From Disaster Zones To Royal Weddings: The Life Of A Broadcast Journalist
British television presenter and journalist Matt Barbet, who is best known for his work with Channel 5 and ITV, looks back on a broadcasting career that taught him how to present a message with clarity and accuracy no matter what the situation, whether a story about the local pantomime or talking to young soldiers on the frontline in Afghanistan.
Here, he shares the highs and lows during a dazzling career of breaking the latest news to audiences:
If you blink, you’ll miss it, they say – but when I look back on more than 18 years in broadcast journalism, it can feel as if I blinked and went from covering stories about missing cats in Cardiff, to talking to young soldiers on the frontline in Afghanistan; from grabbing a soundbite off a local politician to watching Prime Ministers come and go in Downing Street; from talking about a local panto to shaking hands with Jonhny Depp on the Oscars' red carpet (although they call the colour "cranberry" there - it is LaLaLand, after all...)
At one time or another, I’ve worked for most of the main broadcasters – BBC, ITV, Sky News and Channel 5, where I have been now, on and off, for almost ten years. That variety in my career, and broadcasting for outlets like Radio 1 Newsbeat or ITV’s Daybreak, has given me an unparalleled insight into how important it is to get across a clear and concise message, often for people who are doing something else. Waffling and pontificating simply doesn’t wash when someone is waiting for their favourite soap to start again.
"My industry is preoccupied with a different vernacular – we call it “journalese”. It’s something I actively rail against."
Working first thing in the morning, as I did at Daybreak, makes focussing even more vital, and that’s with the added difficulty of waking up to a 3.15am alarm. People starting their day too don’t need someone preoccupied with how early their own start was. They just want to know what’s going on.
It’s been the same when I’ve worked for the likes of Hewlett Packard, Fujitsu, or the International Luxury Travel Market. They don’t want someone pretending to know their business better than they do – but a clear, honest approach and concise, thoughtful questions can encourage them to perhaps look at themselves or their industry in a different way. Not being afraid to show you have a sense of humour can help too.
Facilitating a discussion with two esteemed solicitors for a roomful of eager young lawyers was the kind of legal minefield I didn’t mind negotiating, as one of the guests was Anthony Julius – who famously handled Princess Diana’s divorce from Prince Charles. He was also instructed by Heather Mills when her marriage to Paul McCartney ended, and after he nonchalantly answered a few questions couched in the kind of “legalese” his industry is so fond of, my more populist inclinations prompted me to ask what it’s like to represent someone who doesn’t even represent herself particularly well. It garnered a rye smile, a laugh from the audience and an honest - if unexpected - answer.
"Working first thing in the morning makes focussing even more vital. People starting their day too don’t need someone preoccupied with how early their own start was"
In fact, my own industry is still preoccupied with a different vernacular – we call it “journalese”, and if you’ve heard that “floral tributes” have been laid down after “an incident” involving “revellers” you’ll know what I mean. It’s something I actively rail against, although simplifying language is not dumbing-down – it’s merely conveying things in a more natural, amenable way.
One word of jargon I don’t mind so much is “range”. It’s often used to describe someone in my role who can pivot from the serious to the less so, and it’s what I enjoy the most. I was as equally challenged when I covered the Oscars and William and Kate’s Royal Wedding as when I was in Haiti after it suffered a devastating earthquake or Ethiopia when it ensured yet another famine. I embrace the huge variety of different stories the world throws up.
Sure, dodging gangsters in a disaster zone reminds you to have your wits about you, but then so does avoiding being taken in by a Ukrainian prankster masquerading as a foreign dignitary outside Buckingham Palace. Going through these kinds of experiences year on year helps to develop a vital personal “hinterland” – and I’ll leave the jargon there.
On Johnny Depp though, well, I wasn't even meant to be on that cranberry carpet, but a smart tux did its job very well, fortunately. As I cheekily stepped onto the famous flooring, so did Johnny. He thought I was there to greet him, and I didn't want to let him down. For a split second, we warmly shook hands like old friends. He was the first of dozens of A-listers to arrive and I had a ringside seat, even if they weren't all as effusive.
Glimpsing those different worlds through other people's eyes has been the biggest privilege. Recounting the tales afterwards is what keeps me coming back.