This summer mentee Atif Rashid will complete his BBC Digital Apprenticeship and will be a fully qualified digital broadcast journalist. His mentor is Jack Leather, Digital Editor for 5News. Here is their mentoring story....
How I went from nothing to working on the Today programme
By mentee Atif Rashid
The media can be a confusing, difficult and complex landscape. It’s always changing and evolving and getting a foot in the door is the hardest step in building a journalism career.
Rejection after rejection from editors you don’t hear back from or jobs that turn you down really dampen one’s spirit. But giving up in those days would have been the greatest mistake of my life. Giving up at anytime is an unthinkable prospect because you never know what’s just around the corner, as I found when I found myself working on the Today programme some 18 months into my apprenticeship.
I got a place on the BBC Digital Journalism Apprenticeship in 2016 after my second or third attempt. Before that I wrote blogs, ran charity Twitter accounts and made amateur videos - very amateur, basic videos I’m now embarrassed to watch myself!
But after getting on the apprenticeship, it was a direct ladder to a career in journalism as we received world class BBC training and first class teaching at Wolverhampton College. It was tough at times and a steep learning curve but enjoyable and well worth it. In those days, writing a story, reading a bulletin or filming a piece seemed like massive mountain we’d never conquer. But looking back, I just cannot believe how far I and the rest of my group have come in such a short space of time.
During the early days I managed to get on the John Schofield Trust mentoring scheme which partnered me up with Jack Leather, the Channel 5 News Digital Editor. It was great having exposure to the wider industry and Jack was keen to introduce me to other people and gave me direction and guidance. He was always a text, call or email away when I needed him the most. And at the most crucial time, he played a role in landing me a job.
Back on the apprenticeship, we worked hard to complete our NCTJ exams, put together a portfolio and hone our skills at local newsrooms. I was based in BBC Radio Berkshire which was great because I had a fully fledged radio and digital team right there. Everything I learnt and practised on came in handy when I did my 2 week placements at places like BBC Politics, World Service and South Today. And when I finally got a job interview, it was examples of work I did in all those places which I believe got me the job.
Working in a local newsroom meant I could have a go at making packages, producing a show, writing and making videos. While sometimes it was frustrating because of the lack of stories or scope, it gave me a firm grounding in journalism, better than I would've gotten had I been thrown into a national newsroom from the outset.
In February 2018 I was awarded a prize for best broadcast journalism exam results in the country. I took no credit then and still don’t because I believe the prayers and support from family and friends and excellent training from the BBC Academy and Wolverhampton College is what got me there. I just soaked in all the information given to me. But I may take credit for the next bit of good news I received a few weeks later.
I had decided long before that in my last 6 months of the apprenticeship I would start looking for and applying to any and all jobs of interest. So when the Digital Journalist vacancy with the Today programme came up, I thought, ‘well this is exactly what I’ve been doing all along anyway.’ I wasn’t fazed or worried about the stature of the programme in the media world because I thought if I had done these kinds of things in placements, I could do it for the programme too.
So I went ahead and applied, thinking I had nothing to lose despite some saying it required more experience so I shouldn’t apply. And to my pleasant surprise, I got an interview. I frantically asked different people for advice and guidance and looked on the website and listened to the programme. I prepared a long document of my experience, examples of my work and answers to potential questions.
I spoke to Jack at length who told me of his experiences of interviews. It turned out he was friends with the person who was currently doing the role I had applied for so I was introduced and gained valuable advice and guidance into what the job entailed and what they were looking for. I prepared accordingly.
When the day came I couldn’t have been more nervous. There was a short test which I don’t think went well but in the interview I spoke fluently about everything I had just done in terms of digital and who doesn’t love talking about all the great content they made?
Now, the chances were very low but the next day I got the call that they wanted to take me on and were willing to develop me too! Because at the end of the day I was still an apprentice and going from that to an important national news programme was quite a leap.
I couldn’t believe it nor could the people I told but everyone was thrilled. It happened so fast and is still something surreal.
As I think back to where I was just a couple of years ago, no one could have imagined I’d be working on the Today programme. And had I given up then, I would have never known the endless possibilities of an apprenticeship.
By mentor Jack Leather
Atif is a driven young journalist and a driven young man. He deserves every success he gets and I'm delighted he'll be able to show off his skills on one of the biggest news programmes.
It says about Atif that he applied several times to get onto the BBC apprenticeship scheme. It would have been easy for him to then just gradually ease himself into the programme but ever since I've known him he's gone from strength to strength.
He was headhunted for a secondment and won a prize for best broadcast journalism exam results in the country.
The radio and video edits he's sent me have been excellent. Although I was able to suggest slight tweaks, his standards are already incredibly high and he has huge energy.
At one John Schofield event, I was introducing him to a few people but it wasn't enough – 'come on, there's more people I want to meet, let's get moving'.
As a digital journalist, it can be a battle to make people take your work seriously, but seeing how passionate Atif is about the sector is great motivation for me too. He is kind and always has a smile on his face.
Despite feeling like he maybe lacked the required experience, he applied for the job on Today and got an interview. At that stage I was able to put him in touch with someone who works there. She advised him on the interview process and what they might be looking for in a candidate. And Atif did the rest!
I'm delighted I was able to play a small role in his rise - but it is only small – and I can't wait to see where he ends up in the future.