Careers Profile: An interview with producer Josie Verghese

Josie Verghese is a producer at BBC News. She talked to us about her media career.


What is your disability and your role at the BBC?

I’m a producer for BBC News. I’m a wheelchair user and have used an electric wheelchair full-time since I started secondary school and had a spinal fusion.

How did you start your career in the media?

After university I moved to London, got a job as a secretary for an interactive agency before joining the BBC as a Personal Assistant (PA). For the first few years, I wasn’t working directly in production, but after becoming a Senior PA in the Children’s department, I was able to get informally involved in some production and I helped out on things like the Blue Peter Book Awards and Children in Need and got a taste for it.

I then became a Production Secretary for Newsround which meant I got to see the daily workings of a multimedia newsroom – from dealing with programme correspondence, running comments pages for kids on the website to helping plan special programmes on news stories like 7/7. It allowed me to get an oversight into the different roles and skills required. I had really got the buzz and started to pursue my career as a journalist and producer.

How did you develop your media skills?

In my seven years at Newsround, I developed my journalism skills doing various different roles for both online and TV – Broadcast Assistant, Researcher, Development and Planning Producer – whilst also taking up BBC training opportunities, secondments to other departments like BBC Sport, and doing my NCTJ Foundation in Journalism by distance learning.

What is your day to day work like?

I now work as a Senior Producer with a specialism in youth journalism for BBC News. I am mostly office-based but do have to travel occasionally and be out and about producing online, video and audio content. No one day is the same although all revolve around communication – talking to colleagues across BBC News and potential contributors for stories – either via email, phone or face-to-face. It is a key journalism skill and the best bit of my job!

What strengths has your disability given you in terms of your work?

I think having a disability makes you an expert in problem-solving and adapting your abilities to different situations. These are valuable skills in broadcasting, particularly in a news environment, which can constantly be changing. I absolutely have an instinct to think ahead and plan, both in my personal and professional life.

I think for anyone in the media industry, a certain level of confidence is required, both in terms of communicating and in your own skills and abilities. But also a level of realism and resilience too. It’s a competitive area to work in and not all roles might be suitable.

Have you experienced any barriers in your career?

My disability has never directly dictated my career but understanding my own physical limitations and being upfront and honest about these is something I’ve always been – with myself and colleagues. Being a self-shooting Assistant Producer was never going to be practical for me, so rather than follow this conventional career path, I decided to pursue planning and development roles.

Working in production and broadcasting areas can be demanding, with long and unpredictable hours. But it’s worth remembering there’s a huge range of different roles – from HR to events management, finance to coding and technical development – within the media industry. It’s not all about producing content for TV!

What advice would you give to young disabled people thinking of a career in the media?

My advice is to not assume you know what roles and opportunities are available. Talk to as many people as you can who are connected to the industry to better understand it. Being confident and honest about my abilities and skills, but also eager and open to try out opportunities, has been my philosophy.

Get some experience any way you can: volunteer at hospital radio or produce your own podcasts, write for your school, college or university newsletter or blog, apply for work experience opportunities and engage with all types of media, especially keeping aware of the constantly evolving digital developments. Having a go is the best way to learn and already having some skills or a body of work will always be an asset – don’t forget to reference it whenever you’re applying for a media job!

The BBC is committed to extending the diversity of staff, and in particular disability. There are specific schemes and opportunities to support this, so if media is something you want to pursue they are worth a look.

You may also find pan-media industry organisations like the Creative Diversity Network and The Media Trust useful – they run events and promote opportunities across all areas of media production.

Photo courtesy of Josie Verghese