My Big Break: Craig Anderson, former BBC correspondent

FORMER BBC correspondent, Craig Anderson, was awarded the Barron Trophy for lifetime achievement in journalism at this year’s Highlands and Islands Media Awards.  

After almost four decades in a profession – during which he worked for news agencies, newspapers, radio and television – he looks back on a career which saw him travel from Shetland to St Kilda – and the Big Apple.  

When did working in the media become an ambition?

It was never really an early ambition of mine, though I did start a newspaper with a friend at primary school.

We only managed two editions before we gave up – as we had to type out every sheet individually!

And I always used to watch newsreaders on TV like Richard Baker on the BBC and Jimmy Spankie on Grampian and say to myself, “I could do that.” Although actually becoming a broadcaster seemed to me, as a young lad from Perth, about as unlikely as becoming an astronaut. 

 What was your first media job?

I studied history and law at Aberdeen University and, after I graduated, I was unemployed and casting around for something to do when I started working as a volunteer for a short-lived community newspaper called Big Print, published by Aberdeen People’s Press. 

It wasn’t paid employment but it gave me a grounding in the ‘black arts’ of journalism and led me to think that it could even become a career. 

So, I started to apply for the training schemes run by the likes of Mirror Group and Thomson Regional Newspapers, building up quite a collection of rejection letters. 

Then I landed my first paid job as a reporter with a news agency in Brussels.  

Describe briefly how your career unfolded

I had amassed a sheaf of cuttings of pieces I’d written for Big Print and that helped me win a place on a post-grad journalism course at the City University in London. 

But, in the meantime, I’d been offered the news agency job in Brussels. So, I took the job. I was employed as a reporter/translator. 

European Report was a bilingual agency and the fact that I’d done six years of French at school, and was fairly fluent, was part of the reason I got the job.

I started writing freelance pieces for various UK outlets and, after 18 months, left the agency to become a full-time freelance writing for The Herald, the Daily Express, the Financial Times, farming publications and contributing to BBC Radio Scotland and IRN radio news.

In 1984, I came back to Scotland as a reporter/producer with BBC Radio Scotland in Inverness, eventually graduating to TV, remaining as Highland correspondent for the BBC for more than 20 years.  

Any particular big breaks along the way?

Becoming the stringer for The Herald on a retainer was a key moment. So was securing a job as a reporter with the BBC.

Early on in my career I’d never thought that would happen. But some of the breaks come from the stories you cover.

I happened to be the last reporter in the BBC newsroom in Glasgow one evening when a sketchy report came in of a plane crash.

I was despatched and found myself as the first TV reporter on the scene of the Lockerbie disaster. On a happier note, doing a live TV report for BBC Reporting Scotland from Times Square in New York during the Tartan Week celebrations was a high point.

Who would you like to thank more than most?

People like the late Tony Findlay and the late editor of The Herald, Arnold Kemp, who were prepared to put their faith in a 23 year-old largely inexperienced journalist to be their man in Brussels.

My career would not have advanced without that leg-up.

Also, editors and producers at BBC Scotland who happily sent me all across the Highlands and Islands to cover stories that many other reporters would just have to do from their desks.

The communications revolution has made it possible to cover just about any story, anywhere without even going there. But you can’t do that with television news. You have to be there to get the pictures. And that means the reporter has the chance to pick up on little details of the scene, speak to people who aren’t simply the usual suspects and perhaps glean some context to the story or another angle that you wouldn’t get if you weren’t on the spot.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you started?

That the media world isn’t a closed shop and that media outlets are desperate for material. You become a journalist simply by writing about things. And if the stuff’s good enough, someone will use it. I think, nowadays more than ever, it’s not a case of hoping someone will give you a job to kick start your career. If you want to work in the media, just do it.