The first rule in journalism is never ever give up, and I mean never give up. This is a quote by ex BBC reporter Clarence Mitchell. He came to the University of Chester on December 1, 2014 to talk about his life and career and how to succeed in the competitive journalism market.
Clarence Mitchell grew up in North West London and got his first job as a journalist with the Barnet and Potters Bar Times in Hertfordshire. This was, however, not the very first step in his career path.
After finishing school at GCSE stage, the high profile journalist started out as a bank cashier in London. “I found it the most boring, soul destroying existence ever. I remember, when I had been there for nearly three years and I looked at the clock on a Wednesday afternoon thinking, if it is 3.10pm, I must have done this and this and this, but I could honestly not remember doing those things. It was awful and I decided the only way to get out of this is to make my own luck”, said Mitchell.
He then thought about his interest in photography and made an enquiry with the NCTJ to find out more about becoming a photographer. However, he got sent back material about being a reporter. “I thought that is interesting and the more I read about it, I thought yes this is actually intriguing”, said Mitchell.
Clarence applied to different newspapers and agencies and got about 40 rejections. “When you want to get into it, keep knocking at the door, because news desks look for a degree in ambition, they look for consistence and persistency. If you give up in the first couple of weeks of rejections, you do not deserve to be a journalist.”
Clarence again had a lucky breakthrough, when he got an apprenticeship with the local newspaper of South Hertfordshire, Barnet and Potters Bar Times. “News desks do not listen, they are too busy, but eventually they will start to take notice of you.”
What happened next is probably every young journalist’s dream. The local MP at the time was Margaret Thatcher and one day she just walked past Mitchell’s desk. ”As a young journalist, when you are learning, to suddenly see the prime minister walking past your desk is quite a surreal experience. But it gave me an inside into the whole operation early on, before I joined the BBC.”
Clarence then later joined the training scheme of the BBC and became a news reporter in Leeds. He then started to report internationally and in 1999 he became royal correspondent. “It was a real contrast, you see every aspect of life, good and bad. What I was privileged to see was a huge variety of situations in different places, many of which the average man or woman with a day job in the office would never get to see. You are effectively an eye witness to history”, said Mitchell.
Clarence Mitchell was at the heart of the action in many historical moments such as the death of Diana in 1997, reporting on the Iraq conflict between 2003-2005 and the disappearance of Madeleine McCann in 2007.
He then became spokesman for the McCann family. Clarence said:” There is nothing to suggest that Madeleine has been harmed and therefore it is just as logical in the absence of any evidence to believe that she is alive. We think that she might be concealed somewhere.”
Clarence Mitchell is now conservative prospective parliamentary candidate for Brighton Pavilion.
With his attitude never to give up and pursue what he really wanted to do, Clarence Mitchell became a high-profile journalist and covered some of the most important stories over the last years. Consistence and persistency appears to be one recipe for success, when becoming a journalist.
by Lisa Meller