Assembly Speaker, 5 December
Datshiane Navanayagam- Journalist
This Monday, our sixth form speaker was Datshiane Navanayagan from whom we heard about her journey in life and in journalism and how they are inevitably intertwined.
She is a freelance journalist with an interest in homelessness and housing, spurred from personal experience as a child and as a young adult. She has over 10 years experience in the industry in radio and TV. She studied History at Oxford University and there affirmed her passions working in student radio.
After completing a Masters in Broadcast Journalism at City University, it was difficult to find work experience or break into the industry but she secured a first job at Sunrise Radio in Southall followed by one at BBC Three Counties in Luton. These regional stations allowed for mistakes and really getting to know your audience.
The industry is known for its ‘casual’ contracts that can even be given on a week-to-week basis but, fortunately, she won an 18-month BBC Production Trainee Contract and stability was found for a while. On this programme, trainees were sent to different shows with most peers wanting to work on high profile programmes like Strictly, Eastenders and Top Gear. However, with an interest in farming and secretly hoping to be able to play with lambs, Navanayagan asked to be assigned to the Radio 4 programme ‘Farming Today’ that goes out at 6 every morning. Friends were surprised that she wanted to join this ’Siberia’ of radio. However, she commends it as one of the best placements she’s ever done. It was a fast-paced environment where you could do lots of roles everyday, and tackle important and still current issues such as food insecurity. One particular fact she learnt from a farmer preparing a cow to be sold at a fair was that the bigger the cow’s rear - the more it could be sold for!
Still working as a freelancer today, she speaks of ‘making your own opportunities and finding good stories’ but in particular, how you must be able to persuade people to believe a story is worth buying into and is worthy of commissioning.
Arguably, her most memorable piece of work is her C4 Dispatches programme ‘Homelessness and Working’ that challenged the stereotype that these two states cannot coexist. She met a Pizza Express and Prada store worker sleeping on the same church floor and a teacher living in her car who was washing and doing her makeup every morning in a McDonald’s toilet. Afterwards, she received correspondence from councillors to say their outreach programmes had changed after watching her piece. Shelter even now includes it in their training programme. Homelessness can happen to anyone and it looks different to everyone.
She shared her personal story with us speaking about the horrific conditions affecting her family and education. As a child her family was made homeless and put in temporary accommodation for several years before being housed in a very poor quality flat with damp, mushrooms and black mould. She was a bursary student at an independent school and she spoke of the embarrassment of telling school friends where she lived.
On social mobility, she discussed how hard it can be for young people from disadvantaged families to have the right contacts for work experience. Her own extended family was against her chosen path believing that ‘it is too hard and not for people like you.’ She has recently made podcasts about this for BBC Sounds, speaking with saxophonist Soweto Kinch and writer Val McDermid who both had complex educational journeys.
In hindsight, she believes she was very idealistic entering her profession but she still has optimism that journalism can change things and this keeps her going. She believes it is important that people of different backgrounds come into journalism so that more stories can be told. The heart of journalism is essentially to spark change and give different voices a platform to tell their stories. Even if change isn’t as fast or as big as it needs to be.
If you are a budding journalist, it is important to ask yourself: What makes you different? What do you believe the world needs to know? As someone whose dad was hoping I would be a journalist, I can now see why.
Learning about Navanayagan’s life and profession was eye-opening and informative. I hope she comes back again with more to tell!
Senior Prefect Team