ANDREW McFadyen is a freelance journalist based in Glasgow. He has worked for Al Jazeera, CNN, Channel 4 News, the BBC and STV. He is about to start a staff job as a programme editor with Al Jazeera, in Doha.
He also has a PhD in Political Science from Edinburgh University. He says that when he finds “the courage” to revisit his thesis about Donald Dewar’s role in the creation of the Scottish Parliament, he hopes to write a book.
He submitted this on Thursday, March 7.
What exactly is it that you do?
As a freelance journalist, my job is pretty wide ranging. For the past couple of years, I have been dividing my time between work for Al Jazeera in the Middle East and Channel 4 News in London. I have just finished a three-month contract as a news organiser with STV, which gave me the opportunity to live and work in Scotland for the first time in a while.
This job meant being in the office for 7.30 in the morning, planning the day’s news coverage and being responsible for reporters and camera crews on the road. It’s down to the newsdesk to make sure that we are first on the scene with the best pictures and interviews when a story breaks. I am pretty competitive and don’t like coming second.
I also write features and analysis for Al Jazeera’s website and the occasional piece for The Scotsman. The referendum campaign is an international news story. It is a real shame that, as reporters from all over the world are beating a path to Edinburgh, our own national broadcaster is making redundancies and pushing experienced journalists out the door.
What did your working day today or yesterday comprise?
Yesterday was not a typical working day for me. I was at the Qatari Embassy in central London.
Al Jazeera’s HR department asked to get my degree certificate certified by the Embassy, so that they can apply for my business visa.
My nine year-old warned me before I left that London is full of spies. She has been watching James Bond.
Obviously different to your average working day
One of the best things about news is there is no such thing as an ‘average working day’. I never really know what I will be doing when I go into work in the morning. At Channel 4 News, I often got an early call telling me to meet with a camera crew or go straight to the railway station instead of coming into the office. It could be floods in Gloucester or a serial killer in Ipswich.
As a programme editor at Al Jazeera my role is to decide what goes into the running order and get the show to air. It is a very international newsroom, with a diverse mix of people. The way an Egyptian understands Israel’s occupation of Palestine is usually very different from an American. I could have both on my production team along with a South African and a Kiwi.
How different or similar is your average working day to when you started in post?
The industry has changed enormously since I started my first job as a researcher with STV, in 1996. Back then, formidable characters like political editor, Fiona Ross, and news editor, Jon Kean, made the newsroom exciting and a wee bit scary. I did not have a mobile phone and none of the computers had internet access. To go online we had to use the machines in the I.T. department.
Since then, there has been a revolution in technology, blurring the line between newspapers and television. The BBC website now competes directly with the New York Times. This has created new opportunities – I have written online articles for Al Jazeera, Channel 4 News and STV. At the same time, there are some brilliant videos on The Guardian’s website.
However, it worries me that many young journalists are not getting paid much more than I was nearly 20 years ago and they don’t get out the office enough. Good reporting means telling the audience what you have seen with your own eyes and asking questions on their behalf – turning around press releases and agency copy is much less fun.
How do you see the job evolving?
I am giving up life as a freelancer to take a staff job with Al Jazeera, in Doha. I have got mixed feelings about this because I enjoy the freedom and diversity I get from being my own boss. I also want my long-term future to be in Scotland rather than London or the Middle East. But it is too good an opportunity to pass up.
I get a real buzz from being in the gallery on big rolling news stories and Al Jazeera has given me a ringside seat on some huge stories – from the Arab Spring to the U.S. election campaign. I would love to produce intelligent television news with an international agenda from Glasgow or Edinburgh. It is hard to see it happening unless there is a ‘Yes’ vote in next year’s referendum.
What gives you most job satisfaction?
A good news story needs an element of surprise; it should make the audience sit up and take notice. But a really great story should make powerful people feel ashamed. Our job is to give a voice to people who are not being heard and shine a light into the darker corners of society. I feel most satisfied when this is what I have done.
When I was at BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland, I put a 14 year-old asylum seeker, live on the programme from Dungavel Detention Centre – in the prime time slot of ten past eight.
After she had described how she could not go to school or meet with her friends, we interviewed the Home Office minister responsible for asylum policy. That was a good day at the office.