The Job of a Researcher in Broadcast Media

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Behind every successful program there will have been a hardworking, competent researcher. The exact job description will vary from program to program, but their duties can include lining up and interviewing contacts, conducting vox pops, finding locations, digging through statistical information, checking through archives and scriptwriting. They are also expected to contribute ideas to the program. Researchers can specialize; for example, some companies employ contestant researchers specifically to find suitable contestants for their quiz and game shows.

There is stiff competition for research jobs. Successful applicants are usually in their twenties, hold a good degree and have had some kind of media-related experience, such as in journalism.

Case Study - Researcher

Elaine is a freelance researcher. This is an extract from her work diary to illustrate a typical day's research for a television documentary on the subject of teenage pregnancies.

In by 9 am: Spend about an hour phoning people, either introducing yourself, persuading them to help you, or getting permission to do something, for example, film an ante-natal class. Write letters and leave them to be typed up.

10 am: Travel to first meeting: a pregnant 17-year-old living in a hostel. Aim: to get more information on prepared subjects and ask her if she is willing to take a feature role in the program, including the filming of her scan. She has previously requested anonymity. Try to talk to another mother who is due to have her six-week-old child taken away from her for adoption. Request permission from the hostel manager to film on the premises.

12 noon: Back in the office. Check the post and scan the papers for any relevant info. Respond to any messages left. Write up notes from last interview while having lunch.

1 pm: Travel to next meeting. Second meeting with a specialist and his researcher who may be persuaded to give you access to their questionnaire and database. Enquire about relevant reports and articles.

2.30 pm: On to next interview with a couple of young mothers in a rural town and their volunteer worker. Persuade them to let you record the interview - that makes it a long, detailed meeting.

5 pm: Back in office, check out references with the library and go and get them if possible. Call into the government bookshop on the way and make a list of the publications you want permission to buy. I had to return and spend over an hour copying the stats and references down, because we couldn't afford to buy them all. Otherwise, get back on the phone, often sifting through specialized directories or ringing press officers. Check letters and send them.

Things to do daily: Add to your biography lists and update the producer. Make lists of things to do tomorrow and write interview questions for next meeting.

Homework: Go out to evening meetings two or three times a week. Read and summarize any reports you have been lucky enough to get hold of. Prepare summary reports for weekly production meetings.

Elaine adds: 'In a sense this was only half a day's work, because I was actually working on two programs at once. Finding the right ideas took about four weeks of a 12-week contract and finding the right people took about another six.

'The most important factor is timescale. With recording dates set well in advance, you must meet deadlines. This means organising your time, keeping a production book with every scrap of information and, most importantly, being motivated to work on your own initiative. After all, it could be your responsibility to fill every second of airtime.

'Gathering information is only part of it. Clear and concise presentation skills are needed to sell your ideas to the production team. There's no point in having discovered a critical argument unless you can make it come alive. You must have ideas and information to contribute. This resourceful attitude is the key to the job.'
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