Jessica Creighton has worked at some of the biggest sporting events in the world, with the most revered of broadcasters, interviewing some huge names in sport. She has also featured on popular BBC programmes like The One Show, Final Score, BBC Breakfast and the Women’s Football Show. We spoke to Jessica about the path that led her to her current role, presenting sports bulletins on BBC Two’s Victoria Derbyshire Show and the BBC News Channel.
Tell us about your journey in the industry.
I guess it started before university when I did some work experience with BBC Watchdog for a couple of weeks. It was unpaid and I guess I was actually paying to get in and out of London because they didn’t cover travel expenses. That led me to choose broadcast journalism at Nottingham Trent University. I learnt loads and it prepared me for the outside world because the course was 50% theory and 50% practical so we got out there filming, writing and interviewing.
Once I got out of university I was awarded a place on the prestigious BBC Journalism Trainee Scheme – I was picked as one of the 15 from about 3000 applicants, so I was quite pleased they thought I had something. I was a trainee for about 18 months before I got promoted to Olympic Sports Reporter and that was honestly one of the best jobs that I’ve ever had. My remit was to follow the journeys of British athletes and a few big world athletes to London 2012. I went round as a video journalist and came up with ideas, pitched them, set up interviews. I produced and edited it all and was basically pushing out as much content as I could about British athletes in the run up to London 2012 – it was amazing!
Any notable names?
I was in the mixed zone with the likes of Mo Farah after his historic double, I interviewed Jessica Ennis-Hill and Usain Bolt after he created history at London 2012. It was such a fantastic opportunity– it doesn’t really get much bigger than the Olympics.
But that role obviously had to finish once the summer of 2012 was over.
After much deliberation – and friends telling me I was crazy – I left the BBC to go freelance. I had nothing lined up for after. For a few months I was very, very worried thinking about how things would work, if I had thought it through and how I was going to pay my rent! But then I got a few freelance gigs – including from the BBC. Then the opportunity came up to take a screen test to be one of the BBC News Channel sports presenters. It wasn’t what I expected to be doing but it was an opportunity that I thought I should grasp. It went well and two years later I’m still here!
Many people have described you as a breath of fresh air in sports broadcasting; tell us how you adopted that title and how it makes you feel?
To be honest, as much as I’d like to say it’s due to my talents I don’t actually think it’s hard to be a breath of fresh air in this industry! The decision makers are beginning to realise that it’s all quite ‘samey’. So for me to come in as a woman, a woman of colour, and who was young (I’ve just turned thirty!) it wasn’t difficult for me to offer something different because hardly anyone in the industry looks like me or shares my upbringing. I’d like to think that I am unique in the way that I broadcast and the way that I see a story and report on it.
My life started on a council estate in North-West London which, as far as I’m aware, isn’t the upbringing of many people in the industry. That has a direct effect n how I see things and how I talk about things – so I’d like to think that I’m drawing on my own experiences to tell stories in a different way and also bring light to stories that perhaps others may not think are as important.
What has been the highlight of your career been so far?
I’ve had quite a few highlights. I think the fact that I competed in athletics and then got to interview the legend of the sport, Usain Bolt, that’s a major highlight for me. I also won an award from the Women’s Sports Trust for journalist of the year and I thought it was so nice just to be nominated and recognised in that way. I couldn’t get my head around it when they announced my name as the winner! I couldn’t believe it. I still have the medal on my chest of drawers in my bedroom.But bigger than the awards and recognition, is when people – particularly young, black women – come up to me and say, “you have inspired me to pursue a career in media because I’ve seen you on TV and thought maybe I can do it too”. That’s probably the greatest highlight.
You mentioned the BBC trainee scheme – tell us about your experiences there and what advice would you give to those who want to get onto the scheme?
The scheme was great, it was all-encompassing, so I got experience in online, TV and radio which is so important these days because if you go for a job they expect you to have a knowledge of all three platforms, if not more. I got to work on thorough journalistic programmes like Newsnight, which was just amazing! To see these journalists and how they went about their work: researching interviewees, subject matter and where they found their sources, was really fascinating. I also got to work in regional news where they do things a little bit differently and everything is more localised.
JESS’ THREE TOP TIPS
The 1st top tip:
To be on screen you have to be thick-skinned. As soon as you’re there everyone forms an opinion on you, rightly or wrongly, and particularly for women. You get a lot of focus on your aesthetic so you’ve got to find a way not to take it personally. If you listen to everyone’s comments you run the risk of the good ones going to your head and the bad ones knocking your confidence. It’s easier said than done but you’ve got to remain resilient because people are going to be critical of you whether you know them or not. Social media, your friends, family, people on the street – everyone will have an opinion.
The 2nd top tip:
It’s a fast-paced industry and competitive! You’ve got to be willing to go the extra mile because there’s always someone who wants to take your job. I actually moved to Norwich for a good few months as part of the BBC Journalism Trainee Scheme and not many people wanted that placement! Coming from London, I was a bit discombobulated – but you need to suck it up sometimes and make sacrifices. I’m glad I did because, again, it was a really good opportunity to learn, apply myself and improve as a broadcaster. That’s the kind of advice I would give to people – if an opportunity arises, take it, because you never know where it might lead. Grasp it with both hands and put your all into it because you don’t know who you might meet or what you might learn – it might even teach you that it isn’t what you want to do, so all opportunities can help you learn something about yourself.
When I was on the (BBC training) scheme I was working Monday to Friday on World News as one of my placements but because I’d always loved sport I badgered one of the sports bosses and told him I’d love to come down and meet some of the team. From that initial meeting I was able to get a couple of shifts at the weekends. So I was doing weekdays at World News and Saturdays and most Sundays at Sport, as an Assistant Producer. So I was working seven days a week. I don’t remember seeing anyone from my social circle for a good few months and maybe even a year. I missed birthdays, social occasions, meals out – everything. But sometimes you’ve got to be willing to.
The 3rd top tip:
I say this to a lot of people – what is your unique selling point? What is it that makes you different to what’s already out there? If you think about a boss advertising for a job and receiving loads of CVs, what makes you stand out in that big pile – is it the way you talk, your perspective on things, the way you look? Think about what makes you different and how you can capitalise on that by making it an employable feature. A lot of young Londoners are sometimes afraid to branch out of the city because it can seem like the only place in the world that you want to live – but I think it’s worth remembering that it’s not the centre of the earth and that there are other places out there. It gives you an advantage if you’re willing to move and willing to sacrifice what you have for a job opportunity. If you’re career-minded, focused and ambitious then I would tell people not to be scared of moving. I did it for the journalism trainee placement as I mentioned earlier. And five-and- a-half years ago, having no ties to Manchester whatsoever – I’d been down south all my life – I moved everything up North. It was a risk! It was a massive sacrifice in terms of my social circle, my family, everything. But sometimes you’ve got to be willing to do that and to go the extra mile if you want these opportunities to come to you.