BBC journalist Natalie Pirks speaks ahead of Media #RYG17
Kick It Out’s Media Raise Your Game (#RYG17) conference, supported by the Premier League, is an opportunity for people hoping to get a foothold in the football media industry to receive advice and guidance.
Ahead of the conference at BBC New Broadcasting House in London on Wednesday 19 July 2017, the organisation talked to some of those who feature on the opening panel.
First up, Kick It Out spoke to Natalie Pirks (pictured below), BBC News Sports correspondent, about her path into football media and experience of attending Raise Your Game.
Since graduating from Bournemouth University with a degree in Multimedia Journalism back in 2000, Natalie Pirks has been on an incredible journey across the entire spectrum of the industry – covering sport for the BBC, interviewing celebrities for ITN and reporting the news for ITV.
She reflected on her 17-year journey to her role as BBC News Sports correspondent: “After my degree I got a job within a month, which was pretty lucky. At the time the dot-com world had just exploded so I managed to secure a job with a website which eventually turned into a magazine. It wasn’t in sport but I was able to do a lot of writing for them.
“Unfortunately, they eventually went bust so I applied for the BBC Talent competition and I managed to beat thousands of people to become a reporter at Grandstand. So I was 23-years-old and going to places like Rio to cover beach volleyball for a week and also Hungary for the World Championships for gymnastics. I just did some amazing things.”
Jumping into such a demanding job did have its challenges but it proved to be a vital platform for Natalie to develop her career.
“I felt at times I was out of my depth as I had never had any formal training, but it was great at Grandstand and I met various people who helped me along before I moved to Radio 1 Newsbeat. I gained lots of experience in producing bulletins at various times during the day and night-time. Then ITN offered me a full-time job and I took that so I left the BBC.”
After a period working in showbiz reporting before moving to Setanta Sports News as a video journalist, Natalie returned to the BBC in 2013 and has been there ever since.
She emphasised the importance of networking and asking for support in order to build a successful career in journalism.
“It’s all about making contacts and being able to ring them up and go ‘oh, do you remember me and could you possibly help me?’ They might not be able to help but they might know someone who can and that’s kind of how journalism works.
“Ultimately every person has to make that contact with someone they need, whether you have to meet that person or cold call them, it’s just one of those things. It’s also about them getting to know about your personality and that is echoed across the whole of journalism not just those involved in sport.”
She added: “When you are joining somewhere, whether it’s full-time or just work experience, get to know everyone’s tea order. Because they’ll remember you – and it’s important they don’t forget your name, as they’ll recognise you as someone who is useful to the organisation, even if it means making the tea round!”
As a journalist with an array of experience working for different media outlets, Natalie is full of advice for anyone dreaming of a career in the industry.
“I would say being personable as well as being willing to listen is really important. Although my job is to effectively talk, if you don’t listen you will miss half of the information so it’s important you can engage both ways.
“Never turn down a business card as well, always ask for someone’s number, always try and remember someone’s name and I say that as someone who is terrible at remembering names! I’ll always try and treat people equally, whether they be a CEO or the work experience person at a professional club, because they can probably both be of help to you.”
Natalie has mentored previously at Kick It Out’s Raise Your Game conference and hailed the success of the initiative in providing opportunities for aspiring journalists to break into the field.
“It was great that I could speak from a position of relative experience to say that I can be helpful, and since then I have had contact from some of the mentees I spoke to asking for guidance and support, which is good because it shows the event does work,” she explained.
“These events are very important. When I was starting my career in 2001, being a woman working in sports journalism was pretty rare. The BBC have always been good in that regard and my idols have always been the likes of Hazel Irvine and Clare Balding. But besides them there weren’t too many other women around.”
Natalie finished by emphasising that things are improving. She said: “I was the only woman out of 30 guys when I started alongside a new cohort, so it was still a ‘thing’. In some ways it still is but it is getting a lot better – and for me, when I was starting, something like Raise Your Game would have been amazing to attend.”