Archive for March, 2010

Working for free…

Sunscreen

Sunscreen

So, the guardian have yesterday published the shock news that nearly half of people starting work in a media job begin by working for free, I’m not entirely sure why either the newspaper or Skillset who produced the research are surprised at this. My first experience within a professional radio company was unpaid (two weeks work experience with global radio) and almost everyone I know who’ve gone on from student radio to working in the industry have done so through similar circumstances. I was extremely grateful for the opportunity to work in a professional environment with equipment far superior to that I got to play with in student radio.

The thing I don’t understand is what Skillset think is wrong with this, no employer is going to recruit someone without the skills or experience they’re looking for – or at least some obvious sign of the dedication or foundations needed to achieve these skills. All employers are the same in this case, there’s a good chance you’ll have to do some work-experience to get to the level employers are looking for. In a past life when I was destined to become a Chemical Engineer, I wasn’t paid as I gained some of the skills needed to work in this industry – in fact I was paying for the privilege. This is called a degree, and I don’t see the papers suggesting these are exploiting innocent students by charging an obscene amount of money for what amounts to subsidising the research of aging academics, whilst occasionally being rambled at by said academics or worse still cheap post-docs who struggle with the concept of the English language (let alone thermodynamics). As is often said, there’s no set route into media – some go down the degree route, others from voluntary/community radio, others purely through work experience type roles – all of these have a part to play.

Further to this, the idea that to gain the experience to work in an industry you’ll end up working for free somewhere along the line is hardly unique to media – my girlfriend has just landed a short term contract working as an ecologist, about 10 months after graduating from a biology degree. She found it hard to even get an interview for a paid position before peppering her CV with internships and work-experience. It’s a vicious circle, when the job market is competitive every employer is looking for some experience of a similar job – but until you’ve had a job you wont have that experience – work experience offers a chance to do that.

As for the idea that the best people might not find themselves working in the industry because they don’t get the ‘foot in the door’ – I shall misquote Thomas Edison and say that Creativity is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration – in any job you’re going to need to work hard and be willing to take on a number of things, possibly with quite long hours (commercial radio is well known for this) – the dedication to make contacts and get placements etc. should confirm you’re likely to put this kind of effort in for an employer.

Incidentally – if you are interested in getting experience within the radio industry, The Student Radio Association has a vary nice opportunities page (wot I wrote) featuring paid and unpaid positions, and also a couple of sites it’s worth a nose around if your interested in structured work experience such as that offered by the BBC.

Having said all of the above, one further piece of advice – don’t let yourself be exploited by being too willing to work for free. At some point you’re going to want to convert this unpaid work into an actual job, right – and the longer you work for free – the more likely you are to be taken for granted. Don’t stay anywhere too long, participate in structred schemes where possible and make sure you’re getting something out of it; making contacts, learning skills or whatever. Once you’re in a position that you can do whatever it is your doing blindfolded – the role is no longer any use to you as experience – at this point you need to start asking if there’s any paid work going within the station – if there’s not, stick it on your CV (along wit ha nice bullet-point list of the skills learned) and either get applying for jobs, or move on to do work experience somwhere else – allowing you to further increase that skills list, and making you an even tastier prospect for a potential employer.

After giving all that advice I feel a bit like Quindon Tarver having read the excellent monologue for Baz Luhrmann’s Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen) – for that reason (and naturally completely off topic) I’ll leave you with the last Stanza of that monologue originally from a New York Times article by Mary Schmich (the full lyrics are here)…

Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of
fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the
ugly parts and recycling it for more than
it’s worth. But trust me on the sunscreen…

(Photo: Florian on Flickr)

Paying for the news

The Times

The Times

So, The Times and Sunday Times have today announced they’ll be charging for content on their websites (note the link is to the guardian, I’m not paying…!) to me this is interesting news. It’s been in the pipeline for a while now, with News Corp’s intention being to move all their online newspaper content into a subscription model over the coming year.

I’m not for a second going to dispute the paper’s right to charge for content – people have to be paid to write it, and it costs the company money to put it on the internet, plus the newspaper’s “old media” audience have paid for it for years, I guess you could argue it’s unfair for them if they’re subsidising an increasingly large number of people who just go and read the news online for free. My real question is who’s going to pay for it? As I mentioned – the “old media” audience are already paying, and presumably are quite happy with the platform on which they’re receiving the news (otherwise they’d have been getting it online already, for free). Anyone else is perfectly able to look at the huge number of other websites (a number of them rival newspapers, not to mention by far the best news agency in the UK, The BBC) who aren’t insisting on a subscription, or better still use a news aggregator (like google news) to give them a huge choice of sources for a particular story.

So, who’s going to pay the pound a day, or 2 pounds a week (which I agree isn’t a lot of money if it proves to be a decent service as Murdoch has promised) – the answer has to be those who enjoy the things they can only get in the Times, specifically the opinion columnists. The times actually has some fairly good columns with some familiar faces, and some experts sharing informed opinions (alongside some utter drivel as well, but that’s comment!) and if anyone’s going to pay for The Times Online it’ll be those who really enjoy reading these columns each week.

But will they, that’s really the question – and one which only time will tell. As for me, I’m ok as the three columns I actually read on a semi-regular basis (Charlie Brooker, David Mitchell and Bad Science as you’re interested) are all in The Guardian/Observer – who (as far as I’m aware) have no plans to start charging at the time of writing…

(incidentally – recommendations of other comment based reading welcomed!)

(Photo: tripu on flikr)

Brilliant Mash Up

So, I thought I’d post a fantastic video which I came across on Mercia’s website a couple of weeks ago (the video, and the post on Mercia date back to the beginning of the year – never behind the times me…!) – it mash-up is however brilliant, featuring the biggest selling 25 songs in the US from 2009 – all mixed into 1 big song by a really clever bloke called DJ earworm. Not only is it a bloody clever bit of production, but it also works pretty well as a song. See what you make of it….

(Incidentally I like half the songs in the Mash-Up more in this than their original form!)

On Local Radio

Pultney Bridge, Bath

Pultney Bridge, Bath

So, radio today has today announced the closure of yet more small commercial radio stations, although in this case the article does imply there may be hope for the stations survival.

I’m not going to comment too much on the circumstances involved in the closure of the stations as I don’t know enough about it, and unlike some posters on digital spy I’m not going to pretend I do and risk any defamation accusations. Suffice to say the stations involved (Bath FM, Brunel FM, 3tr FM and Quaywest) have been through a rocky few years with several successive parent companies going into administration, and the inevitable knock on effect on-air leading to an almost constantly changing presenter team and I’d assume fairly low morale for all involved.

The Radio Today article also states that there’s rumours the stations may have been bought by the owners of Star 107.5 in Cheltenham – another station which has had a slightly rough ride over the years. As far as I can see, if true, this is probably a good thing for the stations involved.

I’m going to use Bath FM as an example, as after nearly 5 years living in it’s TSA (and hypothetically competing for audience) it’s the station/market I know the most about. The one thing Bath doesn’t really have is a local station serving its community – Heart/GWR have always provided the city with a local opt out at breakfast from their Bristol studios, with the city being an afterthought at most – and the BBC tag Bath content onto their Somerset and Bristol services, neither of which really serves the 83,992 people apparently living there.

There are however a few success stories of uber local stations doing pretty well against bigger rivals, because they’re better able to form strong links with their comunity. Jack FM in Oxfordshire, despite being a jukebox station for 21 hours a day, has found a really good niche for itself by having really strong local news and events information (the station had quite a nice write up from MG today in fact) likewise Rugby FM has always proved popular with the locals – largely by having one thing it’s rivals don’t have and that’s “Rugby”right at the heart of it’s brand. Neither Jack or Rugby have so far had any big rivals quivering with their RAJAR results – but both have found themselves a nice little share of the market and seem to be surviving nicely.

All of this brings me back around to Bath FM, and presumably it’s sister stations – if someone does happen to pick up the stations, for my money what they need if they’re going to succeed is to re-inject local into the stations. This is why I think the team behind Star 107.5 might just be a good thing for them. With their Cheltenham station they’ve proven that they’re not afraid to try things out with programming (while this leads to a slightly quirky program schedule), they’ve brought a big local name back to the air, taken the station out into the community with their fleet of various promo vehicles, and are behaving like a proper local radio station. I think this might just work in Bath, it’d need a lot of promotion, careful music programming and a willingness from the management to play a long game (Bath’s RAJARs have rather died since TLRC sold them) – but a station in Bath, called Bath which actually talks about Bath – might just have what it takes to snatch success from the jaws of disaster.

(Photo: DanielVDM on Flikr)

Student Radio

URB Studio 2004 (ish)

URB Studio 2004 (ish)

So, this is a slightly odd post to start a blog with – as I’m beginning at the end, next Wednesday will see the end of my formal involvement in student radio after 6 years. I thought I’d use the opportunity to look back at that time (without being too self indulgent hopefully) and at why student radio is a really important part of both the radio industry and university life.

My student radio journey started in my freshers’ week in 2004 when I tuned my little bedside radio into 1449AM URB, and being a little bit of a radio anorak (something which has definitely developed in the last 6 years) and there were a few things I thought could be improved…

I signed up straight away, and within a couple of weeks I was producing music positioners and training to present a show. A few months later I was involved in upgrading all of the stations computer equipment and planning marketing for the next freshers’ week. Here lies the first thing which for my money is brilliant about student radio, anyone can get involved – and it provides the opportunity to experience every element of running a fully working radio station. In my 4 years at URB I had a shot at marketing, commercial production, engineering, broadcast it, presenting (with varying degrees of success), scheduling, management, creating features and even laying carpet in the studios as part of a major refurb. There’s not many places in the radio industry where you get a chance to be a genuine all rounder, playing a part in every area of the operation – and the opportunity to develop new skills and work with fantastic people along the way is one I’d really urge anyone to take if they get the chance.

As well as an opportunity to have a go at stuff I could never have done anywhere else, student radio (along with the other groups I was involved in through my university career) provided me with an escape from uni when the degree was becoming a bit stressful or I became fed up with housemates etc. Having watched a number of people who didn’t have this escape letting stress of coursework and revision get to them, or just going plain mad – I’d advise anyone starting out on a university degree to find something outside their course to do (even if Radio isn’t your thing; Dance, Sport, even dressing up as Lord of The Rings characters… it takes all sorts!). I once joked to a conference that the split between my degree and radio was about 70:30 – while that was possibly a slight exaggeration, the time spent in the studios certainly kept me sane (ish) and coupled with the above helped inform my eventual career choice…

As well as the benefits for the students involved Student Radio also has major benefits for Universities. Through my work with the Student Radio Association I’ve had the chance to listen to some of the impressive content student radio produces. I’ve heard some really cutting edge journalism, covering elections and other major events on campus, I’ve heard really entertaining and informative drama and documentaries squarely targeted at the student audience, and I’ve heard some of the most informed and passionate music programming I’ve come across outside the now sadly condemned 6 Music. Obviously alongside this there’s some unpleasant filler, and some absolute rubbish from people that just want to turn up and mess around – but that’s the world of voluntary radio, when you have the sort of diversity within student radio, some of it’s not going to make the grade (and more so if you were to chuck off everyone who was rubbish you’d deprive people of the opportunities discussed previously). I’ve always said student radio is unique in this way – drawing all of the people involved from the community it’s designed to serve, and constantly freshening up the teams involved (most people involved have 3/4 years of student radio before graduating) even so called ‘community radio’ is often (though not always) run by a committee of people for a community without considering getting any members of that community involved – these are the stations that usually fail.

As for the advantages of student radio for the radio industry, well – I’ll leave that for the industry:

Student radio not only provides a great service to its community of listeners, it is an absolute hotbed of future talent for our industry, both on and off air.

Not my words but those of Ashley Tabor – CEO of Global Radio, words which have been echoed by other senior figures in the radio industry including Andy Parfitt (Controller, Radio 1).

So in summary, Student Radio not only gave me a fantastic 6 years of participating in it, and eventually representing it – but it also provides an incredible experience and opportunity for anyone who gets involved, and gives universities a brilliant entertainment, news and music service and provides the radio industry with the creative and off air talent it badly needs if radio is to have any future.

Thanks to all the brilliant people I’ve got to know through student radio, and to all of those who’ve helped me in all my different roles over the years – it’s been great fun!

(I should add – I’m not going for any particular reason, apart from I feel I’ve done my bit in student radio, and it’s time to move over and let someone else get on with it!)

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Mark Farrington

Mark Farrington
Broadcast Engineer working in UK Commercial Radio, former Student Radio person (and Honorary Lifetime Member of the Student Radio Association) - I also play with bits and pieces of web stuff, cycle, take photos, cook food and enjoy a good pint of real ale.