There were 12, all of whom had been accepted onto the prestigious Cascade training programme, run by Middlesex University and Top TV Academy, which aims to train and develop new talent for the TV industry.
My role was to teach them the essentials of TV research. I approached this from a dual stand-point – having started my TV career as a researcher I have a lot of experience of actually doing the job, but as a producer I worked with a lot of different researchers, good and bad, and know what the consequences are if the job isn’t done well!
So they learnt about:
- How to go about factual research
- How to find stories with TV potential
- How to find contributors for programmes
- How to interview and assess contributors
- How to write a briefing for a producer and presenter
Also, as part of the day-long course, my former BBC colleague Errol Murray spent a couple of hours talking about internet based research – the best ways to use Google Advanced, Twitter and Facebook if you’re a TV researcher.
It was a great day: after all, I was able to talk TV production for a day, share some of the gruesome – and wonderful – experiences during my career, and work with some young people who have enormous potential and who were extremely eager to learn.
While the course was obviously aimed at research for TV production, the principals of good research are valuable in any industry, so here are a few of the tips I passed on:
1. Be persistent – if you can’t find the information you need, look somewhere else!
2. Be thorough and make sure you take clear and accurate notes – mistakes can have extremely serious consequences (in TV terms, it could mean a programme being sued)
3. Think laterally and creatively about where to find information, and ask anyone you talk to for advise about who/what else might be helpful
4. Manage your time well and be organised, making sure you begin the tasks that will take longest first, then get on with everything else
5. Use the internet, but don’t rely on it alone. Double check facts and don’t be afraid to pick up the phone
Of course those reading this will be unlikely to need some of my other tips (such as know the chain of command – ie whether you take your orders from the producer or assistant producer, and don’t ever promise a potential TV programme contributor stardom, or money, or that they’ll meet the celebrity of their dreams),
And they’re unlikely to have to conduct interviews with ‘Lizzie Morgan’, an actress we drafted in for the trainees to practise interviewing on. Lizzie (aka Jane Dodd) was briefed to be either completely reticent or totally OTT. Her ‘story’ was that she was the florist doing the flowers for the Royal Wedding – a fact she was not meant to reveal and the trainees task was to get her to confirm it. Not as easy as it might seem!
For that, I’m sure the trainees would agree, be thankful!