And now for the good news

And now for the good news

Aspiring journalists need to keep their eyes open, BBC news presenter Babita Sharma tells junior reporter Ruby Leung

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Babita Sharma_L
Photos: Edward Wong/SCMP

News, says BBC news presenter Babita Sharma, can be whatever each person wants it to be. For teenagers, for example, that can mean, knowing which shoes to buy, where to find the best jeans and the best food to eat.

"People should be switched on to what's going on around them. That doesn't necessarily mean teenagers need to be constantly reading and listening to news [in the traditional sense], but they should be aware of what's going on," she says.

Sharma, a London-based presenter for BBC News and World News, and co-host of Newsday - a daily news programme broadcast live from London and Singapore - knows a thing or two about journalism as a career, and is keen to advise young people who might like to choose the same path.

It's not that there's anything wrong with watching news programmes filled with politics, protests, murders and so on, she says; that's exactly what Sharma's father made her do. But she says there's a better way for teenagers today to do that - by travelling.

"It's just opening your eyes and looking around you to see what's happening. That is already the news process," she says. "What's so beautiful about journalism is that it should be interactive. You should be able to feel it, watch it [and] look at it - not necessarily saying, 'You have to watch the news'."

Sharma originally wanted to be an actress. But when the time came to apply for university courses, journalism began to grow on her.

"I think that's where my interests started to develop," says Sharma, who earned her degree in journalism, film and broadcasting at Britain's University of Wales.


Sharma being interviewed by Ruby Leung

One thing about working in news is that something can happen at any time, so journalists must be prepared to work irregular hours. Sharma says she's never done a 9-to-5 job. There have been times, while working at 3am, when she has wondered why she was there, rather than asleep in bed, but she relishes the 24-hour news cycle.

"It's 3am, and Asia is awake and London is asleep," she says. "It's kind of exciting in that respect."

That's what makes her extremely passionate about her job. "I like the fact that I'm working on something that's happening right now, and telling stories that are happening right now; it is a really privileged position and a rare one," she says. "You never know what's going to happen, so every day is a good one."

Being a news presenter may seem glamorous - for example, Sharma's picture was on billboards in Singapore and trams in Hong Kong for a promotional campaign for Newsday. But doing live television can be stressful, especially when it involves breaking news on the spot. Depending on how quickly information can be gathered and confirmed, presenters can have anywhere between two and 30minutes to prepare.

Sharma was on the air to announce the deaths of al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden and North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-il, both in 2011. She says news presenters should always be ready, calm and collected as it is important for them to give a measured response to reflect the story.

Sharma has three pieces of advice for aspiring journalists and news presenters: "Do liberal studies, be dedicated to the news, and always try to get as much work experience as you can."

Broadcast journalism offers more opportunities than being a presenter. Sharma worked for six years as a producer, compiling news for other presenters to read, which she enjoyed doing just as much.

"There are so many different jobs you can do in journalism that are just as rewarding," she says.

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