World News Alert for Wannabe Reporters
Over the years Alpa Patel has reported on difficult stories from the Ebola crisis in West Africa to ISIS recruits.
I sat down to talk to Alpa in a café to find out what it takes to be a successful world news reporter. Barely over five feet tall and elegantly dressed Alpa brings with her positive energy and charisma. I was greeted by a warm smile and big hug. She started the conversation asking about my interests and ambitions. It is clear that her curiosity in people’s lives is not just a part of her job but also a part of her personality.
Alpa was interested in journalism from a young age. During a year studying abroad at the University of Texas she became set on the idea of being a journalist. She then began to cater her degree towards the profession and to think more about technology. “I wanted to develop skills that could keep me ahead of the game,” she says.
One of Alpa’s professors at The University of Texas was specifically interested in technology journalism and inspired her to keep driving at the tech side of journalism. When Alpa returned to the UK she continued to take courses that combined technology and journalism, including web design and coding. She also began writing for Concrete, the student newspaper at the University of East Anglia, and reviewing music for LiveWire.
Be prepared for setbacks
After an unsuccessful campaign for welfare officer she began to apply for work experience at local news sources in Norwich, including the Eastern Daily Press. Eventually she returned home to Wales and spent a year living with her family and gaining work experience in a number of news mediums including commercial radio, newspapers and TV.
Alpa decided to pursue a masters at Cardiff University in Broadcast journalism, but the fee was substantial. Since she had so much experience it was suggested she applied for sponsorship. ITV Wales stepped in and she was able to go ahead with her studies.
Her first job with ITV Wales after the MA was doing all the graveyard stories. This meant starting right at the bottom, doing all the stories no one else wanted to do, then working her way up to middle range, sometimes even lead stories. After six months she transferred to ITV Anglia to be closer to her husband.
Know what you want
She credits her time on regional news with helping to provide a grounding for her work in world news: “Most of the skills I have now came from regional news because there is more scope to do different stories.” She adds: “I kept my eye on the prize which was always international news.”
Eventually Alpa’s persistence paid off. She was able to enter what was called the BBC talent pool, which meant she didn’t have to leave her ITV job. However, “being in this pool meant that I could apply for internal jobs.” She got her first job as a producer and worked her way into a reporter position.
Now, as a journalist at BBC she gets assigned many stories and is also able to pitch stories. Her special interests include young Muslim women, women's issues, security issues and young people. But she also says, “If something really drives me I tend to research it on my days off. It is a twenty-four hour job effectively. Anything I’m passionate about I need to do in my own time.”
A changing world
As for the future of journalism Alpa says, “I think it is going to change rapidly. The next ten years are going to be the most exciting. People will pay for what they want but the question is how you are able to provide it. Social media is already vital to how people are consuming their news.”
She encourages student journalists to embrace different ways of communicating the news, advising: “At the heart of everything are the people and the stories. Younger journalists need to be open to the new forms of technology and think about how to get their story out there. But being a good writer will never change. Neither will being determined and engaged.”