BBC journalist Jeremy Vine has his own show on BBC Radio 2 and co-presents the TV quiz show Eggheads. Previously he's worked on Newsnight, Panorama and Today. Bethany Minelle finds outs how he got to where he is and how you can follow in his footsteps…
What advice do you have for someone who wants to become a reporter?
The BBC divides into two halves – production and reporting – the power and the glory. If you want to report, you’ve got to report so don’t compromise by going into production. Don’t think to yourself, “I want to report but I’ll be happy for two or three years being a producer.” My tip is: get on air in local radio or regional TV or whatever it is – just get on air and start reporting as quickly as you can.
Any other tips for getting into the business?
It’s often just about getting your foot in the door and impressing people. Work experience can be a great opportunity to shine. In fact I have an ambition – when people come to us on a placement and say, “Can I do anything?” I always say, “See if you can get me an interview with Philippe Petit” [the French performance artist in the film Man on Wire who walked between the Twin Towers on a tightrope]. I know he’s alive and I know he’s around but he’s very hard to get hold of. So far everyone has said, “Sorry we couldn't get hold of him” – which is understandable. But one day, someone on work experience will say, “Yes, he’s booked at 12 O’clock”. That will be a great moment. I’d love to meet him. He’s a hero of mine. And undoubtedly, the person who finally gets the interview will go far!
I worked at the Coventry Evening Telegraph. I was 21 in 1986 and I’d just graduated from Durham University and, honestly, they were falling over themselves to appoint trainees. They had 85 editorial staff; they now have 13. And they took on three trainees a year. It was the golden age of print journalism.
Then you joined the BBC Broadcast Journalism Course. How did that shape your career?
It was brilliant, it was called the News Trainee Course then and I was there from 1987-89. They gave you a chance to get all round the building and the organisation, doing all sorts of stuff. I was a producer and reporter in Northern Island, I worked at BBC Newcastle, I worked with Joan Bakewell on Heart of the Matter – all kinds of things. I suppose it chiefly gave me confidence that I could actually work in this place. It wasn’t crammed with geniuses, just perfectly normal people doing normal jobs, and it made me think I could progress.
What’s your biggest career highlight so far?
Probably the most fun – well, the most fulfilling – thing was working as Africa Correspondent because it was a completely different side of the news business, the side that doesn’t get on the bulletins very much. To be covering 18 African countries in three years was amazing. Also coming to [the Radio 2 studio] on 6 January 2003, taking over from Jimmy Young who had done this show for 29 years, was incredible.
And what has been your worst reporting experience?
I was very nearly killed when I was in Croatia because I was a bit young and inexperienced. I got into an ambush with no flak jacket and nearly died. So I wouldn’t recommend that.
I think if you present too early you can get into trouble. And presenting without enough reporting experience is a problem. Arguably, it maybe was a bit early when I started on Newsnight – I was 34.
Plus I would say the real worst reporting experiences are always where you do a great piece and it doesn’t get on air [because of breaking news]. There’s nothing you can do about that.