Laura Trevelyan, BBC
Tell us about your journey to where you are today.
Aged eight, I typed out a newspaper about life on our street in North London called the Cantelowes Gleaner – and that was the start of my journalistic career! The headline was a cat killed by a car. At Bristol University I wrote for student publications, then studied for a postgraduate diploma in journalism at Cardiff University.
My first job was as a local newspaper reporter in London – fantastic experience visiting police stations and covering local council meetings – and then I became a researcher for a Channel 4 TV programme A Week In Politics. That was my foot in the broadcasting door – and then I went to the BBC as a researcher on Breakfast News. This was the best introduction to the nuts and bolts of making TV – and from there I became a political reporter for a Sunday lunchtime TV show On The Record, spending a lot of time in Northern Ireland just after the IRA ceasefire.
Then I became a political correspondent for the BBC’s network news – and in 2004 moved here to the US, where I’ve been the BBC’s UN correspondent, New York correspondent and now an anchor of the BBC’s World News America broadcast.
How has your life experience shaped you as an individual?
As a teenager, I was an air cadet and learned to fly a glider, hike and camp. At university I was in the Air Squadron and flew a Bulldog aircraft solo, one of the first women in the country to do so as part of a pilot scheme to see how female pilots would fare in the RAF (Royal Air Force). All this taught me that if you’re determined and organized there’s nothing you can’t do. Per Ardua Ad Astra is the RAF motto – through hardship to the stars – and I’ve always found that inspiring.
How have you learned from these challenges and successes?
I learned to push myself, to take responsibility, and to understand that every setback teaches you something. At the air squadron, I was determined to be the first in my class to fly solo – and because the boys were studying engineering and I was an English student, I had more spare time and thus a huge advantage. I wasn’t a better pilot (in fact my navigation was sub-optimal!) but I put in more time at the airfield and did go solo first.
Laura takes part in a Twitter Q&A
From Hurricane Sandy to the Boston Marathon bombing, you’ve covered some of the most dramatic events that have taken place in the USA. What have been some of the highlights and challenges during your broadcasting career?
Live broadcasting is always exciting, and sometimes extremely dramatic, as it was during the manhunt for the Boston suspects. Looking back over 20 odd years at the BBC, there are more than a few highlights. After all night negotiations in Belfast, as dawn broke and the Good Friday Agreement had taken shape, I was reporting live with a strong sense that this was a historic, hopeful moment after the bloodshed of the troubles. Covering the run up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 at the House of Commons was another momentous time – the arm twisting that went on behind the scenes in Westminster, to get the votes to authorize the invasion, was something to behold. I was in the air between Washington and Tokyo when news broke of Dr David Kelly’s death – (a government scientist who doubted the government ‘s claims about WMD in Iraq,) and that led to a frantic 48 hours in Japan with the then PM Tony Blair.
Covering the UN was also an eye opener. A trip to Burma with the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis was dramatic, culminating in a trip to see the Burmese Generals in their brand new capital, far from the suffering of those affected by the cyclone.
Covering the cholera epidemic in Haiti not long after the earthquake was a challenge. It was desperately sad to see people dying of a disease that is so easily treated – and in a setting that had already been ravaged by a devastating earthquake. But the courage and resilience of Haitians was also a lesson in grace under pressure.
Live broadcasting is not without its perils and numbers have been my undoing! At Westminster I once got the result of a vote wrong by reading the numbers backwards. When the editor of the six o clock news called to say well done, I had to explain my error…
What advice can you offer to women seeking a career in the media?
I would give the same advice as to men, at least initially – be accurate, determined, resourceful, organized, trustworthy, punctual and know what you want. To be a journalist you have to like people and you need to have excellent people skills or you won’t get anywhere. You must be passionate about wanting to tell the ever-changing story of our world, and responsible in the way you do it. Always be prepared to make the tea – or in the US, the cupcakes – and be kind to those who are in jobs that may not be as exciting as yours.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I think it is the age-old question of balancing children and work. This is a responsibility which in general, still falls to women. So if you want to work in news and be a mother, you have to organize your life accordingly, planning for a breaking news scenario. In my case, that has always meant having live-in childcare. But even that isn’t infallible. I recently said no to a story that would have had me on one continent, my children on another and my husband on a third. That didn’t feel right!
Laura interviews Michel J. Martelly, President of Haiti
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
That’s a work in progress! My neighborhood in Brooklyn is like a village, so I bump into my friends just by walking down the street with my kids. I’m in several book groups, which are a wonderful way to catch up, gossip and briefly discuss a book. I love to play tennis, and am constantly striving to improve my mediocre game! Playing cards with my boys is also a good way to hang out. In the summer, we head to the beach at the weekends.
As a Brit living in the USA, how has living in a different country changed your lifestyle and approach to life?
There’s no doubt that Americans – and New Yorkers in particular – are more go getting, ambitious and overtly competitive. It’s quite a change to the cosy consensus of home. I’ve found Americans to be enormously warm and open, which is rather different to the reserved English. Americans are also more direct. Here, people will invite a stranger to Thanksgiving at the drop of a hat – it’s almost a civic duty to welcome a stranger. So I have absorbed this different approach to life.
You released your first book in 2006. What is your next writing project?
Yes, my last book was about my Victorian Trevelyan relatives, famous historians and politicians in their day. This one is about my American family – the Winchesters, of Winchester rifle fame (my American grandmother married an Englishman and moved to Cambridge, England). The Winchester rifle was one of the first repeating rifles that fired more than one round at once – and my great great great grandfather Oliver Winchester set up the Winchester company in New Haven and became famous for manufacturing the gun that won the west. So it’s the story of the family behind the gun that was crucial in the settling of the American West. If I can just manage to finish it, it’ll come out in 2015.
Laura covers President Obama’s Inauguration in 2013
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I wouldn’t say I had ever been formally mentored, exactly. But Sue Macgregor, the legendary Today programme presenter on Radio 4, was a huge supporter when I was a young reporter on the show. When Anna Ford was the presenter of the One O Clock News on BBC1, she was also very generous and supportive. The same goes for Martha Kearney, when she was the political editor of Newsnight and I was a reporter there. Martha is an insightful journalist and superb interviewer who was always kind and encouraging.
Who are your role models?
Sue Macgregor and Anna Ford, who forged ahead when it really was a man’s world. Right now, I would say Lyse Doucet is my role model – she is a brilliant on the ground reporter, who tells human stories from conflict zones with such care, and she’s a top presenter. She’s also a wonderful colleague. Mishal Hussein is the most natural live broadcaster in the world and makes it all look effortless.
What is one word that sums up where you have got to today?
Laura Trevelyan is an anchor of the BBC’s US newscast BBC’s World News America which broadcasts on the BBC’s global 24 hour news channel BBC World News.
Laura was the BBC’s UN correspondent from 2006 to 2009. As the BBC’s United Nations Correspondent, she covered the diplomatic activity at United Nations HQ in New York, and the world body’s humanitarian and peacekeeping work in the field. She travelled with the new UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on his first overseas trip, which was to Africa in January 2007.
Laura has reported from Darfur on the UN’s attempts to deploy peacekeepers there, and from the International Criminal Court in the Hague when the Prosecutor accused Sudan’s President Omar Al-Bashir of committing war crimes and genocide in Darfur. She has also reported from Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Kenya on the UN’s work there. When Ban Ki-moon went to Burma to meet the ruling generals after Cyclone Nargis, she was one of only a handful of journalists to accompany him. Laura covered the 2008 US presidential race, reporting on the primary campaign and President George Bush’s visit to Africa in February 2008, reporting from Liberia, Ghana, Tanzania and Rwanda.
Before moving to New York in 2004, Laura was a Political Correspondent for BBC TV and radio news, appointed in June 1999. She covered the conservative campaign in the 2001 General Election across all BBC TV and radio news outlets, reported for the BBC’s Newsnight programme, and then reported on the 2004 US Presidential Election for BBC News outlets in the UK.
Laura’s first job at the BBC was in 1993 as a researcher for Breakfast News. From there she moved to Newsnight as an assistant producer, before joining BBC One’s On The Record as a reporter in 1994, during which she covered the Northern Ireland peace process after the IRA ceasefire.
Laura was educated at Parliament Hill Girls School in North London before going on to gain a first class degree in politics from Bristol University in 1990 and a postgraduate diploma in journalism from the University of Wales College, Cardiff in 1991. She began her career as a general reporter for London Newspaper Group titles, such as the Hammersmith Chronicle in 1991. She joined Channel 4 as a researcher on A Week In Politics in 1992.
In 2006, Laura published a book about her ancestors: A Very British Family, The Trevelyans And Their World.