Dominic Stephens, first year PR student at Bournemouth University, may have only just started his degree but he’s already tackling the media world with his work through the BBC and JUMP Tv. In efforts to best highlight his incredible experience and influences on the 2015 election, the following interview lets him do all the talking.
What are you currently working on for JUMP TV and how did it come about?
Last October I’d been writing jokes for Facebook friends, getting a few likes here and there, when I saw an advert for Newsjack, a BBC R4 comedy show which accepted unsolicited one-liners. You could send nine per show, so I spent the morning reading all the headlines I could find and made jokes about them, and sent them in. I just wanted some feedback, so you can imagine my surprise when I got an email saying they were going to use something I’d sent in that week! They didn’t say which one, so I listened live to find out. Turned out it was three! And I got paid! My first ever (well, only) BBC pay check. I hope it won’t be the last but, regardless, that was my first real experience with the BBC (bar a tour around TV Centre when I was 12, where I was told off for touching a Dalek).
Does the work your doing play into your future career goals?
One of the main reasons I wanted to come to BU was the coverage of the 2012 Presidential Elections. I’ve been a committed fan of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report and have been watching them religiously since I was 15. My life goal/dream/ambition is to be a correspondent on The Daily Show (a la John Oliver, for example) or chat show host.
I joined JumpTV in the hope I might get to have some sort of chat show. Early last year, I interviewed someone on a local radio show I co-hosted for a couple of years before university. He was a BAFTA-award winning Indie Game Designer, called Dan Marshall. I spent all day researching him, reading any interviews he’d done before, basically swotting up. The interview itself seemed to go well, and I loved the experience, and really wanted to do more. I told Dan this afterwards and he suggested I try to do one at University, where ideas and tech are in abundance. So that’s what I tried to do.
Since that night, I’ve known I wanted to be an interviewer. So, come September last year, now at BU, I started writing to the agents of anyone who came to the BIC. A string of silence or ‘no’s came from Bob Geldof, George Ezra, Jon from S Club 7, and several others.
In the mean time, I started TV presenting (something I’d never done before), initially as the games master of the Xmas special ‘Jump Into Christmas’, hosting ‘Who Can Eat The Most Mince Pies?’ games and similar. My lack of experience is clear by how I make my debut reading into the wrong autocue and subsequently introducing myself in profile…
For some reason, they liked it enough and had me back to co-host a celebrity gossip show called Celebrity Smoothie, and then a parody of Come Dine With Me and Dinner Date called ‘Dine or Dash’, which was entirely improvised and very fun to do.
You’ve accomplished a lot since you first decided to become an interviewer! What other experiences have you had to help with your work at JUMP?
I pitched the idea of covering the General Election to JUMP, unaware the uni were also doing it. In order to get some VTs (‘video tape’; pre-recorded packages), I emailed and wrote letters to every MP and major journalist I thought might be interesting to talk to.
After weeks of getting Parliament / Downing Street stamped letters arriving at my halls – which was exciting but inevitably contained “the minister has asked me to send his thanks and best wishes but unfortunately…” in them – I got a response from John Humphrys, who agreed to “ten minutes – but no more!” to take place at 9am at W1A, in the Today Show studio green room (you can see the studio behind him).
Baptisms don’t get much more inflammatory than that one. He’d just finished a 3-hour live early morning radio show, and was in little mood to give ten minutes of his life to an unknown student. I thought this might be the case, so made sure I was prepared. Like with the Dan Marshall interview, I went to the library and found as many books he’d written and articles he had been mentioned in as I could, read them, and used them to form the questions. I think Graham Norton said something like “you never really ask questions you don’t already know the answer to in these type of interviews”, so used that as a kind of mantra. It was an intense interview with John Humphrys, but by the end, I had made him laugh a couple of times, and we parted kindly, so I consider that a success!
Leaving the BBC, I bumped into a few celebrities. I say bumped. Spotted, shouted, and ran over to them, quickly tried to make my case for an interview, and – inevitably – was politely declined. Until I spotted Rev Richard Coles (No.1 with The Communards, regular panellist on QI, Have I Got News For You, etc.) who very kindly gave me a great 5-min interview off-the-cuff. The improvisation practice from Dine or Dash actually came in rather handy here, as was the earlier swotting.
Then, on to The Shard, HQ of News International, where I’d got another 10-minute interview; this time with the The Sun’s Editor, David Dinsmore. That turned into nearly 20-minutes. So much so, that one of our cameras ran out of battery half-way, having shot throughout the day.
Since then I’ve interviewed Conor Burns MP and the founding President of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, Lord Phillips.
This is your first year at Bournemouth University and you’ve done so much! Has there been any influence on your experience as a student?
Since the John Humphrys interview I’ve been producing and editing a documentary on why we “young people” should engage in the election, called ‘Why Should I Vote?’ which I’m aiming to release early next week (before the election itself).
In fact, I’ve just got back from editing it now, which is early; one night I didn’t leave the university until 3:30am. Nothing feels nerdier than leaving campus at the same time people are leaving Cameo. It’s been stressful and greatly time-consuming, though. Most people have had more nights out than I have, and had more of a typical ‘fresher’ experience. That’s somewhat regrettable. But for my first year, it has all been phenomenally exciting and immensely satisfying.
I auditioned to be part of the presenting team for the main university coverage of the General Election, again on the off-chance, and somehow its since morphed into me being a lead anchor and sole ‘graph master’ for the 10-hour live night, which is immensely exciting! In fact, they’re actually sending me off to Scotland at 3am on Friday morning for a two-day shoot covering the election up there (SNP conventions, et al), which is incredible.
In terms of how this all fits in with my degree in PR, my letter writing, presentation, self-promotion, and general persuasion skills have been helped greatly by these experiences. I’m immensely grateful to everyone who has helped me with them and has been supportive along the way.
To see more of what he’s been up to, check out Dominic’s finished documentary here.