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My internship with the BBC


Introduction

Within the frame of the internship module of my Master’s in China and Globalization, I had the privilege to work, on an intern basis, for one of the world’s most prestigious media companies – The British Broadcasting Corporation, known to the public as the “BBC”. Specifically, I have completed a 14 - week internship within the BBC China division of the BBC World Service. This experience represented for me a unique opportunity to put in practice the knowledge that I had gained from my university studies, as well as to develop new skills and abilities. In this essay, I will first introduce the reader to my initial career interests. Next, I will briefly touch on the process of searching and applying for the internship. Subsequently, I will proceed to describe the core of my work within the BBC and highlight a few interesting aspects of the company’s culture, which I had the opportunity to observe. Finally, I will reflect upon the key learning points, the positive impact of the internship on my future employment prospects, and how it has affected my personal career interests.

Initial career choices

My personal journey of career exploration dates back to two years ago, when I was applying for my MSc at King’s College London. At the time, my interests were biased, to a certain extent, by my father’s initial career as a Journalist. In fact, I had always been tempted to follow his steps and become either a talk show reporter, or a news reporter on TV, radio, or a newspaper. These choices were also in alignment with my main strengths, which are my communication and interpersonal skills, as well as the confidence to talk or perform in front of a large audience. Besides my father, my other personal and professional idol and role model is the US’ famous TV show reporter - Oprah –, who is also a journalist. In fact, from a young age I had been dreaming about running a similar TV show in China. This allow me to explore the amazing life stories of successful Chinese business leaders, politicians and artists, or anyone else with an interesting story to tell. My second choice for career had been, for some time, to become a writer of non-fiction books about travelling, novels or about Chinese culture. In fact, a few years earlier, I had made a more or less successful attempt to write my own novel and since then have always wanted to write more. This career choice was also one of the reasons why I decided to pursue an MSc in China and Globalization, as the programme would help me to critically appraise various aspects of Chinese culture and society. My third career choice at the time to become a professional actress. This was supported by the fact that, a few years earlier, I had successfully performed a leading role in Chinese drama, in front of an audience of 800 spectators and BBC media reporters. However, I was conscious that working as an actress or a writer would represent a less stable and much less predictable career path, than being a journalist. This is why I decided to focus my career exploration primarily in the field of journalism, and to search for an internship within a media company. This was not an easy task, as I had previously neither done an internship, nor had a job. In spite of this, I was confident that with the reputation and prestige of being a student at King’s College London, and the high level of support provided in the context of my internship module, I was much more likely to succeed.

Searching for an internship

The first step I took was to write a two page CV. This already represented a challenge, as the only meaningful piece of information I could think of was my current and previous education. From a consultation with my internship supervisor, I learned that prospective employers would also be interested in reading about my extracurricular activities, such as when I had played the leading role in a Chinese drama, and when I had completed my professional skydiving qualification in the US, to name a few. Equipped with this knowledge, I managed to put together a two page CV. The next step was to shortlist a few interesting media companies, and to write a carefully tailored cover letter for each one. I decided to focus all my resources to two companies: the BBC and C Cube Media, and eventually submitted “speculative applications” to both by email (see appendix 1). After I had been waiting for a few weeks and received no response, I decided that my strategy was not working and searched for an alternative approach. I searched through my contact list and I noticed that one of my friends already worked for C Cube. I decided to call her, and discus my ambitions with her. This is how I found out that C Cube media was holding an anniversary party in Mayfair, at which many media professionals would be present. I did some research about the event, and found out that there were four invitations available for students aiming to join the media industry. The invitations would be given out on a competition basis. The selection criteria were simple: each candidate had to write an article about the C Cube Media and publish it on Chinese twitter. Those four who wrote the best articles would be invited to the party. To maximize my chances, I spent a whole day writing the article, and my work paid off – I received an invitation! (See appendix 2). In preparation for the event, I wrote and memorized an “elevator pitch” style personal introduction, including how I could add value to the company that would offer me an internship. During the event, I politely approached as many guests as I could, and always introduced myself with my pre-rehearsed pitch. One of the many guests I spoke to during the event happened to be an editor at BBC China, who gave me her business card and instructed me to email her my CV. I followed up on our conversation by email exactly 48 hours after the event, attaching my CV and a carefully tailored covering letter. Three weeks later, I finally decided to follow up with a phone call, and was offered an internship to start immediately the following Monday (March 8th). On reflection, I realize how much I learned before even starting my internship. I now know how to write a CV and covering letter that look both simple, and professional, whilst also highlighting my key strengths. I also learnt how to attract the attention of busy professionals, how to behave and dress at a business party, how professionals interact with each other, and so on. But the most important of all, I now appreciate that creativity and initiative are extremely important when applying for highly competitive internship positions, such as, for example, to follow up on your application by phone. The process of applying for internships can also be a strong test of one’s patience, as a response does not always come quickly.

My internship with BBC

BBC, the British Broadcasting Corporation, is the world’s leader in public service broadcasting. The company aims to inform, educate and entertain people. Established by the Royal Charter, the company is mostly publicly funded, with the proceedings of a license fee, or TV License, which most UK households pay. In the UK, BBC’s range of services include 10 national TV channels, 10 national radio stations, 40 local radio stations, various regional TV programmes, and an extensive website. Internationally, the “BBC World Service” broadcasts on Radio, TV and online, with news and information in 27 different languages. At the present time, the world service is also publicly funded with the license fee. The main commercial arms of BBC are “BBC Worldwide” and “BBC World News”, whose profits are reinvested into new programmes and services. BBC online owns a number of websites, featuring News, Sport and Weather, Children’s sites (CBBC and CBeebies), knowledge and learning, in addition to providing online access to radio and TV programmes on demand. One of the subdivisions of BBC news is BBC China and a further sub-division of BBC China is BBC UK China, which is broadcasted in both simplified and traditional Chinese. Various teams operate within the division of BBC China. My internship was mainly with the team that focuses on the website of “BBC UK China”, targeting the audience of international Chinese students in the UK, and those students in China, Taiwan and HK, who are interested in knowing more about the UK or who are considering the option of studying in the UK. The majority of articles therefore consist of life stories of UK and Chinese international students, in addition to critical reviews and comments about politics and current news (see reference 1).

On the first day of my internship, I walked into the BBC’s “Bush” Building at 9:00am sharp, and introduced myself to the receptionist. After giving me a visitor card, she instructed me to wait for my supervisor Miss. Jiang Lu. Although I only waited for a few minutes, it felt like an eternity and I was feeling nervous and tired, having found it difficult to sleep the night before. Having never done an internship before, I did not know what to expect, how I could add value to the company, if I would be able to deal with the relationships with my colleagues in the office, and so on. At the same time, I was also very excited, as I was finally going to work for a company that millions of aspiring journalists in China and UK could only dream about. Especially in my home country – China – most journalists admire the BBC. To calm down, I kept reminding myself of what I actually wanted to achieve from the internship. I wanted to build a professional network within the media industry, brand myself, practice my writing skills and learn how to establish and maintain professional relationships. I was determined to take every opportunity to greet my colleagues, and make a good first impression. When my supervisor, Ms. Lu, finally arrived, she first showed me the cantine where I would be having lunch with the rest of the BBC’s staff, and then took me straight to the fifth floor, to the office of BBC China.

The fifth floor is where BBC China located in the Bush Building. It consists of a large space, subdivided into many small cubicles, which look like “offices within an office”, and a coffee area in the center. In total, I counted about fifty people, all of whom looked Asian. My first impression was that the people who worked there had very “close” personalities, and that they did not talk much in the office. The team that I was about to join was sitting together in one corner, and consisted in total of ten people in their mid thirties. Later on, I found out that each had had a minimum of ten years of experience in the media industry, prior to joining the BBC. My supervisor was also the team leader. She coordinated the team’s work and was responsible for our overall performance, for which she reported to the director of BBC China, Mr. Raymond Lee. Mr. Lee was also Chinese, and was a very vivid user of Chinese Twitter – Weibo – having over a million followers.

Throughout the internship, I had the impression that most of the people working within BBC China were very hard working. Especially Ms. Lu, who would regularly work until 8 or 9 pm. Everyone was very polite to each other, something that could perhaps be attributed to the Chinese culture, which prevailed in the office. During lunch, the BBC China staff mostly sat together, and did not mix with non-Asian members of staff. In this aspect they differed to a considerable extent from their English counterparts, who tended to sit in smaller groups, or sometimes even eat a quick snack on their desks. This reminded me of the culture within my Master’s programme, where Chinese students, with a few exceptions, tend to always linger together, and do not mix with other international and local students. What surprised me the most about the working culture within the BBC was that everyone looked tired and unhappy, as if they did not enjoy their work. During meals, they would often complain about their supervisors, and about the way work was being distributed: those staff members who were quick to flatter their supervisors, would receive less and more exciting work, whilst those who found it more difficult to handle their relationship with their superiors, would always have excessive workload. Moreover, very few people seemed to be enjoying their jobs and my impression was that they were only working to be able to pay for their living. However, overall they seemed grateful for their jobs, and to the UK government for having granted them VISAS and residence permits to remain in the UK. Everyone was very sympathetic towards one of their colleagues, who’s Visa had not been renewed, and had been forced to leave the country.

During my internship, every day was different. Some days I would work in the office, others I would be interviewing people or taking pictures on the street, and sometimes I would simply complete assignments from home. As my primary role was to assist everyone within the team, I had the opportunity to complete a variety of different tasks. I would like to highlight the most interesting ones:

  • I wrote a proposal for a case interview of two King’s students, who decided to set up their own business venture in Spain and launch it a few months before their final exams. The proposal was accepted, and the story was soon featured on the website (see reference 2).

  • I was given the responsibility to manage BBC China’s account on Chinese tweeter (Sina, Tencent and Soho). As I am myself a big fan of tweeter, I found this task particularly enjoyable. This time, however, I felt a sense of responsibility about the content that I was publishing, as the articles were viewed and re-published by millions of followers in China.

  • I was asked to attend to, and write a review or “critique” about the Chinese Drama “Gold Mountain”, which is about two generations of Chinese immigrants in the UK, and the cultural struggles between them. My previous experience as a drama actress proved extremely useful on this occasion. My report received very positive feedback, and was published under my pen name (安平) (see reference 3).

  • I was asked to do research about people’s awareness of the “Earth Day”. For this purpose, I interviewed and recorded various strangers on the street, something that is often referred to in media studies as “Vox Box”. Moreover, I also sent the questionnaire by email to many friends, colleagues and university professors (See appendix 3). The report on Earth Day was successfully published, although eventually my editor decided to cut the vox-box and questionnaire out of this report (see reference 4).

  • My colleague Zi Chuan interviewed me about my past experience as Skydiver in the US (see reference 5). The interview took place in the new BBC Building – the Broadcasting building in Oxford Circus, where BBC China relocated in the month of June. This was the first time I was interviewed by a professional journalist and I found the experience very exciting, especially since I had the opportunity to visit a professional recording room, with microphone, TV screens and cameras. Moreover, the experience helped me to appreciate how interviewees feel when being interviewed by a journalist. An interesting point to note about the new office in the Broadcasting building is that, unlike the BBC China office in the Bush Building, this one does not have any sub divisions, and all teams sit in the same room. The aim of this is to encourage more communication, and a more open culture amongst the staff.

  • During the 2012 Olympic Games, I was responsible for photographing the only Chinese student to carry the Olympic torch in London – Xu Xi, who is a UCL student originally from Mainland China. His route can be seen in appendix 4. To achieve this, I had to run alongside Xu Xi throughout his route. When I arrived home, I was excited to see myself on BBC News website6.

  • I persuaded one of Chinese top Billionaires – Shiyi Pan, to be interviewed by BBC China on his opinion about university education in the UK. Shiyi Pan is one of the most famous real-estate businessmen in China, with over 10 million followers on Sina Chinese Twitter (weibo). He came to the UK to attend his son’s graduation ceremony, and we had the opportunity to have lunch together. I decided to profit from the occasion to invite him to join the BBC for an exclusive interview, to voice his opinion about education in the UK, and why he had decided to send his son to study in the UK. This interview was a huge success for the website, and my supervisor was very keen to have Mr. Pan on board. Normally, I would have shied away from approaching such a high profile person, but as this was one of my internship responsibilities I somehow found the courage to control my nerves and take my chances. Mr. Pan proved to be a very nice person, and he said yes very kindly. My co-worker Zi Chuan interviewed him by telephone next morning 9AM during his morning jogging and the interview was published on the website. On this occasion, BBC China had also become for me a platform to make new friends (see reference 7).

In addition to completing the assignments that I have described, I also enjoyed writing reports on various subjects, as well as assisting my colleagues with various tasks. On the last day of my internship, I had a very strong sense of achievement. Had I not have a 12, 000 word dissertation to write, I would have extended my internship throughout the summer holidays, as I was looking forward to publish even more articles, and share my life experiences as international student in the UK. My biggest regret was not having the opportunity to finish a report on an interesting “Olympic party”, to which I attended towards the end of my internship. At the time I had already started working on my dissertation, and my internship was coming to an end.

Personal reflection

As I reflect about the learning aspects of the internship, I realize the enormous educational value of the experience. In fact, without even noticing, I learned various new skills, which could prove useful in the future. To give a few examples, I am now able to chose a topic and structure an article so that it attracts a wider audience. I have greatly improved my interviewing skills, as well as learnt some professional techniques, such as the “Voxbox skill”, which is used when interviewing strangers on the street with a recorder. I have also learned how to structure a questionnaire, so that it has the highest possible response rate, whilst also giving meaningful information to write an article. My “Twittering Skill” has also greatly improved during the internship. Moreover, both the process of searching for an internship, as well as the internship itself increased my chances of finding a suitable employment within a Chinese or even an international organization upon graduation. First of all, having the confidence and ability to network with professionals is an essential success skill in the business world, as it is the best way to create new opportunities. Second, being able to effectively maintain an international professional network, to create new opportunities for myself and for others can also be extremely useful. Third, through this internship I started to build a powerful personal brand, by associating myself to the world’s most prestigious media company, publishing my own articles and even having an article published about myself. For instance, if I were to return to China, the BBC Brand on my CV will open me doors to many local and nationwide media companies. Not to mention all the skills and knowledge gained through the internship, which will help me to perform better in future jobs.

Not only has my employability been improved, but I have also learned how to further increase my chances of succeeding within the media world. First, I am now much more conscious how important it is that I successfully complete my master’s degree. Second, and most important of all, I am also aware that what will really help me to distinguish myself in future job applications is my life experience. For example, having performed as an actress before proved extremely useful when writing a critique for a Chinese drama. Being an international student in the UK, with the unique experience of professional Skydiving in the US, also gave me an interesting story to tell. Therefore, by pursuing new and even more interesting hobbies in the future, as well as creating unique life experiences, such as travelling or living abroad, I will constantly have a pool of fresh topics to attract a wider audience. Starting my own blog on a topic that I am passionate about, such as fashion and travel, would also be a great way to learn to express myself confidently, increase my branding, start building a personal audience and thus set the foundations for a successful career in the media industry.

Following the internship, my initial career interests have changed. First of all, I no longer wish to be a “general journalist”, working for a large corporation and writing reports about the topics that a supervisor requests me to. From my internship experience and the conversations held with my colleagues I have realized that, although I enjoy expressing myself in front of large audiences, this becomes even more enjoyable when I talk about my life experiences, or topics that I am passionate about. I am therefore considering to do some research and become an expert about the life of international students in the UK, what are the main challenges they face, and how the government could address these to improve their situation. This will allow me to join a media company and become the in-house specialist in this specific area. Second, I have also realized how important it is for me that my work involves using my own imagination, rather than merely reporting real news. Hence, the idea of being a TV news reporter is no longer as appealing as it seemed before, as I there would not be much scope for creativity in such a job. However, I would still consider the option of running my own TV show at a later stage in my professional career. Third, I still wish to become a professional writer one day, although I am conscious that, at early stages, it will be more pragmatic to pursue this interest in my spare time, and not count on it as my main source of income. I believe that this would allow me to freely and creatively express myself about how I feel about the world. Finally, I would still like to explore further the possibility of working as a drama actress, as actors are free to create their own understanding of the role in the whole story, thus creating something special, and not just copying what everyone else does. However, this would also have to be done in my spare time, until I am reasonably confident of my ability, or until I secure a contract with a reputable drama team or film director.

Conclusion

To conclude, the internship with BBC has been a valuable educational experience. In conjunction with the theoretical framework of the internship module, I have learnt how to reflect upon my career options, taking into consideration both my personal interests as well as my key strengths. Moreover, I have gained an understanding about the entire process of applying for a job, from writing a professional CV, to networking with potential recruiters and submitting “speculative applications”. The variety of skills gained from the actual work experience, such as how to effectively write an article, how to structure a questionnaire, how to approach and interview strangers on the street, as well as how to manage my time and prioritize when working under pressure, will all prove useful at some point in the future. Having experienced the working culture within a London based organization staffed predominantly with Chinese employees, I also feel much better equipped for a future job in a similar organization, be it in China or around the world. Finally, the internship has also helped me to better understand myself, what I am passionate about and what drives me, all of which I will be able to consider when making career related decisions in the future.

References

  1. http://www.bbc.co.uk/zhongwen/simp/chinese_news/2012/09/120905_china_papers.shtml (accessed on August 15th 2012)

  2. http://www.bbc.co.uk/ukchina/simp/uk_education/study_iv/2012/03/120307_iv_studyuk_adrian_english_school.shtml (accessed on August 18th 2012)

  3. http://www.bbc.co.uk/ukchina/simp/uk_education/students_diary/2012/04/120430_students_diary_anping.shtml (accessed on August 20th 2012)

  4. http://www.bbc.co.uk/ukchina/simp/in_depth/earth_day.shtml (accessed on August 23rd 2012)

  5. http://www.bbc.co.uk/ukchina/simp/uk_education/study_iv/2012/07/120723_study_uk_iv_wuyuheng.shtml (accessed on August 23rd 2012 )

  6. http://www.bbc.co.uk/torchrelay/day65#pid=p00t69rb&t=18h12m5s (accessed on August 25th 2012)

  7. http://www.bbc.co.uk/ukchina/simp/uk_education/2012/07/120719_edu_panshiyi_graduation.shtml (accessed on August 26th 2012).

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