BBC Home Editor Mark Easton told Leeds Trinity Journalism Week he has never actually applied for a job - and described his long and varied career as a "skydive".
He said he had spent his early days on the Southern Evening Echo, progressing to local radio and senior positions at both Five News and Channel 4 News.
After asking the packed lecture theatre of journalism trainees why they wanted to be journalists, he explained how he was bitten by the bug after a win on the board game Scoop at the age of 13.
Easton treated the audience to a sneak preview of his new book, Britain etc. (out on Thursday), in which lettered chapters look at the UK through its relationship to 26 subjects – starting with A for Alcohol.
To the disappointment of some in the room, he admitted that despite the old Fleet Street tradition of a few pints at lunchtime, the days of the liquid lunch for journalists were over.
On the Leveson Inquiry, he admitted that there is “a lot to be sorted out” and highlighted the broadcasting codes as a “pretty good model” that the print media could adopt.
He discussed at length the potential of government data as a source for news and recounted the two stories he is most proud of, both involving trawling through mounds of paperwork.
Despite the declining sales of newspapers and the growth of online journalism, Easton remained confident about the future of broadcasting. “People still want a stick in the sand,” he said. He believed TV news outlets provided a trusted round-up of the day’s events.
Easton’s advice to aspiring journalists was to produce pieces that would stand out. Although jobs were being cut, editors were constantly on the lookout for new talent. He said the key skill for journalists was curiosity and the ability to ask the right questions.
Summing up what being a journalist meant to him, Easton said: “Journalism is about seeking out and telling the truth.” But he added it was also “sometimes about telling people things they don’t want to hear”.
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