intrusive way of doing the whole ‘networking’ thing.

There’s no doubt that networking is really important. Not just for helping get experience now. In ten years’ time someone you say hello to today could prove really useful in your career. That’s as true for you if you’re just graduating as it is for me – for all I know later in life you’ll be my boss.

So when you’re starting out and trying to get experience or a job, email everyone you meet in your chosen sector. Just say hello, say who you are, and perhaps ask a simple question to get advice and build a relationship. It’s amazing where it can lead, even if it seems a bit pointless at the time.

Take yesterday’s networking event, for example.

Perhaps the best thing an attendee could have done would have been to look at the list of speakers, and to email each and every one beforehand to introduce themselves and just say “look forward to meeting you”, or something similarly cursory.

I don’t think anyone did that.

Second-best is doing the same thing after the event. If you go to a conference or guest-lecture or shadow someone in their job – get in touch with everyone you met or heard from afterwards just to say hi and thanks.

I met a few people today who I know will do that – but it’s always surprisingly few. See my last post about getting work experience for more on that…

Is LinkedIn important?

I’ve never been the biggest fan of LinkedIn but I surprised myself by answering this question yesterday with an overwhelming ‘yes’.

This might sound slightly stalker-ish… But people from the University of Lincoln and elsewhere often get in touch to ask if I’ll be an interviewee for a project associated with their course. I invariably, out of curiosity, stick their name into Google to find out if this person has a Twitter/LinkedIn profile and I find myself making surprisingly quick judgements about them on this basis. A student getting in touch who has an up to date and comprehensive LinkedIn profile and an active and engaging Twitter page really, really stands out – because the vast majority don’t have these simple things.

I think increasingly there’s an expectation that if you’re part of the next generation of broadcasters you’ll at least be on Twitter and LinkedIn. If you’re not already, it’s never too late to start.

Don’t be passive

The above advice is all very simple stuff. Some people might read that and think ‘why do you even need to say that?!’. Yet some students were totally passive yesterday – happy to turn up, sit, and listen as if it were a day-to-day lecture. It was a day about networking, about asking questions, about being engaged.

Turning up and listening isn’t enough if you want a job in any highly competitive sector, and the media is most certainly one of those.

And I was so encouraged by many people who spoke up with good questions and looked excited just to learn more about the industry they want to work in.

So if you’re studying media/radio/audio/similar don’t be passive. Be active. Ask good questions. Email people. Be excited about what you’re doing. Understand that your course gives you vital skills but does nothing on its own to get you a job unless you get out there and make that happen for yourself.

My friend and colleague, the very talented Graham Albans (here he is) just posed this question online:

Radio folk! Most common question I’m asked is “how do I get work experience?” How do YOU answer it?

Here’s my answer: email people. If you meet anyone in the radio industry, ask them if you might be able to come and see what they do*. Ask EVERYONE. Find out who to email and email them. Be shameless. Ask people whose job you aren’t even interested in.

Google alone can't help

Google alone can’t help

This bit of advice is based on this fact: most people looking for work experience in radio don’t email most radio people they meet to ask for work experience, most of the time. Which means if you do, you stand a better chance of getting somewhere.

For example: take the Student Radio Conference (brilliant by the way – go to it!). This is what happens:

  • Someone from a radio station does a talk to a room full of 100 people.
  • They put their contact details on the screen at the end and say “let me know if you have any questions or come and see me at the end”.
  • Of those hundred attendees, maybe five or ten will say hello at the end of the talk.
  • Of those five or ten, perhaps two or three will email afterwards.
  • Of those two or three, only one or two will say “could I come in to your work to see what you do?*”.

It’s an incredibly easy thing to be one of those two or three out of a hundred, and that gives you a much better chance of getting work experience*.

Work experience*?

There’s no doubt that emailing lots of people all the time will help get you PROPER FULL ON work experience. But, here’s some small print. This is also a bonus (and perhaps even better) top tip:

* It’s better to ask people if you can “come in to see what they do”, rather than ask for ‘work experience’. Big organisations – especially the BBC – have strict rules and application procedures for work experience. If you ask for it, you may be referred to the official website. But if, in your email, you ask to simply come and see what someone does, it’s much, much more likely to be within their power to invite you along for a day or an afternoon. It’s not OFFICIAL work experience, but it most certainly is experience of their work, and you can most certainly put it on your CV.

So who do I email?

Everyone. No-one in radio minds you emailing for advice, with a question, or to ask to come in and see what they do. Even if they’re too busy to reply, they certainly won’t mind you asking. If you want to be a presenter on Capital, but you’re also just super-keen generally to work in the radio industry, then why not email producers on programmes at BBC Radio 3 to see if they’ll let you visit? Look up their programmes before you email and at least pretend you are interested in their network!

And how do you find people to email? Trawl Twitter. Browse LinkedIn. Do they work for the BBC? Their address is almost definitely Listen to your favourite BBC programmes and if you hear the full name of a producer or presenter or reporter just give that a go and try to email them. If you think you want to work on Radio 4 but meet someone who’s got a junior role in sports journalism – why not ask them? Go to Radio Academy events. Student radio conferences. Anyone you meet – ask them!

In my personal experience there’s a very direct correlation between people who proactively ask everyone they can for more experience, and those who have successful careers (it’s a positive correlation, by the way…).

UPDATE – 10/02/14 – The BBC JTS is now open to applicants who are doing, or have completed, a broadcast journalism qualification. This is a change of heart – scroll to the bottom of this article for more details of the change.


The BBC’s Journalism Trainee Scheme gets a lot of applicants. So it doesn’t really need any extra publicity.

But…this year a handful of people have said to me in passing “so, do you think that journalism scheme is worth applying for?”, or “do you think that trainee journalism thingy is worth it?”. The majority of these have been people with at least a passing interest in current affairs, and people who are young, talented, and want to work full time in radio.

So I would like to publicly declare that the overwhelming answer is YES.

A lot of the very ‘top’ BBC-types started out as BBC journalism trainees. Among others: Huw Edwards, Jeremy Vine, Nick Robinson and former DG Mark Thompson (although I’m not sure we talk about him at the moment). The list of ‘big names’ is quite huge once you start looking. But perhaps that puts people off – not everyone wants to be the next superstar political correspondent.

If you’re not sure whether to apply, consider a few things:

  • If you want to work in media, and aren’t dead-set on music or entertainment programming then consider applying. If you think that one day at any point in the future you might have an interest in working on any programme on any medium with a factual premise, a background in journalism could be really helpful.
  • Consider the range of programmes that require journalistic training. It’s not just the ‘main’ news programmes. Just within BBC radio, a journalism background helps put you ahead in all of BBC Local Radio. You need it for almost any job at 5 Live. Most Radio 4 programmes require it – that might obvious for Today or PM, but even something like the Food Programme will be made by people with a journalism background. Then there’s The Jeremy Vine Show on Radio 2… And that’s just BBC radio! Nevermind TV (the majority of documentary-makers will be journalists, whether it’s for Benefits Street or Panorama), and nevermind the entire commericial sector (journalists will flourish at LBC and Talksport).
  • The clue’s in the money. As a ‘trainee’ you’re being offered around £20k for a full-time job in the media. Yes, if you get the job you probably have enough talent to go off and earn far more in a different sector – but a full-time ‘trainee’ job on this salary shows that it’s a serious position compared to any other entry job in the sector. And the level of funding behind the training and support you get is something else again.
  • As point three suggests – this scheme really is the jewel in the crown of BBC traineeships.

It’s also designed for ‘career-changers’ too – not just graduates or people in their early-20s looking to start their career.

Sadly, it’s not for people who already have a journalism qualification, so if you’re a journo graduate you can’t apply (UPDATE 10/02/14 – THIS HAS NOW CHANGED. SEE BELOW)**. I’ll defer to the official wording:

To be considered for the JTS you need to be an avid follower of news. You regularly read the local and national newspapers, watch television and listen to radio. You also have an excellent grasp of social media.

There is no age limit and the scheme welcomes career-changers who have ambitions to work in broadcast news, but have been pursuing a career in other industries.

Our scheme is not for complete beginners, but neither is it open to anyone who is already working as a broadcast journalist or has a qualification in broadcast journalism.

So basically – if you know you’re eligible and have at any point thought “I wonder if I should apply for this…” then APPLY!

Watch a video about it here – and apply here.

You have until the 10th February** (extended until the 17th February)



Rather oddly (not as many applicants as previous years? Too many complaints about the criteria?***) the JTS scheme is now open to anyone who has a Broadcast Journalism qualification, and the deadline to apply has been extended to the 17th February.

The JTS is DEFINITELY still worth applying for if you have this qualification. It’ll get you a full time paid job in journalism for the BBC – which, if you’ve been studying broadcast journalism – is presumably something you’d be very keen on!

This is a pretty big turn-around in the entry criteria, because I would imagine application numbers will massively swell.

It is – in my personal opinion – very much the right thing to do.

If you’ve got a qualification – make sure your application stands out. This course is going to be about you and your talents, they won’t care much that you’ve learnt the ‘legal stuff’ as part of your course, for example – because so will everyone else.

And, if you haven’t got a journalism qualification and are now worried about the competition, I wouldn’t worry unduly. They won’t be giving preference to those with the qualification, and their experience won’t necessarily put them ahead. But…it does mean there will be more people to compete against!


@BBCTrainees has Tweeted the reason for the change of heart on the entry criteria:

“For those of you who are wondering about the rationale behind widening the #bbcjts criteria, this year sees the BBC launch a brand new apprenticeship across its Local Radio network aimed at non-grads, with a purpose of growing future Broadcast Assistants with an interest in journalism. In light of this expansion to our entry-level opportunities, we’ve revisited the entry criteria for our higher-level Journalism Trainee Scheme and will for the first time be opening it up to those who’ve completed a Broadcast Journalism course at University.”

Scientists want more science, more accurately represented, in the media. Yet I find they so rarely want to come on the radio and talk about it*

I work on a large daily current affairs radio programme, and certain big topics get covered frequently. The state of the economy, immigration laws, high-speed rail, welfare; those and many more get regular outings on air. Climate change is another topic that, in one form or another, will warrant regular discussion.

On most subjects, finding knowledgeable pundits on either side of the debate isn’t too tricky – especially for the ‘big topics’. But when it comes to climate change, something funny happens. In fact, it’s a problem more broadly across most scientific topics.

People don’t want to talk about it. Scientists – the ones who know their stuff the most – seem the most reticent to get on the radio to explain what they know.


Good scientists don’t want to go on air

From the many conversations I’ve had with scientists, university press officers and other science-representation groups, I believe the following to be true: the more specialised a scientist is, the less qualified they feel they are to talk to the media about it.

But why?

Science is a highly complex and specialised profession. Academics trade blows over incredibly niche little-by-little discoveries through peer-reviewed journal articles. The more you know about your specialist field, the more you think you’re not necessarily in a position to be ‘the authority on all of climate change’ (or whatever your specialism is) in a five-minute radio interview.

And, the more you know, the more you dislike the way your speciality is portrayed in the media. The less willing you are to devalue your work by debating it with someone who just hasn’t studied it like you have, and who is out of step with the scientific community.

But here’s the problem: that ‘someone’ is perfectly happy to be on the radio, and there’s a real danger your viewpoint – and more importantly your scientific research – won’t get properly represented.

Global warming sceptics are easy to book

Let me be more specific. Let’s take a basic “is climate change happening?” debate: yes or no. The following is absolutely typical in my experience:

I call round lots of universities and lots of climate change experts. They all say “yes it’s happening” but “no I couldn’t possibly come on the radio today…I’m not the right person for this”. Or, often, “no!! I won’t argue with a climate-change sceptic! They don’t deserve to be on. I don’t want to be party to giving their view equal weight in the debate!”.

Well, there’s one hour left until we’re on air, and at this rate your opponent’s viewpoint will be the only one that gets heard. What’s more – from the conversation I had with you – you sounded like the perfect guest. Please do the interview.

Meanwhile…I find that climate change sceptics are in comparatively short supply. Yet everyone I call on that side is willing to come on the radio in a heartbeat. So here we are in a situation where, because so many scientists are unwilling to come on the radio, the majority scientific viewpoint (in my experience) is in danger of being woefully underrepresented.

I must pause, briefly, to address a question some of you will be thinking:

Why must you represent the minority viewpoint at all? Surely that’s mis-representative?

I’m a radio producer and journalist. I’m not a scientist. I’m not an economist. I’m not a breastfeeding new mum. I’m not a ‘victim of the bedroom tax’. I’m not qualified enough on the vast majority of subjects we discuss to decide to completely silence a particular point of view. If people hold that opinion, it deserves some representation. So it’s my job to do that, rather than to unilaterally stifle particular sides of the argument.

And, as much as many in the scientific community dislike it – there are lots of global warming sceptics, not least our audience. And as with any media debate, if one side makes an overwhelmingly better case, that should shine through on air.

But if no-one’s willing to give that side of the argument, there’s a problem.

But I digress; for more on this particular debate I suggest you read this.

Scientists! Please embrace the media!

I know it’s easier said than done – but I really wish scientists were more happy to come on air. The fact is, the media ‘rules of engagement’ aren’t going to change. Sometimes you’ll only get a few minutes to discuss a HUGELY complicated topic. Sometimes you might have to debate with someone who you quite simply think is wrong and hugely underqualified. But those are the parameters in which the majority of the population will normally discuss your speciality, if at all.

And if you tell me you can’t come on the radio, or you don’t want to, I’m going to have to find someone else who can. And they may well know far less than you. And that’s not annoying for me because it makes my job more difficult. It’s annoying because I care deeply about doing my best to make sure scientific viewpoints are portrayed fairly and accurately to seven million listeners.

Thank goodness, then, for organisations such as the Science Media Centre. They get it – they fight to get science in the media, represented as accurately as possible. They’re adept at responding to media requests. For anyone grumbling about the under-representation or misrepresentation of science in the media – get behind these guys and help them do something about it.

Brian Cox is too busy to do all of the interviews on all of the science all of the time*. Scientists: science needs you!



Coverage of science in the media is a gigantic topic – I could only mention one tiny point here. I’d like to give the above a couple of additional caveats:

1. There are LOTS of brilliant scientists willing to be in the media. I know that. My point is that there are, arguably, not enough!

2. There are LOTS of brilliant scientists willing to discuss climate change. And despite what I write above I’ve never failed to book the guests I need. However, by comparison with other professions, in my personal experience it can prove more difficult.

3. This is NOT a post about the way the media covers science – with the exception of the penultimate section. That’s a whole other debate.

4. Another ‘whole other debate’ is the way the media deals with the ‘climate change debate’ – where the majority of scientists would argue there’s no debate about whether climate change itself is happening. I appreciate that, but it is not my point – I merely use it as an example of an occasion where I’ve found many scientists hesitant to speak.

5. The headline of this article was an exaggeration, ok? (see points 1 – 2!).

6. I’m JOKING about Brian Cox!

At work I sometimes make radio packages. I work on a daily current affairs programme so it’s important to be able to do it at speed – normally I have about 90 minutes to create something. If you want to include the right music and sound effects, need to find different elements to go into it (such as a vox pop – which might take a bunch of time in itself), and, vitally, get the scripting, accuracy, editorial message and delivery right…90 minutes isn’t that long.


I’ve answered many questions in the past about my methods for churning stuff out at speed – including yesterday when I made a short package about the Higgs Boson. I’ve written some thoughts down, so below are my top five tips for speed-packaging.

Top Five Tips in Brief!

Perhaps you’re making a speed-package right now in which case this post is too late. But in the name of brevity – here’s a summary of my top five before a longer explanation below:

  1. Get ready to speed-package NOW – bookmark your favourite websites for sound effects and audio production music.
  2. Take a breath, gather your thoughts. You don’t have long to make this package but spend a few minutes learning your subject and knowing what you might like to include in it.
  3. Do a very quick storyboard and write a script. Use bullet points to map out the messages you want to convey and what other audio or clips you’ll want to use. Then flesh it out with a script.
  4. Learn to edit well. Before you have to make a package quickly make sure you’re half-decent at audio editing.
  5. Have a voice-recording device available NOW! Have a smartphone in your possession that you can record good audio with and know how to use it.
And again – in greater detail:

1. Get ready to speed-package NOW!

Creating something like the package I posted above – at speed – requires being set up and ready to do so. You need a bunch of things already in place, and this is useful both for making packages quickly and for producing radio in general. There are a couple of pretty key things below – look to point 5 for more thoughts.

Sound Effects

“Ok! I need to make a comedy package about a donkey! Right – I need to find a good donkey sound effect.” *Fifteen minutes later…* “I can’t find a good donkey sound effect!”.

You can waste an awfully long time looking for the right sound effect. I’ve collected together a half-decent sound effects library over time, and I make sure it’s always to hand. Do the same – when you use or hear a good sound effect try to grab it for your own FX collection. You can also buy sound effects CDs which is often the simplest way to get everything you might need, and there are also free sound effects websites such as which can be a bit sketchy at times but invaluable at others.


If you work in radio hopefully you have pretty decent access to popular commercial music. But ‘production music’ is often just what your package needs. If you’re making a package about aliens – please don’t use the X-Files theme tune. Instead, get on a production music website and just find something nice and spooky to score your package with. In the package I posted above I used music from – but there are loads of sites just like this. Google it and explore! If you sign up to these sites and learn how to download the tracks and logging details – you’re ready to very quickly grab music for any occasion when the need arises.

2. Take a breath, gather your thoughts.

If you only have 90 minutes and you know how much work you have to do, it’s easy to see the clock ticking and get straight into scripting your package. But hang on – give yourself ten minutes to make sure you know your subject. If I’m making a factual piece I’ll use these ten minute to read the relevant news articles and see what archive audio is available to me. I’ll perhaps consult colleagues for their creative thoughts and jot down ideas I have that I might like to include. Taking a few minutes to properly understand the topic and what could go into the package helps a lot with point number 3…

3. Do a very quick storyboard and write a script.

This can normally be done whether you’re in the office or out on a job working on a story. Don’t go straight for the script. Think first about what you want to say overall and what audio you have to make that happen. Put that into a storyboard. And by ‘storyboard’ I just mean a sequence of bullet points roughly collecting your thoughts together.

Suppose there’s been a fire at a beach hut and you’re there to report – the ‘storyboard’ might look like this:

FX recorded from scene

Voice intro walking around ruins, end with “the firefighters said it was devastating”

Chief firefighter clip

Record on-location link into archive audio

Archive news audio from the previous fires

Final link from scene – include latest statement from local police

It’s a bit of a simple off-the-top-of-my-head example but you get the idea. Now – flesh it out. It’s much easier to write a script around a few bullet points like this than to write one from start to finish without having a master-plan.

4. Learn to edit well

If you’re a blacksmith you might be great at knowing how to forge iron. But if you’re rubbish at using a hammer, what you make might be useless. If you work in radio your hammer is the ability to edit audio. If it takes you a week to find out how to fade something out then you’ll never create a radio package quickly!

Never dismiss editing as geeky and therefore avoid learning how to do it. If you work in radio but don’t have much time to practice editing, make time. If you have a brilliant idea for a package and a brilliant (and slightly complicated) script, there’s no way you’ll be able to bring it to life quickly unless you’re practiced at the editing process.

5. Have a voice-recording device available NOW!

“Quick! You have to record a package immediately! It needs a few vox pops, some narration, and a clip of an interview.”

If that’s said to me I already know how I will record these things. Different radio stations have different ways of allocating equipment. Perhaps your station has a Marantz you can grab. Maybe you need to book kit out. Or it could be that it’s incredibly difficult to get something to record audio on at short notice – and even then perhaps the office is lacking in card-readers to get the audio onto your computer.

I make sure that wherever I work I know how I might quickly be able to go and record something. Basically – I know how to use the voicememo bit of my iPhone, how to email that back to myself, and how to convert that to a file I can use with my audio editing software. It’s not complicated, and there are plenty of smartphone apps that do a similar thing with .mp3 files – but the point is you have to know exactly how to do it, and be able to do it, in advance of when you need to make your speed-package!

That’s it

But here’s another one I made about PANDAS: