Spending a day with ITV Cymru Wales - Wed, 17th April 2019

(I actually wrote this in the back of the car on the way home!)

Normally, childhood dreams are very… extravagant. We want to go to the moon when we’re five. We want to be the next Brad Pitt, the next Taylor Swift, we want to save lives, we want to travel the world; but none of these really apply to me. You see, my childhood dream was to work in TV and radio. I’ve never been able to explain it (and trust me, I’ve tried) but for some reason or another, as a child I was captivated by the medium of broadcast media; by how many people actually work behind-the-scenes on a TV or radio show to make the ‘talent’ look good. As I grew older that captivation quickly developed into my desire of one day being said ‘talent’ and appreciating everybody who puts so much work into making me look great.

Fast forward a decade, and I’m well on my way to fulfilling this. I’ve already started volunteering for my local hospital radio (and loving it), I’ve met multiple industry contacts through school, and I’ve even visited professional television and radio studios. But surprisingly, it was my IT teacher who actually pushed me towards what I can now only describe as one of my life highlights so far. On Wednesday, 17th April 2019, I visited ITV Cymru Wales for a day’s work experience.

My day’s placement came about after a conversation I had with my IT teacher about being cheeky, if can you believe it! In essence, she was trying to drum into me that you have to be cheeky to get where you want - very simply, if you don’t ask then you don’t get. So I asked. And after a humbling and lovely email exchange between myself and the operations manager at ITV Wales, Nia Britton, I arrived at Assembly Square on Wednesday, 17th April a complete bag of nerves. As I sat in reception, I started questioning myself: “am I good enough? Am I too young to fit in here?”

Looking back, I have no idea why I was nervous. I’d met Nia Britton months previously at an awards ceremony I'd spoken at. Even though I remember very little of the main ceremony due to nerves (which I'm sure you'll notice is quite common for me) I do distinctly recall how lovely and personable Nia was to me and my fellow student when she made a point of coming to talk to us after the event - so really, I shouldn’t have been worried at all.

Luckily though, as I stepped through the branded glass doors and began to realise why I was here, all my nerves flew away. I was greeted with open arms into the building, and quickly realised how fantastic ITV are at making guests, and I suppose staff, feel at home in their offices. Floods of branding spring to mind, from national posters to local photos to even branded cushions!

After a brief but in-depth tour of the building, we barely had time for a chat and a cup of beautifully brewed tea (yet another pro of working for ITV - free tea/coffee!) before I was quickly whisked away into the daily editorial meeting, in the brilliantly named “Ant and Dec Room” - presumably due to the gigantic mural on the outside of the meeting room’s glass wall.

The appropriately-named "Ant and Dec Room" at Assembly Square, opposite the communal dining/kitchen area.

In this meeting, the news team were briefed on the potential stories of the day. The journalists in the room were expected to report back to the group, and the editors for the day (Nick & Louise) on what they planned to do during the day, and any potential leads they’d found for their stories. It was certainly an experience to witness first-hand how much the journalists do themselves nowadays - even as far as filming reports in the fields themselves if needs be. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel out of place sat in the middle of the room but the news team were extremely accommodating to a newcomer like myself.

It was during this meeting I was introduced to Rob Osborne, the station’s National Correspondent. It transpired that soon after the meeting, I discovered that I'd be spending most of the day with Rob, as I was assigned to follow in his footsteps on his report for the day about a community project tackling child poverty in Newport - whilst I'd prepared myself for some surprises, all I can say is that never in a month of Sundays would I have guessed I’d be spending most of the day out creating a report!

After starting to get to know Rob and then meeting up with Trevor, our cameraman for the day (yes, we were fortunate enough to have a cameraman!), it was straight out of the building and into the car for a half-an-hour’s drive to Newport. Whilst on our way, I was beginning to become more confident - asking questions, seeking advice and even attempting to crack some jokes! Rob also happened to mention that he hadn’t actually formed the story into a report yet - but I was quickly assured that he was a professional, and that he knew what he was doing.

My view of one of the interviews filmed.

I was incredibly impressed by how quickly Rob immersed himself into the story, from the moment we met the people in charge of the project. I even began to see the report forming from the questions he was asking them off-camera, and began to silently piece together lines of questioning and certain camera shots myself which were actually similar to the shots used in the final package (although I never mentioned this!). I found out later that actually, this story was a lot more important than Rob let on at first, as it turned out to be the leading story of the bulletin.

After multiple different camera angles, and with Vox pops and SOTs (sound on tape) collected, it was time to head back to Cardiff Bay (via the supermarket, for lunch of course) in order to start piecing together the report. Rob had warned me, before beginning the edit, that the following hour and a half could be the most boring 90 minutes of my life. Having done some video editing work myself I knew exactly what he was referring to, but it didn't matter to me.

The editing station. I promise you it sounds a lot more exciting than it actually is. Trust me.

As I sat there in ITV Cymru Wales’ HQ at an editing desk, drinking a cup of coffee I’d plucked up the confidence to make in a branded ITV mug, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I genuinely had to pinch myself because I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing in front of my eyes. My dream career was forming right in front of me!

It wasn't all fun and games though. From what I learned in the few hours I spent at ITV, the most crucial element of what they do is deadlines. Some new journalists thrive and enjoy the rush of adrenalin when working to deadlines, while others see deadlines as their worst nightmare; which is completely understandable really, when you consider that the familiar environment of “give it in by the end of the week” of schools and colleges suddenly becomes “I need everything on this story done by lunchtime”. I dread to think how tense the newsroom can get.

Fortunately, today wasn’t tense at all - in fact Rob, ever the professional, finished his story an hour before rehearsals started: which, apparently, was in plenty of time, especially for a news report. As we had a little bit of spare time, he offered to take me back into the studio (that I’d briefly seen during the tour) so that I could get a couple of pictures of me in front of the screens, sat at the desk - I must say, I’ve never felt so important - I felt like I was addressing the nation!

I am, at heart though, a nerd - so I’m sure you can understand that the highlight of the whole day was earning the honour of sitting in the live on-air gallery as the ITV regional evening news was beamed live across the country. There’s so many different tips and tricks to do with vision mixing and plasma screens and colour balancing that I probably shouldn’t share, as the last thing I want to do is spoil any trade secrets - but I would like to thank Chris and everyone in the gallery for letting me sit in and watch over their shoulders as they worked.

Hopefully without repeating myself, I just couldn’t get over how smooth and slick the programme ran from within the gallery; there wasn’t anywhere near as much shouting or panic as I was (almost) hoping for - for example, at the end of the programme Ruth had roughly a minute to fill to make sure that the opt-out times hit exactly 18:30:00, and she not only managed to perfectly back-time completely spontaneously without an autocue, but also kept a natural conversation with Jonathan - all while listening to countdowns from gallery’s feedback in her ear too - without even blinking an eyelid! I was so in awe of Ruth and Jonathan’s talent, professionalism and experience. They managed to not only anchor a live news programme, but also make it look easy. They say that actually the “on-air talent” has the easiest job, but actually it is a lot more complicated than we give credit for.

There’s no other word I can use to describe my experience other than unforgettable. The kind and open-armed welcome I received was unbelievably generous, and the advice I was given was also second-to-none. Whilst I still don’t understand exactly why 5-year-old me wanted to pursue a career in broadcasting, I’m incredibly fortunate that a decade later I haven’t given up on my childhood dream just yet.

Thank you once again to everyone at ITV Cymru Wales, but especially to Nia Britton and Rob Osborne, for looking after me and making me feel part of the team - even for just a day!

I really hope to return as soon as I possibly can for more advice, more experience but most of all, more fun.