A TV presenter and journalist, Chanell Wallace was most recently seen in an episode of BBC One’s Panorama, Knives in the Classroom, which examines the rising numbers of young people carrying knives and becoming victims of knife crime. Featuring young people growing up in at-risk communities, Chanell sheds light on the impact of knives in classrooms, which should be safe and conducive environments for growth and learning. Much of Chanell’s work has been motivated by her life experiences, with her BBC Three documentary “Life After My Brother’s Murder” winning Best Current Affairs Programme at the Royal Television Society’s North West Awards last year.
Sitting down with Chanell for a chat after a panel event at the Watersprite Film Festival where she shared her experiences breaking into the journalism industry, I asked Chanell what kind of journalism she is drawn to — investigative journalism, unsurprisingly. “I think it opens up journalism so much where us as people can delve deeper into subjects that means something to everyone and show the public what exactly they can be. So if you are looking at crime, for example, you can look at what newspapers have been talking about and what’s on TV but [also] so much deeper — what the solutions would be, what the causes could be — which essentially moves forwards into the future to make changes.”
I think [investigative journalism] opens up journalism so much where us as people can delve deeper into subjects that means something to everyone and show the public what exactly they can be.
Chanell was quick to keep mum on the projects she is working on at the moment. Laughing as she shook her head at my cheeky request for a sneak peek, she said, “I’m definitely working towards being on-screen more and building relationships with the public because I really want to show people like me and you that there are a lot of us out here that really want to make television, want to make a difference in society and want to inspire people to be just like us.
Reflecting on the personal nature of her work, Chanell finds the biggest reward in inspiring other people and allowing them to know that no matter where they come from and what their story is, they can be anything they want to be. “In my circumstances, I did not anticipate that my life would turn out the way it did. Even now, sitting here and thinking about the way my journey has mapped out for me, I feel quite thankful for the fact that as much as I’ve come from quite a traumatic circumstance, I’ve been able to turn my life around and inspire others to work towards greatness and work towards something that can change people’s lives.”
Not all journalists incorporate such a degree of personal experience into their work — how has it influenced Chanell’s work in terms of technique and direction? Has it, conversely, presented any difficulties or obstacles? Chanell emphatically nodded, “Absolutely. Sometimes, journalists can look at other people’s lives as a sense of direction. I look at my own so that I feel like I can connect with audiences more and that really shapes who I am now as a journalist. Sharing such a big part of my life has helped me connect with audiences, understand what’s going on in the world and how we can tell stories differently and make changes in the journalism industry.”
An area that I am interested in is how the increasing ease of access to information has empowered people to be able to investigate issues themselves. “When I look at all different forms of journalism, it’s all changing so much. We can all go on our phones, take a picture, take a video, make a tweet and it is instantly news, no matter whether it’s data journalism, citizen journalism or investigative journalism.” However, although this could put the jobs of journalists at risk, their importance lies in risk-taking and courageously taking the extra step “beyond what a story is, to see the public interest and the value of the story. Journalists need to take [the story] apart and show it to the audience as more than a headline or documentary. It is the bigger picture that affects people in life — you, me, the next generation, the further generation.”
Chanell’s advice for budding student journalists is simple: be brave, be confident, be passionate. Her following words left the most impact on me though — “I’ve always told myself that if I have a dream, no one can take that away. People can tell you no, but that doesn’t mean you can pick up the phone and call them again or send them an email, because that’s your choice.” She recognises the competition in the journalism industry and I found myself chiming in with a degree of self-reflexivity. With TCS vying with Varsity and The Tab (and other news outlets in the University) for readership, it can be disheartening to chase interesting stories in the midst of uncertainty over readership.
“I’ve always told myself that if I have a dream, no one can take that away. People can tell you no, but that doesn’t mean you can pick up the phone and call them again or send them an email, because that’s your choice.”
“What you need to think about is what’s different? Even if you think that this is how the BBC is doing it or how the Times and the Telegraph is doing it, don’t not try because others aren’t doing it. Learn to take risks because you and your journalist instincts are telling you to do it; because it’s new and it’s fresh. There’s only a certain amount of skills and techniques before it gets old and people get bored by the same techniques.”
So how can I make my interview pieces more interesting for you, my readers? Let me think about it and get back to you on my next piece.