BBC Director of Sport, Barbara Slater, states that her years as an athlete and her time at Loughborough University helped springboard her career into sports media, which has seen her as the Head of Production and the Head of General Sports, and currently sees her as the BBC’s Director of Sport, the first female to ever hold the position.
On Saturday 22 November, Barbara Slater treated the students of LSU Media to a Question and Answer session hosted by the VP of LSU Media, Bryn Wilkes, in Fusion. The 55 year old gave students an insight into her journey from athlete to Loughborough Student to successful sports producer. Whilst in the position of BBC Director of Sport, Barbara has tackled some of the biggest sporting event productions this country has ever seen, including the 2012 London Summer Olympics and the 2014 Commonwealth Games. However, she stated that her biggest challenge and her proudest achievement was the BBC Sport of Excellence’s 200-mile move to Salford just months before the Olympics.
Being an athlete was Slater’s path to sports media and she stated, “sport is a brilliant grounding and foundation for people to do different things”. However, Slater also pointed out that today “dramatic changes” have taken place in media and sport is not the only route into sports media. The industry needs both the athletes that contribute to the media outputs, like the presenter and former tennis player Sue Barker, as well as the professional journalists.
Slater informed students that it is “incredibly helpful” to have a wider knowledge of media, as well as your specialism, whether that be in sport, like Slater, or another aspect of media, and the facilities LSU Media provides are a great platform for budding journalists and media producers to increase their expertise.
She also advised that it is especially important to “be aware of the current media trends”, for example social media, and how and where people are going to consume their media. Social media is currently extremely popular and BBC Sport have realised this and focused more on these types of media outputs. Their Facebook page has 6 million ‘likes’ and provides a constant stream of reports of the current sports coverage and results. In terms of sports media, Slater suggested that sports reporters and journalists need a good “breadth, range and volume of content” and so need a wider knowledge of sport and Loughborough University, being one of the top sporting universities in the country, is a great platform to do that on.
Slater’s advise to those who want to break into the industry is to have many practical skills because employers want to know what you have got to offer. It is important to be media savvy, to speak with authority and to convey your own ideas. The media world is changing at a fast pace and it is important that those in the industry are catering to these changes to ensure popularity with media consumers, for example BBC Sport have profiles on Twitter and Facebook, as well as having an app for multiple technological devices; they are quick to access and can be accessed on the move at the touch of a button. It is important that as a journalist you have an interest in what you write, whether that is sports, politics, news or culture, and it is also important to have an opinion on these. There are many wide and varied careers to be had in the area of media and so it is important to not be scared to explore these and find where your expertise and specialism is. Most importantly though is to, as Slater stated, “get bucket loads of practical experience” to refine your expertise and to show people what you can do. In the past, to get experience in media it was about the connections you had with the industry and who you knew in it, however you can not do that now, especially at the BBC, and you have to go through a central recruitment process, which Slater believes is a lot better and a lot fairer for those who want get into media.
The Alumni Weekend was a great success for LSU Media and provided a great opportunity for current students to gain valuable advice and expertise regarding the media industry. All the Alumni were extremely helpful and it was appreciated that they took the time to come back to help current students.
Job title – BBC Director of Sport.
Ex – British Gymnast.
Competed at the 1976 Vermont Summer Olympics and flag bearer for Team GB at the opening ceremony.
National Standard Diver and Club-level Squash Player.
Birmingham University and Oxford University Graduate.
Loughborough Student 1980 – 1981 studying a PGCE in PE.
By Emma Lawton