BOTH SIDES: Tamsin O’Brien

A profile shot of Tamsin O'Brien, the subject of the article.

The women who went from band manager to Head of Regional programmes for BBC North West.

A profile shot of Tamsin O'Brien.
O’Brien wanted to work in the music industry but soon realised journalism was her passion.

AS a Leicester university student, Tamsin O’Brien began by working as an entertainment manager for her university working with several bands and music managers. This drove her onto working in the music industry but that came to a halt, she says: “I had a me-too moment and I was very unhappy with that”. 

This pushed her onto exploring her love of writing which led her to aspiring to a career in journalism.

Her degree was in English Language and Literature so it was fundamental for her to get experience in journalism whilst at university to pursue a career in it. After writing to all of the BBC female editors in the country, at the time the number being only seven, she was able to find work at her local BBC radio station in Leicester. Working throughout the summer during university, she was adamant that she wanted to work for the BBC. 

The next step for O’Brien was to apply for the BBC training scheme “I worked harder for that scheme then I did for my degree … I read every newspaper front to back to prepare for the interviews”. She was overjoyed to find out she was successful and after completing her degree she moved into the BBC to pursue her career. 

Her first interview to be a journalist didn’t go how she expected, she explains: “the guy who was interviewing me smoked, he had an ashtray on the floor and he just tipped the fag into the ashtray, but mid-question he put the cigarette on to the floor and the carpet began to smoke”. She can laugh about it now but reflecting on the situation she says: “I knew I wouldn’t last long as a serious journalist if I couldn’t tell someone the carpet was on fire!”. 

She began her career working for local radio stations in Birmingham and the West Midlands. But O’Brien was quick to discover her dedication to working in TV, moving to Manchester she became a Broadcast journalist within BBC North West. Before, as she says “quickly moving up the ranks to the position of TV editor for North West Tonight”. 

O’Brien recalls these as some of her best years within journalism, she says: “I had an incredible team and we won lots of awards working on some of the biggest stories such as the aftermath of Hillsborough, the major success of Manchester United and the harrowing case of Harold Shipman”. 

An image of media city, salford.
O’Brien was in charge of the move to Media City in Salford whilst she was the head BBC North West programmes.

Following her success in Manchester, she moved to Leeds to take on the position as a head of regional programmes for BBC Yorkshire, for two years. It was after this position she was able to move back to Manchester to take on her most senior role within the BBC as head of regional programmes for BBC North West. 

After a further two years in this role O’Brien left the BBC for personal reasons and was given the opportunity to travel alongside her partner, which she says was “just as interesting as my career so I didn’t leave the BBC to sit at home and do nothing. I was able to travel the world with my partner”. 

O’Brien continues: “I’ve never been the person to stay in one role for too long, I need to stay motivated and that’s why I’m always looking for what’s next”. A strong work ethic gave O’Brien the idea to pursue her passion for coaching, working with several different clients, to help them solve the different problems that can be found within businesses.

However, in 2015, she was offered an opportunity she could not refuse. Always looking for the next challenge, the offer of an interim position as the head of media at Oxfam came her way and missing the responsibility these top roles offered O’Brien she took the job. Having only worked for Oxfam for two years she gained an insight into working on the other side of news, which she says gave her a different edge as a journalist.

Moving ahead to the present day, O’Brien has set up her own journalism site in Harrogate called The Stray Ferret. She says “if you’d have told me a year ago I would be setting up the Stray Ferret I probably would have said no, I don’t want to do that again. But I have found it incredibly stimulating and motivating.”

Using her experience as a manager and coach, she uses the platform of The Stray Ferret to help develop the next generation of journalists by hiring young graduates who have a passion for the field. She says: “I want to give young people the chance to produce thorough journalism, and give them the chance to produce investigative journalism at a local level.”

Looking back on her career with fond memories she is grateful for all the opportunities that have come her way. O’Brien says: “I’m glad I’ve had the chance to do all these things. It’s been a privilege for me.”

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