Me and my pager

14th November 1997 at 00:00
Sue Littlemore, 33, is one of the BBC's education correspondents, working on television and radio. She has been doing the job 20 months and is on call 24 hours a day except when on annual leave How did you get where you are? Did you have a career plan?

I have not had a career plan but when opportunities have presented themselves I've taken them. I never had a burning desire to be a journalist but when it happened I found I loved it.

During my final year at Cambridge, where I read philosophy, I presented the student programme on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire. When I graduated, I got a job as a radio production assistant, which means the dogsbody, at Radio Cambridge. Watching the journalists made me think I'd like to be one.

I was turned down both by the BBC local radio scheme and by the news trainee scheme and so decided to finance myself on a one-year radio journalism course at the London College of Printing. When I finished I got a reporter's job on BBC Radio Sussex in Brighton.

I stayed there three years and, despite the long hours, it was great fun. I got to read the news, present and produce, and I acted as news editor for a short time. It was a great place to cut your teeth.

I moved on to BBC South in Southampton and produced a radio phone-in. I then became local government correspondent, which meant I had to appear on television. I'd had no television training and won't forget going out the first time with a cameraman and not knowing what I was doing. This job involved a lot of education stories, which kindled my interest.

After three years, I applied for the temporary vacancy for the national education correspondent's job and got the attachment. When the permanent post came up I got that too.

What is the most important aspect of your job?

Getting the story right and not peddling a partisan view. I hope that what I'm doing helps people to understand what's going on and to make up their minds.

What do you enjoy about your job?

Telling people's stories. Also trying to make quite complicated issues accessible.

What don't you enjoy?

When my pager goes off at weekends.

What's the most difficult thing you have to do?

I know teachers feel bashed as a profession but so are journalists. You have to be very resilient. People think you will misrepresent them. You have to win their trust, sometimes in a matter of minutes.

However, as well as reporting the good news you have to show what is not working. Things were clearly going wrong at The Ridings school in Calderdale, but without the media coverage the kids might not have been rescued.

Because you meet union leaders and ministers regularly you get to know them well, but you can never let that infringe on your professional judgment. You can get close but never cosy.

Is the job different from what you expected?

I think it's different from many people's expectations. It's not that glamorous. All too often I end up late at night at the other end of the country trying to find an acceptable hotel on my expenses.

Kate Myers is professor of professional development, University of Keele


7.00am Wake up to hear story on exclusions on the Today programme I recorded the evening before.

8.30 Drive to Department for Education and Employment to record piece to camera and interview David Hart about exclusion figures.

10.15 Drive to TV Centre, paged on the way by producer for the One o'Clock News. We discuss how to do the story.

l0.50 Find the studio to record a pilot for News 24, the new 24-hour TV service, but discover they do not now want me, which leaves extra time to write, edit and cut my piece for the One o'Clock News.

1.00 Watch news and eat lunch. Talk to Six o'Clock News about changes they may want.

3.00 Phoned by a Birmingham reporter who wants advice about a class size story.

3.30 Paged by radio news room and asked to do a story on the Hackney improvement team's interim report. Tell them that it's not newsworthy enough for national news.

4.00 Recut piece for Six o'Clock News.

6.00pm Meet producer for Nine o'Clock News, who includes piece with no changes. I can keep my dinner-date - though my pager comes too.

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