First steps on the foreign reporting ladder

The BBC Washington DC and World Online journalist, Helier Cheung, led our most recent masterclass for mentees and spoke about how to take the first steps into a career in reporting the news overseas. Past mentee, Amy Sutton, was an avid listener and took notes for us….

Just over two years ago, I ticked a box titled ‘Interested in reporting on the road or overseas’ on my application form to become a mentee of the John Schofield Trust. I was an eager, bright-eyed young journalist with hopes of working in Washington DC after visiting the United States in my teenage years and studying American Politics – but no idea how I’d do it. I hadn’t long been offered a job in a local newsroom for ITV, but the opportunity somehow seemed reachable with the guidance, motivation and connections of the Trust. After being accepted on the mentoring scheme, I enjoyed the most productive and motivated start of my career so far – with a mentor who had the exact job I dreamed of!

And not even a global pandemic could get in the way of the Trust’s enthusiasm, commitment and support in offering opportunities to young journalists. So I was ecstatic to open the e-invitation to engage with Helier Cheung via Zoom, to hear about her adventure from a BBC trainee to Hong Kong correspondent, to her current role as a digital reporter in Washington DC. 

Hearing Helier’s experiences in such a personal but open environment was different. She was one of us, she still is. She first became a journalist in 2012, and managed to navigate her journey from trainee to reporting from destinations around the globe. 

Whilst discussing the highs and lows of her career so far, she reminded us it’s not always going to be a sugar-coated experience – we’re in this industry because we have a passion to tell stories, hold those in power to account and build trust with our audience. But if you believe in yourself and your ability, and find opportunities to build up your storytelling and reporting experience, you’ll be in a good position to grab reporting opportunities when they come. Helier’s journey took her from London to Singapore, Hong Kong, Norway, Thailand, and the US.

It was also super encouraging to hear Helier’s active role in producing digital content for the BBC, both domestically and abroad, as I’m currently working as a digital lead for ITV News. 

Helier gave us a host of lessons learned and tips for the future. She offered a range of advice and on-the-road hacks to remember:

  • Got enough phone battery to last you 12 hours in a protest?
  • Thought about using your iPhone on a breaking news live?
  • Do you know who your go-to commissioners and editors are back at base?
  • What about checking in with the foreign bureau about your accommodation?
  • Never assume anything!

Not only did I come away believing that actually my career goals were possible, but also that we mentees are surrounded by peers in the most inclusive and special network you’d want to work in.

Amy Sutton (pictured above) is a digital lead at ITV News. She was a participant on our 2018-19 mentoring scheme and was mentored by Matthew Price