Programme researchers provide support to the producer and production team of a television, radio, film or online project
As a programme researcher, you'll source contacts and contributors for programmes, as well as supply your own ideas and work on location. Some media researchers also help with filming or sound recording.
The work involves organising, planning and researching everything that will happen during a programme. This includes collecting and verifying information, such as who'll be interviewed, the location, if the film crew will fit, if the budget will stretch and so on.
You're also responsible for fact-checking, writing briefs for presenters and ensuring that production adheres to the appropriate legislation.
You can work on a variety of programmes or within one subject area.
The role may also be known as:
- specialist, live footage or picture researcher
- broadcast assistant
- assistant producer.
The job is often seen as a stepping stone towards a producer role, and a chance for ambitious recruits to show their potential.
Depending on the size and type of employer, you may carry out specific research-based tasks or you might expand into more production-based activities.
In radio, broadcasters do elements of their own programme research, assisted by the producers and researchers. Researchers in radio contribute to the development of websites that enhance programme delivery.
In television and film, researchers may be involved in a variety of activities and the role may be roughly divided into:
- factual research - checking that all the information used in making a film is accurate, such as period costume and architecture
- picture research - examining archives for film, video and photographic material to be used in documentaries.
Typical responsibilities are extremely varied but may include:
- meeting with producers, directors, designers, presenters and writers to discuss the research needs of a programme
- generating and developing new programme ideas
- conveying findings accurately to others in reports and briefs
- sourcing and researching facts, figures and information using the internet, film and tape archives, specialist collections, picture libraries, museums and government departments
- assessing contributors' suitability for the programme, researching and booking appropriate people and locations
- booking resources and facilities
- recruiting freelance staff and negotiating fees
- providing administrative support such as typing, answering the phone and dealing with contracts
- briefing scriptwriters and presenters on topics, updating scripts and editing news reports
- sourcing copyright for literary and music sources and gaining clearance for any materials used
- negotiating broadcasting rights and producing information and fact sheets for websites
- providing research to production staff in a clear, concise format and tracking down film, archive and video tapes
- finding interviewees to conduct initial interviews with and getting vox-pop responses to current events from members of the public
- directing a small shoot and carrying out straightforward editing.
- Basic rates for a junior researcher on a TV programme are around £400 for a 48-hour week.
- Production Base gives a guideline rate of pay for researchers of £140 per day and £700 per week, depending on experience.
You may have to carry out some unpaid work experience to increase your chances of securing a fully-paid job.
Freelance and short-term contracts are particularly common in this industry, and freelance rates vary widely.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Unsocial working hours are a common feature of the job, and researchers may work up to seven days a week for long periods.
What to expect
- Employment is generally precarious. Staff jobs are extremely hard to come by and researchers are generally taken on for specific projects or programmes (often lasting no more than two or three months). To secure regular employment, you'll need to build up a reputation. Large corporations, such as the BBC, employ some researchers on permanent contracts.
- Researchers' work takes place in a variety of settings, ranging from typing in an office to interviewing people in the street. Documentary researchers may sometimes work undercover.
- Employment levels have shifted slightly from London to North West England due to the relocation of part of the BBC's and ITV's workforce, and companies to MediaCityUK at Salford Quays near Manchester.
- The work is stressful and demanding and requires a very high level of commitment. The work culture is generally informal, but you may feel pressured with tight deadlines to meet.
- Travel is common and may be overseas depending on the research project.
This area of work is open to all graduates, as work experience and contacts often count for more than your degree subject. Nevertheless, a degree in one of the following subjects may increase your chances:
- broadcasting and media
- public relations
Graduates are preferred but the right mix of relevant work experience and skills, personal qualities and confidence may compensate.
A pre-entry postgraduate qualification is not essential, although a practical journalism or media course may help.
Specialist knowledge and research experience may be required for specific subject areas or documentaries.
For general areas, knowledge of current affairs and the media, plus evidence of lateral thinking and creative problem solving is useful.
- to generate new ideas and accommodate the ideas of others
- resourcefulness and motivation
- excellent written communication, interpersonal and organisational skills
- visual thinking and the ability to be adaptable yet methodical
- the capability to work well in a team and under pressure
- strong IT and research skills
- an instinct for a good story
- confidence and patience
- knowledge of legal and ethical principles in relation to the media and copyright, as well as health and safety procedures
- the ability to manage your own workload and promote yourself to get new work.
Many graduate researchers have previously worked in newspapers or radio (mainly as journalists) or gained experience in entry-level jobs in television, often unpaid or in the role of a runner. Therefore, pre-entry experience is vital, especially as competition for all advertised vacancies is so fierce.
Opportunities for work experience do exist, but places may be limited so you'll need to be determined to succeed.
The BBC offers work experience nationally in a variety of roles, and many broadcasting recruitment agencies advertise short-term contracts. See BBC - Work Experience at the BBC for more information.
Be prepared to network and try to get summer work experience in a research role with your local or regional press, community radio or student union publications.
If you're trying to get into freelance work, Broadcast is a useful resource to subscribe to.
Joining communities with an interest in film, television and radio will help provide useful links and keep you up to date on current affairs within the industry. Take a look at:
Build a portfolio of everything you've contributed to, from newspaper articles to television programmes, to demonstrate your experience when approaching potential employers.
Find out more about the different kinds of work experience and internships that are available.
Most researchers work on news and current affairs programmes for:
- independent production companies
- satellite and cable companies.
The UK's largest broadcaster is the BBC. The majority of its programmes are produced in-house, but the BBC has a statutory obligation to ensure that 25% of its commissioned programme hours are made by independent producers.
The three major players at ITV are ITC plc, STV and UTV. ITV comprises 15 regional licensees and is also required to commission 25% of its programming from the independent sector.
Channel 4, which broadcasts throughout the UK, does not make programmes but commissions them from independent production companies.
Channel 5 broadcasts across the country and makes a small number of programmes.
The 100% Welsh language channel S4C commissions all of its programmes.
There are hundreds of smaller independent companies, based mainly in London, which mostly recruit freelancers.
Commercial radio companies include:
- Bauer Radio (Kiss, Absolute Radio and Magic networks, and several stations in the North of England, Northern Ireland and Scotland)
- Global Radio (the Heart and Capital networks, Classic FM, Gold, Smooth and more)
- Wireless - now owned by Bauer Radio (talkSPORT, Virgin Radio UK and various local FM stations such as Peak FM and Swansea Sound).
Researchers are also employed by a small number of production companies in the film industry.
To make speculative applications, consult employer listings on websites such as:
Look for job vacancies at:
- BBC Careers - all BBC vacancies, work experience opportunities and trainee schemes are advertised centrally online
- Media Week
- Production Base
- Start in TV
A lot of training is on the job, although short training courses are available in-house or externally. The BBC, for example, runs a number of training schemes which are advertised on BBC Academy.
Training opportunities within broadcasting companies are usually linked to operational needs.
The industry-led skills body ScreenSkills provides information and booking facilities for a range of training courses, including online ones. It also has details of bursaries and mentoring. Information on workshops and training in the industry is also available from Mandy.com and The Actor's Guild.
In Scotland, Screen Academy Scotland provides training for the Scottish broadcast and film industry.
For details of skills and training opportunities in Northern Ireland, see Northern Ireland Screen - ScreenSkills.
There is no fixed career ladder, but the nature of the job makes it an excellent starting point for an ambitious entrant. You may work as a broadcasting research assistant before starting a career as a media researcher.
Career progression is achieved by working on a variety of programmes, films and stations so maintaining good relationships within the sector is very important.
Researchers in local radio may move into the national network, while those in television may go on to work on high-profile current events programmes or specialise in a particular area, such as music or stills research.
With experience, you may find there is an opportunity to supervise a team of researchers. This would involve maintaining a high level of contact with the producer and director - in effect moving into a senior researcher role.
Further options include moving into other media roles, such as journalism or other areas of production.