Michael Jermey has undoubtedly had continued success in both his careers at ITN and more recently at ITV, culminating in his recent victory in being selected as one of the three broadcasters to transmit the televised election debates. A former student of Brasenose and editor of, you guessed it, Cherwell during the 80s, he has had the career that every young journalist aspires to. Today, with so many of us leaving Oxford and going straight into great money in finance and law, I thought I’d find out a little more about an industry that isn’t shouted about on the Milk Round, and of course delve into Jermey’s recent success with the TV debates, and his own experiences at Oxford.
Jermey may have left university around 25 years ago but I wanted to find out how he started his career back in the 80s; has that much really changed, or do the core values still apply when striving for a job in journalism? ‘I wanted to go into journalism before I went to Oxford and all the time I was in Oxford, and I was absolutely committed to a career in journalism. It was difficult then, as it is now; I wrote hundreds of letters to every media outlet I could think of. I got hundreds of rejections. I was eventually very lucky to be taken on as the most junior current affairs researcher at central television. I started at current affairs; I was then fortunate to get a place as a trainee on the ITN trainee scheme. That was, at that time, a great grounding in television journalism- ITN gave me enormous opportunities over the years to follow.
‘The advice I would give to people wanting to go into journalism now is follow their dream. Volunteer to work wherever you can, get whatever grounding you can. I think there are a number of very good post-graduate courses now, and if it’s what you want to do and you’re persistent enough about it, and you have some ability, you will succeed. Those first steps in are tough, but you need persistence and dedication to it.’
Yet things have certainly changed; we have moved from daily news updates being an innovation to constant interactivity through the internet and social networking- the place for TV news journalism is surely diminishing. When I asked Jermey if there would always be a place for TV news, he quickly qualified, ‘Always is a long word’. But did current times show that the market for TV news was falling and would indeed continue to fall?
‘I think one of the interesting things is that during the era of massive growth in digital and social media there is still an awful lot of television. Television viewing is not dropping. In fact people are spending more time interacting with different screens through the day. And the fact that you can now get television on the move actually fills in more timing. If you look at a number of the surveys, a number of them actually suggest that television viewing has gone up.
‘I think that people over the years ahead will continue to consume media in developing forms and varying forms. Television itself will change. But I think video as a medium for news will continue forever, whether you call that television news or whether you call that something else. Perhaps that matters rather less, the power of pictures and the ability to communicate information through the combination of words and pictures, which was one of the most powerful developments of the 20th century, I’m sure will continue in varying forms in the 21st.’
Indeed, the TV election debates in which Jermey was heavily involved were followed by people not only on television, but through social networking sites and the internet as well. With about 10 million tuning into ITV’s first election debate, it was an undisputable success, with an audience that could compete with the viewing figures for an England football International:
‘I think they were a great thing for British journalism. People had wanted to have election debates between the leaders at elections right back to the 1960s when the Kennedy/ Nixon debate happened in the States, and somebody at each election had normally resisted- normally the incumbent, normally the prime minister hadn’t seen an advantage in coming down to the same level as their opponents and I think the broadcasters this time persuaded the parties to sign up to an agreement that made the three debates actually happen, which everybody was very pleased about. It was a proud moment for all three broadcasters that there were debates, and that they had such a positive impact on the election. I think people watched them in large numbers and they thought the public debate was really engaging, they thought on television and on other forms of media.’
But Michael Jermey wasn’t always at the forefront of broadcasting innovation; he did his time at Cherwell, editing the paper during 1984, and it would seem some things certainly haven’t changed: ‘ Yeah, during the time I was editor of Cherwell we were threatened with being sued several times. Nobody successfully pursued that, whether that was because ultimately a student newspaper couldn’t damage a reputation or whether it was because they didn’t have a case, I don’t know.’
So it would seem scandal isn’t anything new at Cherwell, although it would appear computers are a relatively new addition, ‘Working on Cherwell was then, as I suspect it is now, a great deal of fun, and the chance to take a first step in journalism, working with other people who had enormous enthusiasm for what we did. And in the era pre mobile phones, pre texting, there was a lot of walking around Oxford to find your sources, to find your interviews, and you put scripts together on typewriters and old-fashioned type-setting rather than on computers. There wasn’t a computer in the Cherwell office in 1984, there probably was within a year or so. You know, it was an exciting time and a time I remember with great fondness, even to this day, and I’ve got friends that I met at either Brasenose or who I met through Cherwell, and I would encourage anybody who’s interested in journalism to work on one the student media outlets at Oxford.’
Michael has come a long way from his days at Oxford and has seen his career soar into success, in a field that is simply the opposite of ‘as easy as ABC’ to break into. However, memories of his time at Oxford are still hard to shake, and we end our conversation with his reflections: ‘The best memories are actually of friends and conversation and the arguing over ideas, and three years when you’re mixing with people who are interested in exploring ideas and different approaches to the world – you might not get that again with that intensity. It is a time I look back on with great fondness and happy memories, and you do make friends who you do know for life.’ I haven’t even left yet and I’m getting nostalgic.