My Office: in the newsroom

Our 'My Office' series gives you the chance to find out more about the 'office' of a host of alumni across the world, sharing unique insight into a range of careers.

This edition sees us thrust into the drama and intensity of the newsroom with BBC journalist James Bovill (History, 2004) and sub-editor at Sky News Rebecca Harty (History and Politics, 2018).

See what it takes to deliver breaking news in a digital, 24/7 world!

(l-r): Rebecca Harty, James Bovill

Rebecca Harty and James Bovill share the headline news from their offices!

What’s your job now and can you describe your office?

James Bovill: Our office is based in The Mailbox in Birmingham city centre, with a newsroom that includes our regional online, television and radio news teams, as well as newsrooms for Radio 1 Newsbeat and the BBC Asian Network. So we have a large TV studio and gallery and radio studios, as well as a large open plan office.

Rebecca Harty: I’m a chief sub-editor at Sky News as part of the digital team. When there’s a breaking story, it’s my responsibility to get the initial lines and a headline together, summarise it in 95 characters and send out a push notification to millions of mobile phones.

Aside from breaking news, I’m editing and sometimes commissioning dozens of stories that our reporters write, and I’ll be the one to publish them. No mistake should get past me! The newsroom in Osterley is a fantastic place to work. It’s a shared space between journalists working on multiple platforms of storytelling – from mobile and TV to podcasts and radio.

There is constant noise, chatter and discussion, and after a few years of working from home a couple of days a week, I feel so lucky to be around the buzz again!

Was there one defining moment which enabled you to pursue your career?

JB: Three years after I graduated from Nottingham, I was working as a PR manager which I enjoyed but it wasn’t fulfilling me.

I had worked on the university magazine, Impact, and always harboured ambitions to be a journalist, so I took a big risk, quit my job, and went back to university at Birmingham City University to complete a postgraduate diploma in Broadcast Journalism. It was the best decision I ever made, and the rest is history.

RH: For me, journalism was about getting my foot in the door, and I was lucky enough to get onto The Times sub-editing grad scheme after finishing my NCTJ in 2019.

I was there for three and a half years and was part of the transformation from the newspaper being a purely print product to branching out across multiple digital platforms – all while being trained by some of the best in the business.

Our job is to understand people, listen to their stories, and tell them sensitively and impartially, often to tight deadlines.
James Bovill

What would you say are the key characteristics of someone who does your job?

JB: Creativity, inquisitiveness, tenacity, empathy, and cool under pressure. Our job is to understand people, listen to their stories, and tell them sensitively and impartially, often to tight deadlines.

RH: The most essential thing is to be calm under pressure. At any point you could
be dealing with multiple stories – looking to send a push to one, finding out more information on another, and being asked to make an important correction on a third. More mistakes are made when you stress and flap about.

You’ve also got to be detail-oriented – it’s all about publishing the highest quality journalism and, above all else, the content has to be accurate.

Finally, I think adaptability is key. In the four years since I started my career, I’ve gone from being a purely print sub-editor to entirely digital. It’s a really exciting time to work in digital journalism, my role is expanding hugely, and things are constantly changing – you have to be able to adapt to new challenges.

How would your colleagues describe you?

JB: I try to be kind and thoughtful in the office and treat everyone with respect, whether that’s colleagues or contributors. For our interviewees, appearing on TV might be a once in a lifetime experience, so I always try to make sure they’ve enjoyed it and have been treated well.

RH: Probably curious and chatty. I love nothing more than a good story, and will always want to debate and discuss them with those around me.

What’s the one thing about your office which you most love and/or hate?

JB: A newsroom is buzzing with activity all the time. When there’s a breaking news story, the whole place jumps into action, everyone comes together, and the adrenaline really kicks in as we all work towards a deadline. There’s nothing quite like it. There honestly isn’t anything I hate about the office. I much prefer being in a busy newsroom than working from home.

RH: The buzz! Working in a newsroom makes this the best job in the world. Being surrounded by incredibly experienced journalists who want to expose the truth and deliver the news in the best way possible is so motivating.

Sometimes it can be hard to concentrate when you’re trying to focus on a legally complex story and there’s several conversations happening around you, but that’s the nature of the job and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Being surrounded by incredibly experienced journalists who want to expose the truth and deliver the news in the best way possible is so motivating.
Rebecca Hardy

And is there anything you could not live without in your office?

JB: A constant supply of tea!

RH: Fellow journalists. It’s so important to bounce ideas off one another and we’re constantly looking to improve people’s experiences of the website and app.

Would this be the better headline? What’s the angle on this story? Should we switch this image around? How do we follow up on this piece that people were really interested in? The best journalism is achieved when there’s a wide range of voices working on it.

What’s been the best moment working in your office?

JB: Working on the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games was an incredible privilege. The whole city came together, and I’ve never felt a buzz on the streets like it. The whole newsroom worked tirelessly to produce some brilliant programmes and I really felt like we captured the mood of the region.

RH: There’s nothing better than being on shift when a breaking news story happens. I’ve never heard as many collective gasps as when David Cameron appeared on Downing Street on the reshuffle day.

The scramble to understand if that meant he would be part of the new cabinet and if it would mean he would be made a Lord is what people wanted to know – and what we sought to have answers for.

And the most difficult?

JB: We are constantly having to deal with difficult stories of neglect, abuse and violence. It’s hard sometimes not to take those stories home with you.

RH: It was really tough working late shifts during the first week of the Israel-Hamas conflict in October. There was a massive demand for information, and we had access to a huge amount of content, which then had to be censored. My role in the newsgathering was key because of the heightened importance of language and attribution.

What made it even harder was the exposure I was getting when I was off shift via social media – it was utterly consuming and made me realise the importance of switching off.

Do you have one piece of advice for someone who wants to work in an office like yours?

JB: Lean into the feeling of short, sharp bursts of pressure. It’s using that adrenaline that gets most journalists to meet their deadlines, and people either thrive under that pressure, or hate it. Thankfully I love it!

RH: You have to be resilient. The nature of the job means that you can spot and correct 99 errors, but that one thing you miss or slip up on is exposed.

Everyone makes mistakes but it’s about learning from them and being able to move on as a better journalist. It’s also a really competitive industry. I had dozens of rejections before I got my first job. It’s important to keep persevering and demonstrate passion.

And finally, how do you take your tea?

JB: Builder's, medium strength with a splash of milk!

RH: A strong Yorkshire Tea with a dash of milk.

Invite us to your office!

If you have an unusual or interesting office we would love to hear about it. Drop us an email to tell us more.