Christina Nicolotti Squires is Editor of Channel 5 news and also a member of Women in Journalism. Our paths sort of ‘crossed’ when I gave a talk to the group on how men and women communicate. She has a fascinating job ranging from covering the election of President Obama to the Queen’s 80th birthday celebrations. Enjoy the read!
Jane: Cristina, you’re the editor at Channel 5 news, (more of which later) but what was your very first job?
Cristina:My first job was at an agency called National News. I did some work experience there during my university holidays and was thrilled when they told me they had a vacancy for a trainee journalist. As well as making the tea and running errands, I learned quickly how to write for the national newspapers, as they were our main clients. We’d supply them with copy from court cases, industrial tribunals as well as major breaking news stories in London.
Were there any signs of the budding journalist in you during your school days? What was your dream job then – as in what did you want to be when you grew up?
I was really lucky in that from a very early age I knew exactly what I wanted to do for a living. My father was a newspaper journalist and from the age of 8 I was determined to follow in his footsteps. I wrote a monthly paper called “Family Buzz” for our relatives and spend far too much of my university years editing the Durham student newspaper “Palatinate”. But I was in good company – the first Editor when I arrived was Jeremy Vine.
For the benefit of readers who may not be sure (and me) can you describe what exactly an editor does?
It’s a two fold job. I’m in charge of the editorial direction of 5 News; the stories we cover, the way we tell them, who covers them and the style of our presentation. I don’t micromanage all of that but it’s up to me to lead the team in the right journalistic direction.
But I’m also the MD of a small business. I’m employed by ITN, and we have a contract to provide Channel 5 with its news service. So I have to manage my client, making sure they are happy with what we are doing, manage my budget, ensuring we are spending as much on the screen as we can. And of course there’s managing 50 or so staff and helping them feel they are developing their careers as well as performing to the best of their abilities each day.
What was your career path to this point like? Did you plan your career?
As I said earlier I knew I wanted to be a journalist. I loved words and writing. I took a degree in Politics and Modern History as I thought they were good subjects for a journalist to learn about. I fell into television news by accident as a friend of my dad worked at Thames Television News and offered me a try out.
But I fell in love with it as a medium for journalism. I love the fact it requires a team working together and the way that tv pictures can convey emotion and tell a story in a very different way from words alone. The only two conscious career decisions I’ve ever made were relatively recently. After 12 years in newsgathering for ITV News at ITN, I decided I ought to get some production experience, and went for a programme editor’s job. Creating the structure of a news programme, directing the way news reports are made and being live on air for 30 minutes every night was fabulous. And I got to edit loads of special live extended programmes from the election of President Obama to the Royal Wedding.
I still miss the buzz of live telly and being in the gallery calling the shots.The other big career decision was leaving the ITV newsroom, that I’d grown up in over 19 years, to come to 5 News as Editor. It was a personal wrench but I knew that it would make me grow in terms of leadership and gaining those management skills I knew I had inside me.
I have been quite loudly critical of the BBC in the past for its outdated and sexist attitudes where women are concerned. Femageism is rife. How have you found attitudes towards women during your career? Can you see much improvement?
I think we’ve all got stories from the 80s and 90s when sexism was perhaps a bit more blatant. But I can honestly say that I don’t think my gender has ever affected my career progression. I was promoted after my first maternity leave, and switched to a new role in production after my second daughter was born.
I’ve been at ITN now for 21 years and been privileged to travel the world with the best correspondents, edit the top news programmes and now lead the 5 News team. My gender just hasn’t come into it. And I think that society in general is finally recognising the value that age can bring. I was delighted to see a recent report from the Columbia Business School saying that women over 50 make the best bosses. I’m nearly there!
But I do know that there are still not enough women in senior positions in all parts of journalism. Loads of young women enter the profession but not enough are powering their way to the top. Which is why I’m starting up a mentoring scheme for the Women in Journalism group. Founded by the legendary Eve Pollard we’re a networking group for women across all media, old and new. The scheme kicks off next year and our aim is to give women in middle management a bit of encouragement and confidence to get themselves to the top.
I know from our conversation that you have a passion to empower women. Is that always compatible with how the media reports issues? Do you ever find your values are being compromised? Are you able to influence how certain stories are covered?
In my current role, I can influence all of the stories we cover and I do think that often my own experiences as a woman and a mother do make me view stories and angles differently to some of my staff. Television news is pretty tightly regulated and I wouldn’t get away with the attitudes that some of the newspapers seem to have to women in the media. I’m pretty hot on things like not describing someone in a story as a mother of two unless its relevant, and I’m careful about the images we show at 5pm when there’s young people around.
I’ve covered my fair share of war, violence and terror – and in the past I’ve worked hard to make sure that when we deploy a big team of reporters to those massive stories, that they aren’t all men. But that’s more about reflecting my audience than thinking women tell stories differently to men.
If you could introduce some legislation to make the world of work more equal, what would it be? For example, do you think quotas are the way to go? I absolutely do and have no truck with the argument that we might get women who aren’t up to the job. (As if every man is brilliant at everything they do … sheez!) But please feel free to disagree with me.
I’m afraid I am dead against quotas in all areas of diversity. I passionately believe that we all have to work harder to employ people of all gender, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation. But people must only be employed and promoted because of one simple reason and that has to be their talent and experience. If we see a gap in experience that’s there for say white middle aged men, then we need to make sure more diverse older women are getting the same chances.
But I think targets are a much better way forward than quotas. I think that working full-time is the biggest obstacle for women with families – whether they are looking after children or elderly parents. I’d like to see more women job sharing senior roles, as I think that it’s a good solution. Very senior jobs can’t be done part time – but job sharing is a way through that. I’m not sure it needs legislation though – just a change of mindset.
What advice would you give to a young woman today looking to follow in your footsteps?
Believe in yourself. Follow your dreams. Make it happen. And never give up.
Have you had a mentor or a role model during your career? Who has had the most influence on you?
I’ve had two. My mother has had the greatest influence on me. She went to loads of schools and lived in several different countries as a child, so she never had a great education. But she had drive and determination. She went from being a shop assistant in the 1960s to being the Managing Director and CEO of her own multi million pound interior design business. Having a mum who worked at such a senior level was a novelty when I was a kid, and I’m sure seeing her blaze that trail had a huge influence on me. I still call her for business advice today.
The second role model is my former boss Deborah Turness. She was the first woman Editor of a network newsroom – -and I’m the second. She’s now the first woman President of NBC News in the US and doing brilliantly in a really tough job. Working under her at ITV News I learned you can be drive, and tough and push your team to deliver results. But you can do with it kindness, consensual leadership and thoughtfulness.
You’ve achieved much success in your career. What have you done (to date) that gives you most pride?
Creating ITV’s Royal Wedding programme covering the marriage of William and Kate was a very special project. I wept with relief and huge pride in my team when we came off air after 7 ½ hours. I was very proud afterwards when the press gave us such great write ups. And getting a BAFTA for our Haiti earthquake coverage was pretty cool.
Very cool! Speaking as someone who totally changed track in her later forties, what ambitions do you have for your career? Is there something you’d like to do, an unfulfilled dream?
I fantasise about getting a job one day that’s totally nothing to do with news and stories that break when you least want them to. But I know I’d hate it!
And finally, if you could conjure up a perfect dream job for yourself, (it doesn’t even have to exist – yet) what would it be? As an added bonus it can be anywhere, in any era of history.
I love the idea of helping people to develop their careers. There’s a lot of work being done in many different professions to attract a wider, more diverse workforce. I’ve been involved in a scheme at ITN to create an apprenticeship scheme to try and create a seedbed for a more diverse pool of talent for the future. So developing talent is an area I’d love to work in.
And in another time and place? I love the idea of working on a political campaign. I’ve covered so many British and American elections from the outside. Like so many others I was hooked on the West Wing and fantasised about being CJ. So being on the inside for a US Presidential campaign would be amazing.
Oh yes, I loved CJ, too! Many thanks, Christina, for sharing your thoughts with us. Click here to connect to the channel 5 news website.
Posted on July 24th, 2015 by Jane