Ashna Hurynag BA English MA Broadcast Journalism
I studied AS level Law and A levels in English Literature, French and Drama & Theatre at Collyer’s from 2009-2011. Collyer’s made me feel like a grown-up and was a significant step up from my secondary school. Yes, we had lessons but no uniform and called teachers by their first names. There were oodles of coursework but the space to manage your own time and work out who you were as a person. Drama lessons were the most fun, hilarious, and engaging because of the brilliant teaching staff – one of whom proclaimed that one day I would end up “reading the news for the BBC.” I laughed at the time because that seemed far-fetched – cue – two years later sitting in an ITV studio in Bristol doing that very thing. Spot on with the role, but not quite the company.
After Collyer’s I jumped straight into a BA English degree at Royal Holloway University of London for 3 years. It was the perfect university experience for me. It was here that my love of broadcasting and current affairs grew. Aside from lectures and seminars I spent many hours in the student television station bureau and the radio station studio and writing articles for the student magazine and paper. It felt like I was doing a Media Studies course in my spare time!
This experience and fondness for journalism led me to get into a prestigious Broadcast Journalism MA course at City University. Their alumni list of successful broadcasters is renowned. I was desperate to go there and was delighted to have a successful year here where I walked away with a Distinction plus a network of talented journalists, who are also good friends working in every corner of the media and press.
One of the biggest problems with the industry is the amount of unpaid work experience you need to do to get your ‘foot in the door.’ I am not kidding when I say I applied for hundreds of internships and placements at various organisations to try and get my first journalism job. I have kept lots of the tailored covering letters to remind myself of how far I have come.
I luckily scored a Creative Access internship at ITV News West Country in 2015, based in Bristol. I moved to the city for initially a year’s contract, without ever having visited before, hungry to start work in an industry I was passionate about. By 2018 I was regularly producing bulletins, planning, and pitching stories for the main 6 o’clock show. At that point I had even become a mentor to other young journalists, a role I still take pride in doing today.
Moving on from Bristol was difficult as I had built so many close relationships with friends, colleagues, and contacts in the region. But after trying out producing on-location, going out to speak to people and hear their stories in person I knew I wanted to become a reporter and had to move on from the region that I had taught me so much. Progression in the journalism world often involves jumping into scary but exciting opportunities and ‘sinking or swimming.’
So I moved to ITV Wales for a stint as an On-Screen reporter based in Cardiff. I was self-shooting almost every day, essentially filming everything myself from interviews to pieces to camera. Then I would then come back to base or sit in my car and edit the entire report together myself. It was the height of self-sufficiency. This gave me the perfect experience to bounce me onto a national scale reporting role in September 2018 where I produced television pieces and did live reports for all of the ITV regions. From Cornwall to Leeds thousands watched my pieces on national issues for their local programmes working within ITV’s Content Hub. Again, I sourced, planned, arranged my interviews for the pieces myself. I had to go out and film them, then come back and edit them all. It was incredibly tiring – I won’t lie – but extraordinarily rewarding.
Working as a Content Hub reporter I also got some pretty wonderful gigs. I marked the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings with a week’s worth of coverage with some 250 veterans on board a cruise ship bound for the beaches of Northern France and Kent. I, my producer, and camerawoman created 75 television pieces for all ITV’s regional programmes. In October 2019 I was also sent to California to cover the Red Arrow’s tour of North America, I regularly interviewed the RAF’s stunt pilots and did multiple live broadcasts on glorious beaches, a career highlight for obvious reasons.
Sky News has also been a dream of mine and being hired as a Correspondent in January 2020 specialising in live and breaking news and current affairs is one of my proudest achievements. Three months into getting the job the world turned upside down when Covid-19 ripped through the globe. It remains the biggest story I have ever, and probably will ever, cover to date.
I have been fortunate enough to win multiple awards during my career at ITV. The most prestigious being the Royal Television Society Southern Centre’s On-Screen Newcomer 2019 and the Royal Television Society West of England’s ‘Flying Futures’ Newcomer 2017.
Reporting on the Covid-19 pandemic was a test for every journalist and newsroom as viewers came in their droves, wanting and needing information about what was going on. Every day we were tracking the hospitalisations and deaths of people in the UK. My first live broadcast mentioning Covid-19 was back when 4 people were being treated as suspected cases at the Royal London Hospital. It is astonishing to look back at what has happened since. Reporting meant taking risks too, our job changed overnight and suddenly we became ‘key workers’. Wearing masks every day, keeping 2 metres between every interviewee, and not conducting interviews indoors. We heard so many heart-breaking stories of those whose loved ones had passed and those who had narrowly escaped death.
Then we reported on every political twist in the pandemic and the discovery of the vaccine, and the extraordinary effort made by those working for the NHS and in social care. I like to think that our reporting – and that of other British media outlets – made a difference in how the world understood what the pandemic was doing to society and how communities were pulling together to tackle it. The impact of the pandemic is still being felt, emotionally and economically. It’s a story that will continue to rumble on. Being a journalist is a privilege. It is an honour to be able to listen, empathise and accurately report how someone is feeling, why they are feeling that way and what impact decisions have on society.
I’ve been on the frontline of stories such as the Black Lives Matter movement, witnessed refugees crossing the Channel, hearing from them in the camps in Calais and those that have made the journey to Dover, and reported on the volcano that destroyed the island of La Palma. Eyewitness journalism is a particularly special thing. Telling the viewer, reader, and listener how it feels to be there, what you can see, smell and taste. Immersing them in the story as you travel through it and taking them on that journey with you. It’s a job that involves a lot of trust, as impartiality as a journalist is paramount.
Each day working as a UK Correspondent is vastly different. I often find out the story I am on that morning, just before the first meeting of the day at 7:30am. As soon as I am set on a story, I will start making calls and try to arrange meeting interviewees. Whilst doing so I gain their views on the issue we are discussing, trying to find balance in the report I will aim to deliver for that evening.
I furiously type up some notes and once I have arranged my locations, I hit the road. I drive to the locations, and the camera operator gets en route too. Whilst on the way I am thinking about the questions I will ask each person and also think about what shots we might want to get with them, perhaps they will be making a cold drink if the story is about a heatwave or maybe they are a student on their laptop if the piece is about results day. Already we are thinking about how to illustrate the story for the viewer.
I spend the day gathering the pictures, voices, and elements I will need for the final television report, which we aim to be about two minutes long. The ‘Newsdesk’ in between this may want me to pop up live from location to talk about the story I am working on as there might be a new bit of information we may need to update viewers on. If the issue or report is powerful enough, I may be asked to do an interview with our podcast team back in London and I will need to write an online article for our mobile and web platforms too.
By 7pm, the television report will be scripted and edited ready to go on-air. Often, I will watch the final piece go out from location after manically scrambling to get the item to air. There is a huge sense of relief when the piece finally goes out, as each second ticks by, as you watch it air for the first time, you are desperately hoping it is two minutes of television gold.
I love my job as each day is unpredictable. I am bounced to locations across the UK and immerse myself in different stories each day, learning so much about the world we live in along the way. Whether it is a story on hedgehogs or on the cost-of-living, I will spend 12 hours or more swotting up on the subject.
The ability to work efficiently is key and to take complicated and convoluted information and be able to distil the most important facts into a piece of television, podcast, or article. Each day I start by asking myself what is the main story here, why is it interesting and what can I tell the viewer about it?
If you are looking to get into a similar role, I would say build up your work experience in your own time, blogging, vlogging, TikToking. News is consumed in a variety of ways and nowadays everyone has a platform. Create a portfolio of work that shows off your best multimedia journalism skills.
To my younger self I would say you are on your own timeline, do not worry about what others are doing just focus on your journey.
What next Ashna? I hope to continue having the privilege of hearing from people with a story to tell, whether that be a celebration, tragedy, or insight. No day is the same as a journalist, my passion and yearning to dig deeper into stories grows day by day!