Staff Writer

July 3, 2023 (Updated )

Currently a journalist for BBC NewsHour, BBC World Service, and on BBC local radio, Ellis Palmer is well-acquainted with early alarms and busy work schedules. In his five years at the BBC, he’s worked in various roles, creating content for multiple BBC platforms — from reporting on the accessibility issues in London tube stations to examining how multilingual football teams communicate.

We caught up with Palmer about his love for languages, his time as a 2022 John Schofield Trust fellow, and what he gets up to during a typical day at the BBC.

My Day Starts At…

In a pre-pandemic world, early shifts saw me get up at 3am for a 6am–4pm or 7am-5pm shift. This was just the time it took me to get up, get ready, shower, get dressed, sort out a taxi, worry about it arriving, get to the office, and get settled in time for the shift. As soon as I finished, I’d have tea at work before going back to my room and going straight to sleep, so I could make the exhausting 3am alarm work the next day.

For late shifts, which are between 12.30pm to 12am, I’d get back after midnight, try to get to sleep before the small hours, and get up at around 9am. I’d then have breakfast, read the news, get dressed, and leave at 11:15am to either get a traffic-clogged taxi or sit on the tube from Stratford into central London for 45 minutes. Then I’d walk 15 minutes from the nearest accessible station to the BBC — Bond Street and Oxford Circus are not wheelchair-accessible, by the way. Rinse and repeat for three shifts in succession.

Before the pandemic intervened, I did this for two and a half years. It was exhausting! Burnout seemed to be a way of life rather than an extreme. Trying to have any semblance of a social life — let alone a relationship — was very difficult. Podcasts became a substitute for friends. I enjoyed my job, but was it really worth the constant exhaustion and oftentimes loneliness?

Early Career Journalism From Leading Journalists

john schofield trust logpThe John Schofield Trust runs an annual fellowship scheme for early career and apprentice journalists to develop their professional skills, matching you with a senior journalist who shares your professional interests.

As well as the 12 months of mentoring, you’ll also get access to masterclasses led by industry professionals on a huge range of topics.

Applications typically open each year in September — you can find out more here.

My Typical Day Involves… 

These days, I primarily work from home for a programme called Newshour on the BBC World Service, and occasionally report for the breakfast shows on BBC local radio stations. My sleep pattern has recovered, I’m adequately supported by friends and family, and I’m probably more efficient at my job.

My usual early shift (7am–6pm) starts at 5:50am when my alarm goes off, and I tune into Newsday to listen to the latest news. I think about angles for the 2pm and 3pm NewsHour and listen to packages we have available from the BBC’s global network of correspondents. I then have breakfast while listening to Newsday and reading articles from agencies and publications globally to delve into the news lines a bit deeper, going through my virtual Rolodex to think of guests for the show.

Between 8:15am to 9am, we have an editorial meeting where we discuss lead items, where we should put content, and potential contributors. We find out which segment we are working on, and from 9am, set about contacting potential contributors.

Journo Resources
“If we are to change the media system and make it represent the diverse range of experiences up and down the country, we have to be in it to make that change.”
Ellis Palmer, BBC journalist

Between 10:30am to 1pm, we generally pre-record interviews with our presenters and contributors — then the fun of editing down interviews starts. Oftentimes, a 10-minute conversation between the presenter and contributor has to be cut to various versions between three and five minutes without losing any of the nuances that our global audience needs to be able to comprehend often complicated topics.

Towards the end of the second hour and after the debrief, because of my origins in the BBC’s digital news teams, I often think about what our strongest interviews have been and package them up as digital audio clips for the rest of the BBC — be that the live page, another programme, the World Service social team, or external outlets.

If it’s a late shift and I’m working from home, the workflow is pretty much the same regarding intensity, but I at least get the morning to have a bit of a chill, or support independent shops in Birkenhead. The task of finding people through my global contacts book begins at 3pm to 4:30pm. The panic starts to hit if you haven’t got a guest by 5pm, and then the editing and interviews are from 5:30 to 7:30pm before the show starts at 8pm, on-air until 10pm. We stay at our desks — in the office or virtually — in case we’re needed by our Radio 4 partner show, The World Tonight.

When I’m On Radio…

If I’m working on a weekend as a news reporter for their breakfast shows, I’m up at 4:30am, scrolling through my phone to read the latest headlines — with my cat very much asleep beside me. I then tune into the overnight programme on Radio 5 Live to see what treatment they are giving the news lines, before meeting with the Central News Service producer at 5am. We have a quick chat about what we want to offer to programmes, and then it’s straight onto writing a cue and questions to send to the stations and a script for myself between 5:10 to 5:45am.

Once that’s sent off, I then use the remaining time before the first station (usually at 6:30am on Saturdays) to have a coffee and eat some breakfast while looking at local news angles for the 9–15 stations I’m going to talk to between 6:30 to 9am.

ellis, a man with short hair and a beard, presents the news in a studio. he is in front of a backdrop of squares
Ellis also gets to present The Catch Up as part of his role.

I Always Thought I’d Be…

As a lad who grew up on Merseyside, went to a comp on a Merseyside former council estate, and who was, at best, a set three out of six student until Year 11, I never imagined I’d ever have the opportunity to work on international news for an organisation like the BBC.

When I was 15, however, several things conspired to make me think I could perhaps do more than I thought I could. A supportive teacher advised me to speak to the school careers adviser, where we went through the various options for post-16 education in my home area, the Wirral peninsula (between Liverpool and North Wales). We chanced upon a girls’ grammar school that was on a direct bus route from my house so I could get there independently, that let guys in for sixth form, and did my preferred A-Level options of Politics, History, Philosophy and Ethics, and Spanish.

Although I didn’t get in initially because my school had sent in my predicted Maths grade as C rather than the required B, we figured out a compromise. I got an A in the end, thanks to an amazing teacher, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I then went to the University of Birmingham to study Politics and Hispanic Studies. My interest in contentious political situations meant I decided to study Catalan from my first year, and I fell in love with the language of Llach [ancient Catalan language]. I also did a year as an Erasmus scholar at the Faculty of Law at the University of Barcelona.

Alongside working at Sky Sports, I later returned to Birmingham for a master’s in Current Democracies and Nationalism.

Journo Resources
"To anyone who turns on the radio or telly and only sees people who look and sound totally different to them: If we are to change the media system and make it represent the diverse range of experiences up and down the country, we have to be in it to make that change."
Ellis Palmer, BBC journalist

I Got The Job Because… 

As I was considering my future towards the end of my MA in 2017, a contact from my Dad’s home region of Humberside, whom I’d met several years previously, got in touch about a scheme the BBC was running for disabled journalists. I applied based on my academic knowledge, my work at Sky Sports, and some remote digital media clients I had picked up — never actually thinking I would get the job. But somehow, I did.

I had an incredible first year and a half at the BBC, working at the international section of the website, but also being able to turn difficulties around tube access, renting, and even just ableism in general into content for a range of BBC platforms.

If I Was Starting Again…

If I have a regret career-wise, it’s that I wasn’t really able to keep the momentum of that first one-and-a-half years going in terms of commissions. The corporate attention shifted from us being disabled creatives towards getting into stable contracts in teams, and so there wasn’t always the corporate-level buy-in needed.

That said, I very much enjoy my job at the moment. Reporting for local radio via the Central News Service and making packages for BBC Radio Merseyside is also something I really enjoy doing on top of the day job.

If People Wanted To Follow In My Footsteps, I’d Say… 

To anyone who turns on the radio or telly and only sees people who look and sound totally different to them and those from their background: If we are to change the media system and make it represent the diverse range of experiences up and down the country, we have to be in it to make that change.

Even if you don’t want to be in front of the camera or working on a hard-news programme, there’s a massive range of roles available in the industry — from make-up artists, canteen and security staff, to accountants, lawyers, HR specialists, and project managers. There really is a role for everyone in the media these days. Just go for it!

The Thing I’d Most Like To Change About The Industry… 

The media industry as a whole has a lot of work ahead to reflect disabled people accurately in content, get disabled people into jobs with progression opportunities that suit their conditions and specialisms, and get disabled talent on-air in a meaningful way.

I think schemes like the John Schofield Trust’s mentoring programme have a valuable role in nurturing the next generation of diverse content creators by pairing us up with people who have a wealth of experience in the industry. My mentor this year, Sky News’ Matthew Price, has been an invaluable sounding board for career development ideas and an excellent critical ear for content too.

After Work…

After an early shift, I go for a quick cycle to the shops in Birkenhead, see friends and family, or chill by watching telly with some home-cooked food. My cerebral palsy means I’m a messy cook, but I very much enjoy it as a way of unwinding.

Hannah Bradfield
Hannah Bradfield

Hannah is a recent graduate from Loughborough University, where she studied a BA in English and Sport Science and an MA in Media and Cultural Analysis. Alongside her studies, Hannah was on the editorial teams of several student magazines, and was awarded ‘Best Student Journalist, Midlands’ by the SPA in 2018.

She was a BBC Sport Kick-Off Reporter in 2019 and had co-founded and edited a one-off 40-page print and digital magazine in celebration of International Women’s Day 2021. Along with her work for Journo Resources, she is currently studying for the NCTJ diploma at News Associates and freelance writing.