Want my job? with Kate Proctor, UK News Lead at Save the Children UK

Kate shares advice for young people who want to become journalists or work in communications

Hi Kate. Please introduce yourself to the reader.  

Hi, I’m Kate. I was a full-time journalist for 13 years and now I work for Save the Children UK as their UK News Lead. After finishing a degree in politics, and then a post-graduate diploma in print journalism at Sheffield University, I got a job at a local paper in Cumbria and worked my way up slowly to being Political Editor of the website PoliticsHome based in Westminster. Along the way I worked for the Newcastle Evening Chronicle, the Yorkshire Post, the Evening Standard and The Guardian. I have been working for Save the Children UK for two years and I love it. 

Tell us about your work as UK News Lead at Save the Children.

Alongside colleagues, I work out what is on the national agenda when it comes to issues that impact children in the UK, from dreadful child poverty rates to matters around child rights. I carry out research and interview families who are at the sharp end of these issues, then come up with news stories and pitch them out to journalists at national newspapers and media outlets. 

I also provide comments to journalists, lately on the two child limit to benefits, childcare and the cost of living crisis. I also train young activists and campaigners how to carry out media interviews which involves a lot of travel around the country. There are other people at Save the Children that do a similar job to me but within an international context, so are focused right now on Gaza, Sudan, the Horn of Africa or on the mighty issue of climate change. There are many fascinating avenues to go down within the charity sector.

What are the ups and downs of being a journalist?

When I was a journalist the ups would always be the fascinating people you met and interviewed, the various Prime Ministers were always good fun. Most politicians are quite wild characters. The camaraderie among journalists as you trooped around the country, in what often felt like a travelling circus, was always fantastic. As a regional journalist you would often be trusted with people’s very personal stories, sometimes to do with an ill relative or a potentially tragic incident that had deeply impacted a community. You reported on the story and had to do it well, which I always felt was a privilege. 

The downs were always the sheer panic of thinking you’d missed something important in your reporting, often being bamboozled by the complexities of the Brexit votes, and the long hours. 

What are the highlights of your career to date? 

Working for Save the Children, the career highlights are getting marginalised voices into national news. It’s also been giving communities a voice and new experiences. The day I got two nervous teenagers on their regional BBC Radio station to talk about a film they had made about poverty was incredibly special. I could see I’d really opened a door for them. 

As a journalist covering the Covid-19 pandemic, the Jeremy Corbyn years, the Brexit referendum and the intervening fall-out, and covering the departures of Cameron and May from Downing Street were all highlights. Sitting a few metres away from Barack Obama telling the UK they could go to the back of the queue for a US trade deal if they voted for Brexit was also quite memorable. 

Covering general elections were always brilliant and I had a lot of fun doing this for The Guardian’s political team in 2019, where I covered the Brexit Party. I learnt so much about the UK at the time and you could really feel the pulse of the nation. I really enjoyed the broadcast work I did too and the political punditry, particularly on Newsnight and the Westminster Hour, then presented by Carolyn Quinn who is a really measured and excellent broadcaster.

Can you describe your biggest challenge so far in your career? How did you overcome it? 

I think it’s valuing the skills that you have as a journalist and believing their worth, even if those attributes look a bit different to those of other people. I was never a push yourself to the front or forceful type of reporter, but I was trusted and in interviews people really, really opened up to me. I always had a very good sense of the mood within political parties. Sometimes I heard people call them softer skills but I think they’re just as valuable as getting that top data line or hard policy announcement first. It helped you build up an incredibly good network of contacts. The skills I built up then were perfect when I moved to Save the Children as so much of my work now is about sensitivity within communication. 

Have you noticed any changes in the industry? If so, what? 

I think I’ve noticed post-Covid-19 that journalists are so stretched now that as someone working in communications – effectively on the other side – one needs to really provide the entire package of a story or it might not make it. It’s not always likely that a journalist has time to speak to a ‘case study’ about an issue, or really go out and interview someone or get into the weeds on a subject. There are also far fewer phone calls going on. Covid-19 destroyed being able to locate a journalist on the other end of a landline at a desk, which is sometimes really unhelpful. 

You’ve been granted the ability to send a message to 16-year-old you. What do you say? 

Don’t spend your A-levels going out to nightclubs twice a week because you might regret that on results day, and then have to work extra hard on your degree! Aside from that though, it would be to remember that if you work hard and have a good attitude and you are good company, you can really achieve so much. I didn’t have any contacts in journalism when I started, nor in the charity sector either, and I still got there. I honestly think you can go very far in a workplace by being a really excellent colleague who is trusted. It’s not about who you know.

What advice would you give to young people interested in a similar career? 

Journalism and communications are people oriented jobs - so really think about how much you enjoy speaking to people and listening. Writing a story, crafting an interview or editing a package are all skills that can be learnt later down the line, but fundamentally it’s about getting information from people and then delivering it to others. Think seriously about how much you like people! 

Get yourself various mentors in your career, and they will often be the people adjacent to you…a great teacher or an older colleague in the workplace who does a slightly different job to you. I gravitated to slightly older female journalists when I was in Westminster, who gave the best advice. 

You do also really need to be passionate about a subject to do your best work, and that can take time to identify, so don’t worry if it doesn’t come straight away. I have always been interested in childhood and issues that impact the most vulnerable in society, so my work for Save the Children now is a perfect fit for me. Journalism also involves a lot more teamwork than people think, so lean into that, and be collaborative, and you will all help each other do your best work. 

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