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Alex Thomson

Job title:
Presenter and Chief Correspondent

In your own words, briefly describe your job

My job's unusual because I do two of them (though most of our cameramen do three at once!!) in that I am both Chief Correspondent for ITN's Channel 4 News and I also present the programme from our studio at ITN in central London. So it's a mix of being a studio 'suit' doing live interviews and reading out loud, and covering major stories around Britain and abroad. That, for me, has meant largely war coverage over the past decade or so.

How did you get into the industry?

I'm overqualified for a trade that can't really be taught. I did an English degree at Oxford University. Then I went to do the Postgraduate Diploma in Journalism at Cardiff University for a year after graduating. Then I got a job as a researcher.

What training and/or education have you found most useful in progressing your career?

My training was useful. OK, Cardiff mattered not so much because of the content of the course but because people in the industry took notice of it - they still do. That opens doors, gets you onto shortlists etc. so that's why these courses matter. I would say at this point that doing media studies is positively not route one into journalism. Rightly or wrongly, it's regarded with some suspicion by people in the trade. My degree qualified me for everything and nothing as traditional BA courses tend to do in arts disciplines. You know what? The most educative thing for becoming a journo was hitch-hiking and lots of it. You get into a car, total stranger, you have to converse (mostly), break the ice, loosen things up. I found that the best form of training for what is the ultimate horror for an Englishman: talking to strangers. But there's no getting away from it - that's the bread and butter of this job.

What advice would you give to someone whose career needed a kick-start?

Get into DOING it as fast as possible - student papers, TV, hospital radio - whatever - you name it, do it. It's that first critical step. After that opening doors does get a little easier.

What was the best career decision you ever took?

The best career decision I think I've made, in broad terms, was hanging out for the job I really wanted to do which was being a reporter, and nothing else really would do. In narrow terms, getting into student journalism which left me with a wee stack of cuttings with my by-line on them.

What was the worst decision?

To be honest I really can't think of any decision I've ever taken personally which has been detrimental to what passes for a career. I think I've been very lucky to be honest, having worked for a series of editors who actually seemed to believe in who I was.

What has been the best piece of luck for you?

It's all luck isn't it? Maybe some people really believe that you make your own luck. I don't know. What I do know is that in the midst of a massive BBC row over whether to transmit or not transmit a documentary I'd made about the IRA Gibraltar Shootings (remember all that fuss?), ITN came over the hill like the cavalry offering me a job and a way out as the brown stuff anointed every fan in sight. That was a piece of luck. Or was it just luck - was I head-hunted? Even if I was, it's still lucky isn't it? Must've been good luck as I am still here.

How has the industry changed since you first entered it?

Vastly. The equipment's got much smaller and much cheaper. One cameraman tends to do three or even four people's jobs now - as many of them edit too. But budgets have become ever tighter and covering foreign stories gets more and more difficult as the bean counters watch our every move. Budgets have been slashed - foreign coverage is more and more at a premium - but we all seem to get to where it's at when it really matters.


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