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History graduate discusses experience covering game changing Rio Paralympics for Channel 4

A graduate from the School of History, Politics and International Relations has discussed his role in covering the Rio Paralympics for Channel 4 – and how the event could be a ‘game changer’ in reforming attitudes towards disability in Brazil.

Jamie Burton, who has cerebral palsy, graduated from our University in 2014 after completing a BA in Contemporary History.

In a feature article written following the conclusion of the Paralympics last month, Jamie outlines how he was able to enrol in a Channel 4 training scheme that involved a year working in industry, before landing his dream job covering the event in Brazil.

When I graduated in 2014, I looked back on my time in Leicester as the best three years of my life

“When I graduated in 2014, I looked back on my time in Leicester as the best three years of my life,” Jamie says. “Fast forward two years or so and I’ve recently enjoyed the best two weeks of my life working on the Paralympics for Channel 4 in Rio.

“Like many of my peers, I didn’t land on my feet immediately. The competition for jobs was intense and I soon realised that a newspaper career would require further study – something I was reluctant to do. I undertook a couple of unpaid placements and got an admin job to build the CV, but until the Spring of 2015, I would have laughed at the idea of going to the next Paralympics.

“That’s when all my Christmases came at my once. Trawling through social media, I found an advert for a Channel 4 training scheme that involved a year working in industry before potentially landing a job in Brazil. In 2012, Channel 4 pushed for more disabled talent to be in front of the camera and in 2016 their focus switched to those working behind the scenes. For somebody who spends most of their free time flicking through the sports channels, it was an opportunity I couldn’t ignore.”

During the interview process Jamie had to draw upon various parts of his University of Leicester experience, from his History degree which provided him with the transferrable skills for a research role at Channel 4, to the journalistic skills he developed during his time as a sports editor and deputy editor of the student newspaper The Ripple – now Galaxy Press – and the knowledge gained during his involvement on the committee of the cricket club.

In the build up to Rio, Jamie spent a year working for North One TV, mainly based at BT Sport working on their coverage of MotoGP and the Isle of Man TT – a role he has continued to hold post-Paralympics.

Interspersed with this were monthly training sessions at Channel 4 where Jamie and his colleagues were fortunate enough to pick the brains of well-respected people within the industry.

During the Paralympics, Jamie was Junior Assistant Producer on the Wheelchair Basketball
During the Paralympics, Jamie was Junior Assistant Producer on the Wheelchair Basketball
“It was notable that these speakers had previously studied a whole range of subjects and all of them emphasised that extra-curricular activity was equally important when embarking on a career in television,” Jamie says.

During the Paralympics, Jamie was Junior Assistant Producer on the Wheelchair Basketball, which involved cutting highlight packages, logging footage for other programmes and generally being across matches in case anything of interest happened. He describes how the positive atmosphere was palpable.

“The country seemed to really embrace the Paralympics and the atmosphere was joyous throughout,” he says. “As a spectator you wanted to see anything with Brazil representation because noise levels went through the roof! I watched a wheelchair tennis match where the Brazilian pair were being soundly beaten but the volume was still deafening.”

Jamie and many of the other trainees were part of a small group who followed disabled sport throughout the four year cycle between London and Rio, which meant they were able to help colleagues who were looking for information on other sports. Jamie himself was a wheelchair racer for a number of years growing up, giving him experience to provide advice from a competitive standpoint.

Jamie believes that London 2012 was a game changer for the Paralympic movement – and that Rio 2016 could be similarly significant in changing attitudes towards disability in that part of the world.

The Paralympics is arguably the greatest sporting event to work on as it transcends sport and is filled with so much positivity

“Many of my vastly more experienced colleagues told me that the Paralympics is arguably the greatest sporting event to work on as it transcends sport and is filled with so much positivity,” Jamie says. “I am incredibly lucky to have had the chance to work on something I love and at such an early stage in my career. It’s also a reminder that post-university life might not be plain sailing at times but opportunities will arise if you keep plugging away.”

Jamie now looks forward to covering the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.

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