Interviews – Media – Amanda Farnsworth

Amanda Farnsworth, 35, has recently taken on a new role in BBC News, as planning editor for the whole of television. She was formerly deputy editor of the BBC’s respected TV current affairs programme Newsnight. Here she gives us a few tips on how to get a foot in the door at the BBC and how to get noticed

How did you get into the BBC?
I had a fair bit of relevant experience. I had done some work at a television station based in Greenwich, which involved working with the local community. The experience you acquire does not have to be of a particularly high standard. You just have to prove that you have the commitment and the desire to get into production.

I also was lucky enough to win a travel scholarship to the Middle East, which helped me. I was away for eight months teaching English and working in deprived schools. If you want to be a journalist you need to travel, meet different people and look like you have a diverse range of interests.

What advice would you give to people going for interview at BBC News?
For the BBC news trainee scheme, which I applied for, you have to be up on all the news. Whatever area of television or radio production you focus on, you will need to know your area very well indeed. I actually took a little radio with me to the interview so I knew exactly what was going on.

Also, it helps to have some good ideas on story treatment in your mind. I used to make up little scenarios in the bath: how would I produce a programme on the Labour Party’s 100th anniversary, or who would I interview and what would I film for a programme on Princess Diana’s latest night out?

How do you keep a show like Newsnight interesting?
One thing is to try and change the format of a programme. In approaching the subject of General Pinochet, for example, we put him on trial, hypothetically. So we had a couple of lawyers, for and against, calling witnesses, and an audience which acted as jury. This was a novel way of saying ‘should we let him go back to Chile or not?’

Or we’ve been doing another thing called ‘real estates’ that involves two producers shooting fly-on-the-wall type footage on two really unpleasant housing estates. We’ve tracked the Government initiatives to improve these estates and evaluated how they are doing.

Each episode in the series has focused on different issues, one on sex education, another on inoculation, another on social exclusion measures, etc. Each one is 20 minutes long and we’ve had eight or nine now – that hasn’t really been done before.

Maintaining a good interest and a good audience is about developing new ideas, new angles and original journalism.

What will the newly created role of planning editor of BBC TV News involve?
BBC News is always looking at ways of building on its strengths and improving the quality of its news programmes. The new role involves working closely with news programme editors to give the BBC more of a cutting edge editorially.

Do you think that news is a product rather than a reality?
One of the saving graces of working for the BBC is that we are not subject to the same demands as independent producers. Some producers at other broadcasters or independent production companies are tempted into doing naughty things because they are under very intense commercial pressures.

At the BBC, if people do not have anything worth showing, they are actually able to say that. Other companies do not have the same atmosphere.

Would you say working conditions are different in the independents sector?
I think so. There is great pressure to produce something that a broadcaster will buy. Also there is often a sort of gung-ho, macho environment at these places. People will come up with an idea at a meeting in order to get the commission to do a programme, and they won’t have the necessary things in place to deliver. As a public service organization, we make sure we get things right.

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