Bill Neely’s advice to journalists: stick at it, never give in, never say no

If you are an aspiring journalist or perhaps more seasoned, but want to sharpen up your skills, our Reflections events are a great opportunity to gain insight into the craft.

Jeremy Bowen, the Middle East’s foreign editor since 2005, is just one of the leading journalists who has taken part in these events, which are in association with the BBC College of Journalism. 

Here’s one of the key pieces of advice he gave about writing for TV news:

Let it breathe. Where TV news has an advantage over other mediums is at best it gives you an idea of what it’s like to be that person on that day in that place. To get that idea you have to get to know some of the characters, but as well as that, you have to feel it, you have to hear it, almost if you can, through the sights and the sounds, smell it.

To achieve that you have to get into the whole texture of the thing and that means you can’t have wall to wall words. You have to have simple thoughts, but simple thoughts that mean something a bit deeper. 

The idea is to do something that will appeal to all [viewers with different levels of knowledge]. I’ve always thought of it as like a layer cake, with different layers of meaning and allusion. So through simple scripting you can allude to something that maybe someone who gets more of the story and understands it will pick up, but at the same time doesn’t confuse people who don’t know anything about it.

At the same time you have to explain complicated things in a way that won’t put off people who know all about it. It’s perhaps an old hackneyed phrase, but never underestimate people’s intelligence but never overestimate their knowledge. You have to pitch it right.

This month weare delighted to have Bill Neely, international editor at ITV News, who was hailed by BBC politcal editor Nick Robinson as one of "the great artists" who could "turn television into magic and use words and pictures like few other people do" when he took part in Reflections in March.

Here’s one piece of advice he has to pass on to would-be journalists:

Early in my career when I was freelancing at the BBC, the head of news told me I should give up journalism; that I just didn’t have what it takes.

But I knew one thing it takes is persistence -besides, there was nothing I wanted to do more. So I ignored him and stuck at it.

I worked hard and I was lucky; though often you make your own luck. So, I’d say to any aspiring journalist, stick at it, never give in, never say no- in the difficult early years and on any assignment. "No" is only a temporary setback.

You can hear more about Bill Neely‘s work and what he has to say about good journalism on 29 June at the Frontline Club.

A list of journalists, including Channel 4 News‘ Jon Snow and Lindsey Hilsum, who were at the Club in 2010 to share some seminal moments in their careers and individual influences is here