It's often said that a week is a long time in politics and anyone who follows current affairs both nationally and internationally would probably agree. The magnitude of events in recent years are unprecedented and with each new day a story seemingly more incredible than the last makes headline news. At the centre of many of those events are our governments, their policies and the politicians who make them and alongside are the journalists who we rely on to interpret these nationally important events and provide us with the reports to tell us what's happening and how they're affecting our lives. Anne Alexander has made a career of reporting on current affairs and in our interview she tells us about her 25 year career starting on a regional newspaper through to working on national television and in the Houses of Parliament.
Where did your interest in politics come from? It was a little accidental that I ended up covering politics. I was originally assigned to cover politics at Westminster for my regional newspaper on a temporary basis after they had a bit of a staffing crisis. But I ended up enjoying it and 18 years after I started what I thought might be a 3 month stint working at the Houses of Parliament, I am still here. However, I was always interested in politics because my parents were politically engaged and generally interested in current affairs. They always took us with them to vote and stressed how important it was for us to do the same when we were old enough. I suppose they had experienced hardship and injustice, and they saw politics as a way of trying to improve things. It also helped that the local mayor lived across the road and he travelled in a big posh car! When did you realise you wanted to work in the media? I used to make up my own newspapers when I was young. I was always interested in news and newspapers in particular but I didn't necessarily think I would end up working in the media as I didn't know anyone who worked in the industry and had no idea how to get into it. Tell us about your education. I went to my local comprehensive school, then local sixth form, and then the University of Reading. I have a degree in American Studies, and I did an NVQ in journalism as part of my training to be a reporter. How did you progress from university to the working world? I did a temping job doing admin after university, and then I saw an ad for a short course in journalism, a sort of taster course. I left my temp job and did the course. Our tutor was a working journalist called Jo Metson, and she encouraged me to become a journalist and told me about the Express and Starís in-house training scheme. I applied and got on the course. At the end of the course I was given a job as a reporter on the Sandwell Chronicle, one of the Express and Starís weekly titles. What professional qualities do you think got your foot in the door of your first jobs? My enthusiasm, my communication skills and the fact I could show I had made an effort to get some experience in journalism beforehand, if only on my student paper, via a 3 month journalism taster course and a few days work experience at a local weekly paper. Did a Midlands background help or hinder your early opportunities? It helped that I happened to live in an area with the biggest regional newspaper in the country, and that it still ran an in-house journalism training scheme. The thought of having to pay for a course, having just spent three years studying and getting into debt, was not appealing. What did you do at the start of your career? I was a reporter on a weekly newspaper at the start of my career. I covered everything from sport, to inquests, council meetings and even restaurant reviews. Why did you move on to working in TV? I moved into TV as part of a natural progression after doing guest punditry. I was a political journalist working at Westminster and I started being invited on to be a commentator on the BBC. When a position came up on the BBCís Daily Politics programme, I moved there. It wasn't planned, but it was too good an opportunity to turn down. What does a senior political producer do? I arrange for guests to appear on the programme, brief presenters, go to Government briefings, speak to advisers and MPs to get the necessary information, help decide what we cover on the programme and how, drill down into stories to highlight what matters and why. Describe a typical day. It varies, but I may attend a briefing with the PMís spokesman, talk to various MPs, press officers and advisers on the phone or face to face, attend editorial meetings, write briefs and do research. How do you keep on top of political events? I keep on top of events by watching rolling news and social media (especially Twitter), keeping in touch with political contacts and attending briefings. What do you enjoy about your work? I enjoy the variety, as no two days are the same. I also like hearing about things first from senior Government figures and working out the best way to inform the public about the news. Itís also a great privilege to watch history unfolding. Itís been an extraordinary few years, which historians will write about for years to come. My place of work is also amazing. I never tire of walking into the Houses of Parliament. It is a real privilege to work there. Are there any things you donít like? it is nigh on impossible to switch off. There is so much happening in politics at the moment, if you switch off for an afternoon youíre likely to miss about 5 huge stories! Whatís been your career highlight so far? I think accompanying Theresa May to the US when she became the first foreign leader to meet newly inaugurated president, Donald Trump. We flew on the PMís plane, we sped hrough the streets in a motorcade and I sat on the 5th row of a press conference with Donald Trump. What was the best career advice you were given? Donít worry if you think you canít do a new job. You almost certainly can, so just have a go. And not feeling totally confident is a good thing, as complacency is worse. What advice would you give to anyone wanting to make a career of politics in the media? Read a wide range of newspapers and political writers. Watch the news and specialist news and current affairs programmes. Try to get some work experience. whether in a newspaper, radio or TV programme. Don't be afraid to approach people in the industry to ask for help or guidance, or for information about possible opportunities or indeed to suggest a story or feature you have found yourself. We have Twitter and LinkedIn, etc and most people in the media use these forms of social media in some form. Make a polite approach. There is nothing to be lost.
All images © Anne Alexander and used with permission.
Article Date - September 2020
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