Friday, November 03, 2006

Move over Richard, Burton's in town

Made my annual pilgrimage to Cardiff yesterday and spoke to a few hundred students at probably the best media school in the land.

It was odd checking into the little hotel where the other Richard Burton was said to have once taken elocution lessons. Mind you, it’s always odd going anywhere in Wales with a name like mine.

I’ve stayed in most of the major chains there and usually announce myself with a whispered “Mr Burton”. That always makes me feel like a teenager going to Boots for a packet of condoms and walking out with a red face and bottle of Locozade.

A receptionist at the Hilton once struggled to find me on the register and, before you could say Under Milk Wood, announced, not to a lone Japanese tourist and a deaf bell-boy, but the entire All Backs rugby team massed behind me: “Aaah. Here you are. Mr Burton – oh, Richard Burton? How nice. No relation I suppose?”

Like a pillock, I replied: “Not unless I was christened Jenkins. The famous guy changed his name a year after I was born.” To make matters worse, I added: “Although I don’t imagine the two events were connected.”

Total silence. Blank looks: the one you give the bloke with the vindaloo on the Tube. It just goes to prove; no-one likes a clever Dick, not even a famous one.

Anyway, fittingly I did find myself on a stage in a lecture theatre and fielding questions ranging from does anyone really listen to podcasts? to will the newsroom of the future really work? The best question came later in a seminar with print students when I was asked: if you were interviewing me for a job, what would you look for?

To be honest, that was the only thing I’d care about at their age. They get all their media news from the broadsheets, their teachers can tell them everything I can about how to do the job, they have facilities to die for, top industry names (not just neo-famous ones) drop in all the time: for a wannabe hack, it was a value-for-money question.

I could have said you need a good voice for audio, a TV-presenter smile, a blog Google begs to advertise on and the ability to crop jpegs on your WAP phone.

But they knew that already. Besides, it would have been only half the story. I tried to say, in a rather long-winded way, it was all about credibility. The difference between a geek and a hack is that I probably won’t mind being approached one of them and asked to impart what I know.

All colleges teach the technical skills these days. And to a good standard. There hasn’t been a colleague’s-neighbour’s-pal’s-son on work experience who hasn’t been able to pick up basic photoshop or instinctively surf his way around a content management system by the end of his first day.

And what skills they don’t have, they can learn on the job faster than my dear old dad can work his DVD. OK. Bad analogy. He’ll never work it. But you know what I mean.

What will always stand good candidates apart are the basic journalistic qualities that have been the hallmark for generations: an inquiring mind, the ability (and desire) to get pertinent answers to pertinent questions; to write in clear, concise English - and to do it very, very quickly.

Get those skills in the bag and I will interview you.

Or my name isn’t Richard Burton.


Camilla said...

Hi! Hahaha, you are actually quite funny although you are my teacher (no offense but they are usually not funny). Why didn't you tell us you have a blog? Or more important: what grade did I get on the bird-in-the-church-article?!:)


Richard Burton said...

I'll take that in the way (I hope) it was intended. All revealed by Friday and (hopefully, again)most of you lot will still be smiling.

David Ricketts said...

Really enjoyed the talk last week. I think you may have even inspired some of us to work for Perry White type editors (if they still exist).

Jenny Ousbey said...

I asked the question about what skills I would need to possess at interview. I have all of those classic journalistic qualities you mention above in abundance. Do you want to interview me? Or is your name really Richard Jenkins?

Richard Burton said...

Did I say pushiness was a journalistic quality? Only if I don't have to come to Cardiff to do it.

immedia said...

Hi, I'm yet another student you spoke to at Cardiff the other week.. I'm researching for an article looking at whether foreign correspondants find blogs a useful means of dealing with trauma in stressful situations or a nuisance. Is there anyone at you can put me in contact with or recommend that I try to contact?



Richard Burton said...

Sure. email me direct and I'll sort some names.