A Canadian ex-pat journalist in London: Nice work if you can get it (and you can!)

Ravi Ubha

I can recall speaking to the president of a British journalism association about a month or so before I departed for London in 2003. I asked about the job prospects for someone with a fair amount of experience. At that point, I’d interned at the Globe and Mail, worked at a weekly newspaper and done some part-time reporting for CTV in Montreal.  He said my prospects weren’t too bad.

He was right. I discovered there were, indeed, numerous opportunities in England, as long as you are flexible.

Even though the BBC had layoffs in the last year, its career page is still a good starting point for job hunters, offering journalism openings every week.

Further, any enterprising journalist in England can look for work at (at least) nine national newspapers and about the same number of Sunday papers. Plus, there is an overflow of weeklies and news agencies with offices in London. (I’d go out on a limb and say if you do business reporting, you’d have no problem landing an attractive position in the English capital). It’s a matter of checking out the listings on various boards.

As for me, I eventually latched onto a full-time job at the news agencies, first at the Associated Press and then at Bloomberg News. I was told my Canadian “accent,” though, would be a problem if I wanted to work as a reporter in broadcast at U.K. outlets.  
At the AP, my boss was an American as was another co-worker. That meant the North American contingent in the sports department actually outnumbered the contingent of British journalists.

At Bloomberg, the opposite was true. Of seven in the department, I was the lone non-Brit. But sports journalists are a pretty relaxed bunch, and such was the case at Bloomberg. I didn’t feel any cultural bias. As long as I did the job, that’s all that mattered.
The hardest part? I knew nothing about cricket and rugby. As with any subject, research and observation go a long way. I can safely say that I’ve now become comfortable covering cricket (and have even become a genuine fan). Just think of it as similar to baseball — only some games last five days and tea breaks are the norm.

The biggest frustration? I found it was dealing with the bureaucracy in the personnel departments of large media organizations in England. In general, North American personnel departments seem to genuinely want to help, and more often than not they’ll pass on quickly the information you need.  

Not so in the U.K. where the opposite is often true. Even a seemingly non-contentious inquiry about a contract’s length can draw a comment like: “We don’t give out that kind of information.”

Still, the positive aspects of working and living in London are numerous. Professionally, London is perhaps the most competitive media market in the world. It’s true that a few tabloids print more fiction than truth, but it’s also true that if there’s something amiss in the government, you can bet one of the British papers will uncover it.  

Personally, London is arguably the most ethnically diverse city on the planet, which has broadened my perspective – and my palate. I’ve tried all types of ethnic cuisine here and, I can tell you, my stomach isn’t complaining.   

Link to one of Ravi Ubha’s stories

Originally from Montreal, Ravi Ubha is a Concordia graduate and freelance journalist specializing in covering tennis and soccer. He is
currently in New York reporting on the U.S. Open for ESPN.com and has worked for the Associated Press and Bloomberg News covering sports, including the Olympics.