Media researchers support producers and production teams overseeing TV, film, radio, or online projects. The research role can involve sourcing contacts for programmes, forming new creative ideas and helping with sound recording and filming on location.
The role requires just as much planning and organising as it does research. As a media researcher, you may need to plan for filming and staffing logistics, ensuring that the budget will cover the project and the crew’s needs will be catered for.
Away from filming locations, you will spend time writing briefs, fact-checking, and brushing up on the appropriate legislation. In some positions, you will work within one subject area; in others, you could work on multiple projects and productions.
Media researchers can also be referred to as programme researchers, broadcast assistants, assistant producers, and picture researchers. Whatever the job title, it is often a stepping stone towards becoming a producer.
While some media researchers solely focus on research-based tasks, others will take on additional production-based duties – depending on the type and size of the employer.
Radio programme researchers will aid broadcasters, who often carry out their own research, enhance the overall delivery of the programme; whereas TV and film researchers could spend their working hours ensuring all production details, such as architecture and costume, are accurate.
For documentary programme researchers, picture research is a large part of the job role, which will entail sourcing photo and video archives for footage to be used in the feature.
Typically, responsibilities include:
- Discerning what the programme needs by liaising with writers, presenters, designers, directors, and producers.
- Originating new and creative programme ideas.
- Creating briefs and reports to convey findings to the production team.
- Fact sourcing using archives, libraries, government departments, picture libraries and museums.
- Booking locations and facilities, procuring resources, and staffing the production team.
- Negotiating fees with freelance staff.
- Administrative support.
- Briefing presenters and scriptwriters.
- Editing scripts and news reports.
- Sourcing interviewees and conducting initial interviews.
- Negotiating broadcast rights.
- Securing copyright clearance for materials used in productions.
- Junior media researchers can expect to earn £400 a week, or £20,800 annually.
- With experience, media researchers who take on production responsibilities can earn up to £36,413 annually or £700 a week.
- Many media researchers progress into producer roles, which pay up to £43,790.
There is no one-size-fits-all answer for the typical working hours for a media researcher. While overseeing productions and larger projects, unsociable working hours are the norm, and some researchers may be expected to work up to seven days a week for extended periods of time. Short-term contracts and freelance work are common in this industry.
What to Expect
- Local, national, and overseas travel is common, depending on the project.
- The work atmosphere will typically be informal, but it can be stressful due to responsibilities and strict deadlines.
- Employment and income can be precarious as typical contracts last for 2 – 3 months, unless working for an institution such as the BBC.
- Paid positions are hard to secure for researchers yet to build a reputation in the industry.
- The best job opportunities are found in London and Manchester; due to ITV and the BBC relocating their workforce to MediaCityUK in Salford Quays.
- You will work in different settings, including in offices, interviewing members of the public on the street and on set. You may also need to work undercover.
Work experience, contacts, and enthusiasm for the form of media you will be researching are often more important than holding a degree in a relevant subject. However, as the industry is highly competitive, a degree in art, design, broadcasting, media, history, English, journalism, public relations, or theatre can help.
For documentary researchers or researchers getting into specific subject areas, specialist knowledge and a relevant degree may be part of the candidate criteria. For more general roles, having your finger on the pulse of current affairs may be more advantageous.
To be a successful media researcher, you will need:
- The ability to form creative ideas while accommodating other people’s ideas.
- Strong research skills.
- IT proficiency.
- A highly motivated work ethic.
- Confidence in your ideas and the patience to execute them.
- An eye for detail and a sharp instinct for a strong narrative or story.
- To be highly organised to juggle responsibilities and meet strict deadlines.
- Written and interpersonal communication skills.
- The ability to balance visual and methodical thinking.
- To thrive under pressure and as part of a team.
- The self-confidence to promote yourself to secure new contracts.
- Knowledge of copyright law and other ethical principles in relation to media.
Voluntary work may not be able to pay a salary, but it can help you to prove your worth as a media researcher and make all the right contacts in the industry. Graduates with relevant degrees often find it easier to establish themselves in the industry after picking up experience in work placements. However, apprenticeships can also be beneficial for clocking up work experience hours.
Before applying for programme researcher roles, pre-entry experience is crucial. For example, in television, the pre-entry experience could include working as a paid or volunteer runner. Other researchers start their careers working with community radio stations, student union publications, and local press.
When applying for vacancies, build a portfolio of all your contributions to TV programmes, newspaper articles, and radio programmes to exhibit your experience and skills.
One of the best ways to progress through the industry is by maintaining relationships with the right people and striving to work for larger organisations. For example, if you start in local radio, your next step would be to work with broadcasters on a national network.
Experienced programme researchers can also move into senior research roles, which involve supervising teams of researchers and working more closely with producers and directors. For researchers who develop other areas of interest, a future in journalism or production is viable.
The main sectors for media researchers to break into include satellite and cable companies, radio stations, independent production companies and television.
As the BBC is by far the largest broadcaster in the UK, its vacancy pages are a great place to search for job roles. ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, and the independent production companies Big Talk and Endemol Shine UK also employ their fair share of programme researchers.
For researchers looking to get into radio, Global Radio, Wireless, and Bauer Radio, which run some of the most popular radio stations in the UK, are great places to look for employment after gaining experience with local and regional radio stations.
For researchers looking to gain employment within a production company, Kays and KFTV are two of the main employers in the UK.
Look for job vacancies on the BBC Careers page, Broadcast, Media Week and Start in TV.
Each member of the team teaching the MSc Project Management Degree at UWS London is an industry leader with ample real-world experience they will share with you via practice and theory-based lectures. During your postgraduate degree, you will study case studies in project management, postgraduate research methods, and strategic management and sustainability, enabling you to become an attractive candidate for media research roles. The secondary skills you will gain through enrolling for the course involve problem-solving, IT, critical thinking and communication, giving you an advantage in any competitive job market.