Alastair Stewart (Hon LLD 2008)

Alastair Stewart was offered a job after a chance appearance on Southern ITV while Deputy President of the National Union of Students. He joined ITN as Industrial Correspondent in 1980, and is the longest-serving newsreader on British television.

Alastair StewartWhy did you choose to study at Bristol?

I have to be honest and admit, like many of my generation, that Bristol was my second choice. That said, on reflection, I've no regrets at attending a first-class university that was a key part of a city rather than a community which is an ‘add-on’ to a iniversity.

What attracted you to a career in journalism?

Serendipity played a part. I had done some journalism at Bristol. I wrote for Nonesuch, then the student newspaper, and we formed Bacus, a paper for all students in the Bristol area.

However, after being Deputy President of the Students’ Union (SU) at Bristol, and Deputy President of the National Union of Students, I wanted to become an MP and aspired to being a Cabinet Minister. However, a chance appearance on Southern ITV resulted in a job offer from the editor of their local news programme. Initially I rejected it but, following a family chat, I decided to ‘give it a go’. That was in 1976. I am still ‘giving it a go’.

How did your time at Bristol influence your career? Were you involved in student media or any other student societies?

In addition to the SU, a crucial part of my life at Bristol, I was also very active in Dramsoc and Revunions. I think the performing arts have very thin ‘Chinese walls’. The ability to master scripts, take direction and, of course, ‘perform’ with confidence and commitment, are key to what I do now.

Sir Robin Day once told me that that talent mix qualified one to be an MP, a TV interviewer and/or a barrister. Had I not gone into TV I would have gone into politics via the law, having secured a place at LSE, post-Bristol. But, what comes to pass...

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Understanding the political and historical significance of the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 and broadcasting, pretty solidly, for 36 hours from the Wall.

I was also proud to be the anchor of the first ever TV debate between the party leaders ahead of the 2010 general election and to be the first British TV reporter into a liberated Kuwait in 1990.

But Berlin is burned in my memory, in so many ways.

What advice would you give current students (or recent graduates) looking to pursue a career in journalism?

Study something else first – English, foreign languages, history, politics – whatever. Postgraduate journalism is good but I am dubious about GCSE, A-level and BA courses in journalism.

Before that, be sure it is what you really want to do, and prove it. Did you write for your school newspaper and your university newspaper? Did you have a go at hospital and student broadcasting?

Journalism is one of the most responsible, rewarding and ‘fun’ careers but, like the priesthood, it is a vocation. If it is an afterthought, you might fall flat on your face.

And I am keenly aware that I am the exception to my own rule!

If you ruled the world, what would you change?

I’d abolish the notion of ‘world rule’ and devolve to nation states... so long as they accept democracy.

If you could meet anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?

Franklin D. Roosevelt, the most significant figure in the 20th century for his part in the defeat of the economic depression; and the defeat of fascism.

And Sir Mick Jagger – I am a life-long fan. Given You can’t Always Get What You Want, but ‘if you try, sometimes, you get what you need’ – I’ll ask for both.

Read more about Alastair's thoughts on British journalism, and how digital advances have had an impact on traditional media, in the Spring 2014 issue of Nonesuch.