At just 22 and with a freshly minted journalism degree from Curtin, Carys Garland moved to Paris to fulfill a childhood dream. Six years later, she’s still enjoying a Euro lifestyle and working as a journalist for the English language TV news service of France 24. On a recent visit home she sat down with me to talk about working abroad.
Tell me when your daydream about living and working in Paris actually became a firm plan?
So I’d always had an interest in France and French culture because I studied French throughout high school and then for a few years afterwards. When I was in high school, we went on a school trip to France, to Paris and to the south, and in Paris I kind of thought, “I’m going to come back here.” You know, I really like this city and it was always in the back of my mind as something that I could do. Then, you know how hard it is when you graduate from journalism and struggling to find a full-time job, so I was working in different casual situations and I kind of thought, “Okay, if I really want to go to this city, I’m going to have to go now because I don’t have anything that’s holding me back. I don’t have a full-time job, I don’t have a house of my own or anything like that.”
Do you still pinch yourself that you are living the dream?
A little bit, but it’s not every day or anything, but there are moments, kind of once every two weeks or something like that, when I go, “Oh,” driving home in my taxi from work and the Eiffel Tower is sparkling, and it’s very cliched, but when you are caught up in the everyday of things, you don’t really realise where you are or how lucky you are to be where you are.
So, does Paris after nearly six years still retain the magic?
Yes, absolutely. I think that there’s also something about living in a different culture and within a different language, where you’re always learning and there are always new things to explore. You can’t really get bored when it’s like that and I think, naturally it appeals to me. I’ve always been a little bit of a Francophile, and I think maybe it wouldn’t be the case for other people. But yeah, there are funny moments sometimes, just in everyday life, where you think, “Ah, that’s such a French thing,” or “That’s typically Paris,” and it does have a little bit of magic.
Let’s talk about France 24. What is your job designation and can you give me an overview of how it works?
So I’m what we call a desk journalist. I think in other media they call it different things, like output producer or things like that. It means that we are dealing with basically agency footage or we work at a desk all day, basically. So I’ll get in the morning and my boss will tell me, “I want you to do a story about an earthquake in Thailand,” or somewhere, our job then will be to go through all the footage that we received from the agencies to see residents that we have speaking about what they’ve experienced, and from that we can get an idea of what our story will look like. So we write a script, the producer will make changes or okay the script, and then we can start with the montage, putting our voice over the top, and doing any kind of effects or cleaning up of that.
How many stories a day might you do?
So we usually do at least two in one shift, depending on whether or not it’s a straightforward story, like a natural disaster story. Or if it’s going to be something involving much more work and going back into the archives, so I’ll look back at the war in Afghanistan, you know we would allot much more time to a story like that. Or it could be, we’ve got a partnership with another French public channel, so if they’ve got an interesting story in their French bulletin, we will adapt it into English using their footage and their rough story structure, and adapting it for our English channel.
Is it a challenging job with lots of pressure?
Yes, it can be. I think in any newsroom, there are always personalities that you have to deal with and some days are more stressful than others. When there’s breaking news, it’s always a bit, I mean, obviously exciting, but there are lots of things going on and you have to be very quick because we’re a 24-hour news channel, there’s a bulletin all the time. So we’re always trying to get something for that next bulletin. We also, sometimes on the desk get sent out to do lives, to go to report from protests, for example. So, it’s always interesting if we get put in that situation and that can be stressful, of course. I’ve definitely felt the pressure of being in the middle of a protest, when there’s lots of noise around you, and you’re trying to hear the presenter’s question, and you have to think on the spot and just be calm. But that’s obviously a challenge for any new journalist or anyone who’s doing that for the first time, but stressful in an exciting way.
In the production area of the newsroom, is the predominant language there French?
Yes and no. So in the Paris newsroom, we’ve got three languages. We’ve got Arabic, French, and English. The French and English channels tend to work more closely together, and during the week we’ve always got one senior producer in charge of each language. On the weekend it’s just one. If that person is not bilingual, we will communicate in French. And even for the English speakers, when we have to communicate with other departments like the infographics department for example, we have to communicate to them in French. You know, “I want a map of Ukraine showing this city with a little line going from here to there,” and everything’s in French in that case.
Away from work, when you’re out and about, do people you speak to pick you for a foreigner?
No, I think I can definitely get away with it. The French though are very good at picking up accents. They’re a bit obsessed with accents actually. So, I do occasionally get, “Oh, where are you from?” Or, “You don’t sound like you’re from here.” But it’s nothing at all like what I experienced when I first arrived, which was people would just respond to me in English.
When you first arrived in France, you were teaching English to adults. Did you find that work stimulating and rewarding?
I did. I think that I got a lot out of it, as well as obviously the students, because you’re sitting there for an hour talking with these people and a lot of the time they just wanted to have a chat and practise their conversational English. They were also interested in my life, you know, “Wow, Australia is so far away. Is it true that you have so many kangaroos?” That kind of thing. It was really a cultural exchange as well, not just about language. I think I learnt a lot about French people, French culture, but also the relationship between different people in French society and people with different cultural, racial and social backgrounds.
What are your plans for the future Carys?
I don’t know. I think that I might try to stay in France for a few more years and see where that takes me. The good thing about France 24 is that for our English service, there’s not as much competition because there are fewer, obviously English speaking journalists in Paris than there are French, and we don’t have the same kind of barriers in our career that maybe people in the French channel might experience. We can very quickly go from being a desk journalist one day to presenting the news live for a special edition or something like that. So I think it would be silly of me to not try to exploit those opportunities. I’m not sure exactly where the future will take me, and I think that if the last two years have taught us anything, then it’s the fact that we can’t really plan at all. I have a vague idea that I still want to be doing journalism and I still want to travel a lot, especially being in the centre of Europe, it’s so easy to go anywhere really.