You worked in print and radio before TV. Was there any self-doubt while in front of the camera or the experience from print and radio made the self-doubt to go away?Sophia Tran-Thomson: Other than knowledge, there’s not much that can prepare a journalist for their first time on live television. I worked in TV news for a very short time before becoming a presenter at the ABC in Australia, I was extremely nervous starting out, but it got easier with practice and the help of the voices in my earpiece, (the producers and directors), who I quickly learnt to trust. The best thing to disperse any self-doubt is knowledge, the best TV reporters and presenters don’t need scripts, they know the stories inside out.
Konstantin: At what time did you become aware of the fact that you are a doing a good job?
Sophia: Am I? I don’t know. I always hope that I am doing my best and sharing stories as accurately and objectively as I can, but in news there is always opportunity for broader coverage. At the end of my working day I am usually pleased with the output I helped to produce, but I’ll often go home thinking about how coverage could be improved, given more time. News is fast paced though and most stories only have a short life-span as viewers will likely be more interested in something new tomorrow.
Konstantin: How did you end up moving to London?
Sophia: I was very comfortable and thoroughly enjoying my work in Australia as a television reporter and presenter for the ABC, but on a trip to London at the beginning of 2014, the offer of employment at the BBC was something I could not turn down. The hardest part of the decision was leaving a good job and wonderful colleagues, but the prospect of working for the most revered and recognisable news brand in the world far outweighed any concerns. I flew home to Australia for four days to say goodbye to the ABC, my family and my friends, and with their encouragement packed my bags and my bike and flew back to London to start a new chapter of my story.
Konstantin: What were the first differences between the TV business in Australia and in the UK that you encountered?
Sophia: The news landscape in the UK is far more diverse than in Australia. In Australia there are two main privately owned media corporations which produce and control the bulk of popular news, but in the UK where the population is almost three times that of Australia’s, there are more free or very cheap options for the public to choose from. While there are more choices here in the UK though, they are not necessarily better. Many of the popular tabloid papers in the UK are more like gossip magazines. In both places, the public broadcasters (ABC and BBC) still maintain the trust and high regard of their respective viewers/readers.
Konstantin: Are you intuitive or more analytical in your work as a journalist?
Sophia: A good journalist should be both analytical and intuitive. When researching, filming, interviewing and writing, it’s very important to be prepared and to understand the background of your story as much as possible, but also to be open to new angles and perspectives. When conducting an interview, its common to have certain ideas about the direction it should go in, but sometimes the interviewee will say something completely unexpected and far more interesting than anticipated and that becomes the lead. It’s important to use both intuition and analysis to make sure you don’t miss those important moments.
Konstantin: How do you choose your themes, topics?
Sophia: TV news bulletins and running orders are rarely finalised by just one person, they are compiled by a lot of people who carefully analyse where stories are happening geographically, how many people the stories impact, which audience is watching at specific times of day and how effectively the story can be told, for example if there are any pictures, or if correspondents able to safely report from the ground. As journalists in a global news room, everyone is always suggesting and debating story ideas and angles for research.
Konstantin: Which is better - to follow your gut or do research?
Sophia: While gut instinct can be useful when you are trying to find information or people, it can not be solely relied upon if you are responsible for sharing information with others as a trusted news authority. Good research and fact checking are crucial when producing accurate news reports. It’s better to broadcast a story correctly, even if it means another network breaks the story first, than to put a story to air which may not be correct
Konstantin: Do you seek praise or criticism?
Sophia: I believe that most people respond better to praise than criticism. When someone does an outstanding job, brings happiness to others, or achieves success through hard work, they should be congratulated and encouraged. Women in particular need to support and help each other to continue setting and reaching goals, rather than competing, belittling and bringing each other down. TV is a competitive industry, especially for young women trying to establish their careers, but I feel that I am able to learn and grow as a journalist when I am surrounded by peers who I respect and admire. In most walks of life, positive relationships where good actions are rewarded are usually far more successful than negative ones.
What about your own opinion - was it easy or difficult for you to learn to trust your own opinion?Sophia: When I tell people that I work at BBC World News, I am often asked things like “So what do you think about the fighting in Ukraine?” and “Would Hilary Clinton be a good president?”, but as a journalist, my opinions on politics, war, and any debatable topics in the news are insignificant. When I am working, my personal opinions are completely unimportant, I tell stories objectively using facts and a language that people will be able to understand. I always listen to different perspectives and try to share multiple, often opposing views in my stories, so that viewers can take balanced information and create their own opinions. Konstantin:
You travel a lot. What was the last place that really fascinated you? And why?Sophia:
I’ve been very fortunate to travel so much and to explore so many wonderful places (around forty countries and countless hundreds of cities so far), so it’s very difficult to choose one favourite as I have many. One fascinating place which comes to mind is Lapland. I travelled above the arctic circle to Finland and Norway on my own for Christmas and had a magical few weeks going husky sledding, chasing the northern lights and just generally enjoying solitude and silence in nature. Lapland is an incredibly beautiful place and a great destination for travellers who want to detox from city life. During my travels, I ended up staying with a lovely Sami family of reindeer herders in a very remote village in Norway, they were some of the kindest, most generous people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.
What’s your favourite city to visit at this time of the year?Sophia: Spring is a wonderful time of year to travel in Europe, it’s much quieter than summer and I love seeing cities in full bloom. Plus people are almost always more cheerful when the weather is fine! My home base is London and every year, on the first sunny day of the season, the city transforms, the parks are crowded with picnics and happy couples and everyone has smiles on their faces! When I get out of London, I really love spring skiing, there may not be much fresh snow falling, but it’s so much fun skiing in a t-shirt in the sun. My latest ski trip was to Avoriaz in the French Alps, it’s a fantastic car-free village with access to ski trails in both France and Switzerland. Konstantin:
Tell us, how travelling is broadening one’s point of view?Sophia: Travel has taught me so much about the world, about other people and about myself. Exploring unfamiliar places can be a daunting experience, as the unknown is something our primal instinct is programmed to fear. Most human beings have a natural tendency to be cautious when they are faced with something new and travel can expose you to a lot of new experiences- new landscapes, people, currencies, cultures, languages and foods. While precautions should always be taken when you are away from home, I see travel as a wonderful opportunity to explore the unknown, to be curious, to learn, to teach and to contextualise how diverse this world is. Konstantin:
Apart from travelling, what other things inspire you?Sophia: My life has been inspired by my creativity and curiosities which I inherited from my parents. My father, a refugee from Vietnam is a successful musician and my British-born mother has travelled and worked as a nurse all over the world. They fell in love and got married while my mum was doing refugee health checks in Adelaide, Australia. I think because of them, I have always had a lot of interests and asked a lot of complicated questions about the world. I became a journalist because it allows me to do different things every day, to continue learning, to meet all kinds of people and to travel. My Instagram handle is @curioussophia which I think sums me up quite well.Konstantin:
Are you an easy person to travel with?Sophia: I usually choose to travel alone because I don’t like to be constrained by schedules. When I come across good opportunities to take photos or to spend time with interesting people, it’s not unusual for me to postpone other plans. The same goes for food, if I find a restaurant with a unique menu or a beautiful view, I will often stop for a meal, even if it’s not at a regular meal time. Unless you are a malleable traveller, you may not enjoy my nomadic wayfaring. Konstantin:
To work with?Sophia: I think so. My colleagues always know where I am because of my very loud, happy laugh! As a journalist, I can be particular about how I want to produce a story which will be broadcast to the world with my name on it, but I enjoy working in a team, I have a lot of respect for my colleagues and I am always open to discuss and debate ideas. It’s important to have fun in a newsroom or on the road as the environment and deadlines can make the job stressful at times. Konstantin:
If I give you 20 pounds - what kind of new magazines would buy for a 10-hour flight?Sophia: I’m very lucky to have some very thoughtful family who give me magazine subscriptions most years for my birthday. It’s a fantastic gift idea, which stretches the birthday joy out for an entire year! Some of my favourites are Nat Geo Traveller, Lonely Planet Magazine, Australian Gourmet Traveller (I actually interned at this magazine before I took full time work in TV), and Darling magazine.Konstantin:
What is your daily media menu?Sophia: When I am at the BBC London broadcasting house, I have access to a lot of great material from our correspondents around the world and many of the international papers before they go to print. When I am not at work it is most convenient to stay up to date with breaking stories online. I also keep an eye on the trending columns on Twitter and Facebook to see which stories are popular with my friends and colleagues. I still enjoy the feel and smell of a real newspaper though, and always make time on weekends to catch up on my delivered papers.
Are you a morning or an evening person?Sophia: More of a night person. When I am working on a project or planning exciting trips, I find it difficult to sleep at night. My brain ticks over contemplating ideas and I often stay up until the early hours writing notes and doing research. When I am travelling, I don’t sleep a lot as I like to make the most of my time in new places. I try to get up at or before sunrise, and either stay out late exploring, or up planning tomorrow’s activities and posting updates on my @curioussophia instagram. Konstantin:
Finally, choose your favourite song at the moment.Sophia: I’ve spent the past week in Venice and while I’ve been exploring the canals and sipping aperitivo under the warm spring sun, I’ve spent a lot of time humming along to The Beatles “Here Comes The Sun”. It’s not new, but it’s a happy tune and one of my favourites!
***Sophia Tran-Thomson is a BBC journalists and traveller. Formerly she worked for the ABC Australia. Her Instagram @curioussophia is a must.