Lessons from Martin Pollard’s career as a video journalist

Leeds alumnus Martin Pollard, an award-winning multimedia journalist for Reuters, spoke in a guest lecture at the Business Confucius Institute on 8 December 2021.

Martin graduated from Leeds in 2009 with a degree in History and French. After three years teaching English in China, he began his journalism career as a Beijing-based documentary reporter for the Chinese state media company CCTV (now CGTN). Martin worked for CCTV for three years before leaving to study television journalism at City, University of London. He returned to China with Reuters in 2017.

In 2020, Martin was awarded Reuters’s Video Journalist of the Year for his work, notably his reporting from the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He shared a wide overview of his path to working in China and in journalism, as well as his own Mandarin learning journey and how his language skills and cultural competence completement his work.

In this post, Emily Austin-Howell, our Mandarin Aspirations Intern and third-year student at the University of Leeds, identifies five key takeaways from the lecture:

  • Grasp opportunities
  • Understand how to articulate your skills
  • Learn the language to stand out and get ahead
  • Martin’s approach to Chinese learning
  • Tips for aspiring journalists

Grasp opportunities

Martin opened his lecture with the University of Leeds’ Latin motto, “creating knowledge and opportunity,” explaining that this was true during his time at university and in his pursuit of grasping opportunities ever since.

Martin had his first experience of China as a second-year student on the 2007 summer programme at Beijing Normal University through the Confucius Institute.

Martin, who graduated in 2009 during the financial crisis, feels he can relate to current students and young professionals who are experiencing uncertainty when it comes to their own career prospects, as they are graduating into the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic.

When Martin heard about an opportunity to teach in China with the British Council, he decided to embark on an adventure abroad.

Martin was invited to take part in various stage performances, something very new to him, which built his confidence and also led to his interest in presenting and being involved with the media.

From Martin’s story we can see the importance of taking advantage of opportunities when they arise and actively creating your own path when they are not apparent.

Understand how to articulate your skills

After a few years of EFL teaching with the British Council, Martin applied for a role at CCTV.

The job description stated that he needed five years of journalism experience but Martin had none at this point, nor did he have any internships or extracurricular activities to demonstrate his interest.

He was told he was hired because of his potential and identified three prongs which he believes articulated this potential to his employer.

Firstly, Martin honed his skills in communication and presentation as a teacher. One way teaching a class is transferable to working as a journalist in that you are always looking for the best angle to make content interesting for the reader or viewer.

Secondly, he also had good intercultural knowledge and understanding of Chinese culture as a result of his time living and working in China.

Thirdly, Martin had developed solid Chinese skills from his years living and working in China. He could confidently speak Chinese and had passed HSK 6, the highest level of Chinese proficiency exam, which clearly demonstrated his language ability to the employer.

As you approach applications, identify the skills you have gained from your own experiences, such as learning Chinese or studying or working abroad, so you can articulate these to employers and demonstrate your valuable transferrable skills.

For more inspiration, read our blog Do Mandarin learners have the top five skills that employers want?

Learn the language to stand out and get ahead

Martin relies on his Chinese to acquire information and develop engaging stories.

With his language skills, Martin is able to participate fully in conversations and build a better rapport with subjects without having to rely on an interpreter.

This has granted Martin intimate access to moments such as this moving report of a mother struggling to get her daughter through a checkpoint to access cancer treatment.

Martin spoke candidly about some of the difficulties and risks he faces as a journalist in China. Reporting on COVID involved encounters with the security services and officials, and Martin feels that speaking the language has empowered him to navigate challenging working environments.

Martin’s approach to Chinese learning

Martin reflected on his Chinese learning experience, having now passed HSK 6, the highest level in the series of Chinese proficiency tests.

He addressed learners’ doubts about reaching the level they aspire to, which was the case for Martin with Chinese – especially with the characters.

Quoting Confucius; “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall,” Martin suggests that, while we may not always rise, as Confucius said, we can definitely try to keep going.

When Martin moved to China with the British Council, he was living next door to another English teacher who was already at a good level of Chinese. Being quite competitive, Martin wanted to quickly become one of the best, if not the best, at Chinese. This healthy competition was a great motivation for him to improve quickly.

He took evening classes, spoke to anyone and everyone with time on their hands for practice, and took a collective approach with TV, films, and radio, “everything together. It all helped.”

Tips for aspiring journalists

Journalism is a challenging career, though Martin says one of the best parts of the job as that it demands all round skills.

In the thick of the adrenaline-filled day-to-day, there are also precious moments of peace.

Martin says that the best part of the job is the camaraderie with your fellow journalists.

Working as a journalist has also granted Martin intimate access to immense historical events, including China’s launch of a rocket to Mars in the summer of 2020 and the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party.

While journalism requires being comfortable being public, being persuasive at times, and problem-solving to figure out and get through a situation, Martin emphasises the importance of keeping the ethical element in mind.

Try to always do your best to do good even if that does mean you can’t get a quote or you miss out on a story.

Martin also advises that you remember to be good to yourself.

“If you’re having a tough day, call a friend and have a drink and relax, because you know tomorrow’s another day.”

Explore further

Read our news report about Martin’s event which also includes links to lots of his recent work.