Cathy Newman reports back to the young women of Norbury on a career in journalism

By - Monday 21st December, 2015

Liberty Martin listens to Channel 4 journalist Cathy Newman talking media, sexism and ambition

Photo author’s own.

The atmosphere of Norbury Manor Business and Enterprise College for Girls (NMBEC) was buzzing on the morning of Thursday 3rd December. Cathy Newman, Channel 4 News reporter and co-presenter, was about to give a talk and Q&A session to Year 12 and 13 English Literature and Media students.

The visit was a part of Speakers for Schools, a program which organises high-profile professionals to talk at state schools. Newman was excited to visit NMBEC: “I live in south London, so I always like to help people in the neighbourhood”, she said, “I feel quite passionately that state schools have an absolute right to have the best speakers in so I do as much as I can”.

Newman opened her long-awaited visit by asking the audience what they’d like to be doing when they were her age, forty-one years old. Despite their tentative delivery, the answers were ambitious, including winning a Nobel Peace Prize. The ice-breaker warmed up the talk to a casual and sometimes humorous dialogue between Cathy Newman and the attentive students.

Kate Adie was in Baghdad and I saw this woman do what to me was a man’s job

During her talk, Newman shared her career throughout the years, peppered with anecdotes. The Channel 4 News reporter first wanted to be a violinist until she saw BBC reporter Kate Adie on television as a teenager. “She was standing outside in Baghdad with bombs dropping around her, and I saw this woman do what to me was a man’s job. I hadn’t seen that many women do reporting like that on television”, Newman reminisces. “I thought, wow, that’s a really amazing, inspiring woman on telly. And from that point I stopped wanting to be a violinist and wanted to be a journalist”.

Newman described her ascent from local newspapers to the Financial Times to Channel 4 News, including all the successes and stumbles along the way. “I broke a story a few years back about a Liberal Democrat peer who was accused of sexually harassing women and I really want to get an interview with the party leader [at the time], Nick Clegg. He was refusing my request for an interview, all the time, so I kept on asking”, Newman recalls.

“I then turned up at a mental health conference where he was speaking. I feel slightly bad about that because I was so desperate to get an interview from him that I asked these questions at a mental health conference and I got booed. And I think, actually, that’s fair enough because I overstepped the mark there. So, the final thing I did to get an answer from Nick Clegg was he had a weekly radio show, so I called in. I’m from Dulwich, so I called up as Cathy from Dulwich on his radio show. So live on air he had to answer my questions, finally!”

Just keep going. Don’t take no for an answer

Amidst the anecdotes and insight into the life of a journalist, an important aspect of the talk was how Newman has dealt with sexism. She was particularly drawn to NMBEC because of her desire to empower women. “I think it’s really important that young women are given encouragement and that they have the confidence to succeed in whatever they want to do”, said Newman, “I’m always quite keen to speak to young women”.

As well as talk about her own career, Newman gave advice to the students about their future careers and breaking into the newsroom, “If you get knocked back a lot from work experience don’t feel disheartened, because you will be. You will ask in a lot of places and they’ll say no, so just keep going. Don’t take no for an answer and keep on knocking on people’s doors”, Newman urged. “Be confident, because if you’re confident the world’s your oyster”.

It seems that Newman has had her desired effect in empowering young women. Rubab Mirza, a Year 12 student, said: “Beforehand I really wanted to be a journalist and was working toward it, but by the end of Year 11 I left that idea completely because I thought I wasn’t confident enough. After the talk [it] made me a bit more confident to go for it”. When asked whether Cathy Newman’s visit had encouraged her to pursue a career in journalism or media Year 13 student Romara Blake answered: “Definitely. I already want to go down that career path but she enhanced it because she demonstrates the fact that women are still able to get the job and be successful at what they do in media”.

The students weren’t the only ones left upbeat after the talk; Cathy Newman also enjoyed her visit to NMBEC. “I was really pleased with it. I thought the questions were fantastic. I thought you’ve got some really bright students there and everybody really engaged and I thought everybody listened really well, which is great because sometimes you go to schools and you don’t always get listened to.I thought it was fantastic and I really enjoyed meeting everyone”.

Liberty Martin

Liberty Martin

Born and raised in Croydon with a rich Jamaican heritage, Liberty Martin is a keen aspiring journalist and writer. After winning the Guardian’s Young Reporter of the Year for Years 10 and 11 in 2014, she’s hungry for a good story and wants to travel and learn about the world around her. Always interested in a topical debate, Liberty’s constantly reading online blogs and news websites to keep up-to-date with the latest news. She’s obsessed with chips slathered in vinegar, elephants, Frank Ocean and wants an extensive library of books in her future home. At school Liberty is studying English Literature, Spanish and History at A Level and sings in her school choir.

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