'More must be done to help young broadcast journalists'

It’s the time of the year when I look at the nominees for the John Schofield Young Journalist Award at the Royal Television Society (RTS) ahead of next Wednesday’s awards ceremony and wonder just how proud John would have been to have his name associated with the industry’s finest young talent.

John – my husband – was killed in Croatia in 1995 aged just 29. He was there covering the Balkans war for BBC radio. In the shock and anger of John’s death I pledged that his name would be remembered like this for ever more. Then, and now, there is much more we can and should do.

At the time, I felt that there weren’t enough opportunities to recognise young journalistic talent and so, with the RTS, I set up the award to recognise the best young journalist of the year under the age of 30 to be presented each year at the RTS Journalism Awards.

Part of John’s charm was that, even with a glittering CV under his belt, he really didn’t know how good he was. I do not want other young journalists to continue unrecognised by the industry it serves until – as in John’s case – it is too late.

John never saw the hundreds of letters of condolence that his family and I received all celebrating his talents and lamenting the lost potential.

From the day I met him at Sussex University, I knew John was passionate about journalism. He started to carve out his career whilst a student writing for Unionews and appearing on the campus radio station, as well as notching up work experience on BBC Radio Sussex on its student access programme.

Having cut his teeth interviewing such illustrious figures as Peter Preston, Des Wilson and Donald Trelford, it was not surprising he was snapped up as an ITN trainee straight after graduating. Stewart Purvis, the then chief executive at ITN, said: “I think I can take the credit, or perhaps the blame, for bringing John to ITN as I chaired the interviewing panel for the editorial trainees in 1987.

His abilities struck me immediately, and I cannot remember another candidate who was chosen so quickly in what is normally quite a prolonged process.”

When his traineeship ended John was thrilled to be taken on as a reporter on the Channel 4 Daily and made it to ITN’s Gulf War team not long after.

After C4D fell victim to the launch of The Big Breakfast, John continued working as a producer at ITN on the Channel 4 News where Jon Snow remembered how he “was one of the best young journalists I’ve had the fortune to work with”.

In 1994 John returned eagerly to the microphone and switched to the BBC to become a reporter on Radio 4’s The World Tonight: he was in his element.

Robin Lustig wrote: “John was one of the most popular and talented members of The World Tonight team.

“He had a rare ability to combine sounds and words to create evocative radio reports from many different parts of the world. He was scrupulously fair, and always immensely careful to get things right.

“His energy and enthusiasm were infectious; he was always full of ideas and always desperate to get out of the office and onto the next story. He had been with us for only just over a year but had become a much-loved friend and colleague.”

The John Schofield Journalist of the Year Award has, for the last 15 years, been an excellent marker for identifying promising talent within the news industry.

Many of the award-winners have gone on to greater heights, such as Faisal Islam, Donal MacIntyre and James Reynolds.

MacIntyre said that winning “the award in John’s honour was very important and special and it gave me a great encouragement in the pursuit of my work”.

Reynolds wrote: “John Schofield’s life and career made an important point: age doesn’t matter. Young or old – journalism is about going out and getting the story. It’s important that there is an award which makes the point that John proved better than any of the rest of us.”

Fifteen years on since John’s death, the trustees and I believe that more could be done to encourage young news-gathering talent in an ever-increasingly competitive industry.

We have decided to increase our efforts in assisting young journalists starting out in their profession as well as encouraging them to stay in it.

ITV News’ deputy editor and director of newsgathering, Jonathan Munro, who was an ITN trainee with John and is now a trustee, said: “John was the most welcoming of colleagues and friends and it feels right to be extending his welcome to young journalists who are trying to carve a career for themselves in what is a very competitive industry.”

Plans are afoot to make use of social networking sites to enable mentoring schemes between people starting out in their journalist-careers with experienced news-gatherers.

We also plan to hold networking opportunities for journalists to meet and learn from each other. Over the summer, further work on the John Schofield Memorial Trust’s website will be made and plans finalised for a launch of the Trust’s plans in September.

Readers can email me at info@johnschofieldtrust.org.uk if they want to be a mentor, a mentee in the Trust’s scheme or for more information.

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