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Valuable advice from a BBC editor on navigating a career in media

TOP OF HER GAME: Debbie Ramsay, BBC Newsbeat Editor

DEBBIE RAMSAY is everything you would aspire to be, if one day when you grew up, you wanted to be one of the most experienced multi-platform editors holding down a key position at the BBC with aplomb.

Currently BBC Newsbeat Editor, Ramsay has worked her way up to seniority via hard graft, long hours and a genuine love of people. From reporting roles at local newspapers to varied roles at the BBC including Online Editor, Entertainment Editor and radio presenter to name a few; Ramsay has performed most, if not every task, that she might ask her team of journalists to; giving her an understanding of 'the bigger picture' that can only come with experience.

The Voice asked the warm and bubbly Ramsay to answer some of our burning career-related questions:

Q: Walk us through a typical day at work for you...

A: My day starts pretty early, because I will speak to the breakfast bulletin team (who will have been in since about 4-ish) about the 6.30am bulletin. It’s the first one [of the day] we have on Radio 1, so I will talk to them before 6am from home.


I get to work about 7.30am-ish then have half an hour of peace (!) before our editorial meeting at 8 o’clock, where we’ll all bounce ideas around - that lasts about half an hour or so, then I will speak to the day editors about who will do what, then sometimes I will go into the BBC-wide meeting at 9am which is where everybody shares the direction in which they're going [in terms of content] and then will feed that back to my team. We work quite closely with the Asian Network who are on the same floor as us, so will feed back to them as well.

The rest of the day is just meetings, managing the output across the team - lots of different things!

Q: What sort of training and/or experience would you credit most with your success so far?

A: Working in local newspapers is a really good grounding, because if you’re a journalist you have to sit in four-hour council meetings that you might think are so dull, but you have to listen and pick out something that will be a gem of story - that really did sharpen my journalistic instincts.

In my current role I’ve done practically every role there is at Radio 1 Newsbeat - reporter, I've presented on the radio, commissioned documentaries, I've been online editor, entertainment editor, so I know how it works so when people are having a problem - I’ve been there! This means that when it comes down to it I can get stuck in and I have done - for example, when the London Bridge attacks happened I was in over the weekend.


I would also credit the team around me.

Q: As a black female editor in what has traditionally seen as a white male domain, which resources or networks, if any, have you tapped into over the years for support / hacks on how to survive and thrive in media?

A: I think first and foremost I've always just thought 'I’m going to be brilliant at my job first', and focus on it rather than thinking ‘I'm in a minority here’ - that can bog you down and stop you being as brilliant as you can be. For me, it’s almost secondary and if my race comes into it, then that’s other people bringing that in, not me.

Throughout my career there have been people who have been surprised that I’m black - then I just do my job and I make more of an impact doing that. You do more to change people’s minds by just being brilliant.

You meet like-minded people and you hang onto them and just build your network above and below you as well as around you; never taking credit for something that you shouldn’t take credit for and never pretending to know something you don’t know. You do build your networks naturally in some ways and just make sure you don’t obsess about 'the black thing'!


If I ask a junior member of our team to help with something or show me how to do it, the fact that they can tell me how to do something and guide me is really empowering for them - work at building your team. Everyone is equal, everyone has a say.

Q: Do you feel there is any truth in the Lean In principle, in that, women need to be more forthright when it comes to their career?

A: I don’t think its necessarily a 'men and women' thing all the time - everybody finds it hard to speak up at those big meetings and do things like ask for a pay rise - that's an awkward conversation to have.

A lot of women I know are quite practical and realistic, so they might see a job which requires things that they don't know how to do, so they might think, 'Realistically I won’t go for that job because I can’t do this and I can’t do that', and a man might think ‘Oh I’ll go for it’!

Taking a big gulp and going for it when you’re coming in to replace someone who has already done your role - maybe men have traditionally done that role - it’s about being really strong and saying, 'No, I’m going to do it my way' and ask yourself, 'What’s the best way for me to do this job, not attempt to do it in a 'male' or 'female' way.


I think generally you should be strong enough to make a point and just talk - don't let people talk over you!

Q: How do you switch off at the end of a long day, when it's your job to keep an eye on current affairs?

A: I know that I’ve got a strong team around me, so if someone else is looking after things I know that if they need to contact me they will. Nowadays I know that if anybody needs to get hold of me, they will - there are so many ways to do so!

I love trashy TV - I still watch Neighbours, Love Island, Big Brother, Gray’s Anatomy,’s my way of switching off!

I usually go to the gym four or five times a week. I'm quite strict with it and I have to make sure I have a personal trainer - if I've got an appointment to meet somebody I will definitely go; if not or I’ll be sat in the office in the evening!

You might feel bad about going to the gym or having a break at lunchtime but when you come back to face all your work you will whizz through it. You've got to have that downtime


Q; If you were interviewing a potential new recruit on behalf of the BBC, what would you like to see from them?

A: They've got to be passionate about the BBC and what the BBC does because it’s an amazing organisation and the journalism is outstanding and I truly believe that; not just because I'm a BBC employee!

They have to be creative - I know it’s an easy thing to say, but being creative is being a person who does things differently and the more people you have that don’t think like you the better it is.

They need to be digitally native - that’s not even a question for me anymore - Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat - that should be inherent in their DNA.

I would like them to think visually, even if they don't have graphic design skills, they should be able to tell a story on different platforms and really be fluent in multimedia, especially for Newsbeat. If you can work on all platforms it will stand you in good stead - all our reporters can do radio, all of them can write for online, all of them can actually build those pages, all of them can edit film and they embracing everything - everybody gets a chance to do everything.

You do need a sense of humour to be able to work in news in general and especially at Newsbeat - we do have fun!

Follow @BBCNewsbeat on Twitter to see what Debbie and her team are working on. For information on careers at the BBC, follow @BBCGetIn.

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