I get asked a lot about getting into journalism. The problem for me is that the rather logical career path I have experienced doesn’t really exist any more. I remember someone telling us in one BBC department, “It’s in your interests to retire early because you get more money that way.”
I think I was 35, and remember being very puzzled by the sentiment; why would a person spend twenty years in a place just searching for the exit? You do it because you love it.
Anyway, the gold-plated career paths and pensions have totally vanished now (I left the staff 13 years ago), and not just inside the Beeb. The manager who told me in 1989, “If you leave the BBC, you’ll never darken the door again,” was speaking from a place I can’t believe ever existed. The arrogance of that remark is simply mind-blowing. If you join the Beeb now, you will certainly leave; and come back; and leave and come back again. The industry is more fractured and uncertain than it has been since the very first days of radio.
I was lucky to see the last golden moment of newspapers, and that laid a path into the BBC, and I was fortunate to do various fascinating jobs which were not in departments that constantly felt threatened by change or closure. Strange to say this, but in the old-style BBC you felt the organisation was looking out for you.
The one way that maybe I can help youngsters now, when they ask me about media careers, is to say this: you will have to work very hard. The attached Guardian article tells you a little about my first days and weeks in journalism. But it’s a lost world, I fear. The article is out now, hope you enjoy it!