Starting your career in the broadcast industry

Apparently the number of colleges and universities offering degrees in media studies tripled in the first decade of the 21st century. So there are more and more media studies graduates out there looking to get a job working in television – and not necessarily any more job opportunities.

It’s a tough market, so how do you make your way into the broadcast industry? We asked someone who has first-hand experience: Spencer Miller, a 17 year old student who’s working for Clean Cut Media this summer.

Can you tell us about your education so far?

I’ve just finished my first year of AS levels at Rydens Enterprise School in Walton-on-Thames, and am going back there to study A levels in media, politics, history and sociology in September.

When did you first become interested in working in the media?

In Year 10 my teacher for GCSE Media Studies also ran a production company and it was really interesting hearing about all the different work he was doing. I enjoyed editing videos and learning Final Cut Pro and Photoshop and thought that if I could work in a job that involved those kinds of skills, I’d like to do that.

How can students find internships in television?

If you’re still at school and want to find a media internship, I’d recommend calling around different production companies to see if there are any vacancies. Take a look at Broadcast magazine, particularly its Greenlight section, which has lots of lists of production companies. (You have to subscribe to see the full lists online, but you could probably find the magazine in your local library, or maybe your careers service would have copies.)

It makes sense to target one of the smaller production companies, as you’re more likely to do hands-on production work than in a larger company.

You could also ask around everyone you know and put the word out that way. That’s how I found my internship at Clean Cut Media. One of the people I’d spoken to knew someone at the company, so I got in touch and was offered four days’ unpaid intern work at the end of July.

What work have you done at Clean Cut Media?

During the internship, I was helping out with a presentation to one of their clients, Twinings. I’d learned PowerPoint at school, so was able to put the presentation together.

I must have done something right because they asked me back for a paid four week placement over the summer, which I’m doing at the moment.

Just recently I’ve been helping Jack, the Edit Assistant, finding film media clips to go into longer features. For example, we were putting together a feature on Novak Djokovic for the Cincinnati final of the ATP World Tour. Jack asked me to find clips of Djokovic at match point and lifting trophies in previous matches. I had to find the right tape, digitise the footage, edit out the clips and save them so they could be cut into the next show.

What have you learned?

On the technical side I’ve got to know more industry-standard broadcast software. At school, we have Final Cut Pro, but I’ve been using Avid here. I’ve also learned how to use the Ardis Dynamic Drive Pool server to save big files.

I’ve also discovered a lot about how the industry works. Phil, Clean Cut Media’s Head of Post Production told me that the majority of editors are freelance. That’s not something you’re taught in a media lesson. Phil talked to me for the best part of an hour about how he got into this job and gave me a couple of books on how to use Avid too.

What’s surprised you about working at Clean Cut Media?

Going into it, I had no idea what it would be like. It’s a relaxed environment and people are really nice to each other. I’m learning as I go along, and am enjoying the fact that everyone’s very happy to help me and pass on their advice.

What are your plans now?

I’m going to carry on with my A levels in September, including media, and am currently looking at various university courses to see what might be relevant.

I’ve heard that the University of Keele has good Media, Communications and Culture courses, and people have also recommended Ravensbourne’s School of Production and Kingston’s degree in Television and New Broadcasting Media. If I go to university… But I’m keeping my options open for now.

What advice would you give to other people who want to work in broadcasting?

The most important thing is to get some work experience. Some of my friends just took a week off, instead of doing the work experience. But it’s really worthwhile. If you love what you’re doing, you can learn from people in the industry who know what they’re talking about.

If I applied for a media job and only had an OK grade at A level but had some experience in a production company, I’d have a better chance than someone with a better grade but no experience. Work experience is the way to go: it makes you more employable.

From what I’ve heard, you have to start at the bottom, show you’re willing and work hard. Sometimes you even have to work for free. That will help you build your skills and put a portfolio together that will eventually help you get more work.