As a journalism graduate, I was extra excited for this week’s #KnapChat, as it involved talking to none other than ITV reporter and Good Morning Britain Royal Correspondent, Louisa James
KW: How did you become a Royal Correspondent?
Louisa: I got into royal reporting almost by accident. In the weeks before Prince George’s birth, the reporter who’d been stationed at the hospital where the Duchess was due to give birth got diverted elsewhere, and I was sent to cover her.
I ended up being outside the Lindo Wing every day for three weeks in what became known as the Great Kate Wait. There were hundreds of journalists from around the world, all with air time to fill, and none with anything to say. That was my baptism of fire! Since then I’ve been lucky enough to cover royal events all over the world.
KW: How has being a member of the press changed in the last ten years? And what effect has social media had on journalism?
Louisa: Ten years ago, when I was a reporter on local television in the Midlands, people in my office suddenly started talking about ‘poking’ each other. It turned out it wasn’t another office affair, and before long I had succumbed and opened a Facebook account. It took another few years before journalists realised the platform could be useful for more than just showing off to old school friends.
Today I use social media constantly at work – as a source of information, contacts and images for breaking news; to find and communicate with interviewees and contributors; to gauge opinion and track trends; and of course to promote Good Morning Britain’s output. It’s hard to imagine doing my job without it.
KW: How would you describe your relationship with the royal family?
Louisa: At its best, it’s a symbiotic relationship – they need us as much as we need them. Inevitably, though, the media always wants more – more access, more interviews, more pictures. And there’s always going to be a limit to what the royal family are willing and able to provide. As a result, the access we do get is very tightly controlled, and most of the time we just have to accept those circumstances.
It can be frustrating as it goes against a journalist’s basic instincts, but the reality is there’s nothing to be gained from making yourself a nuisance. I hope we get the balance right and are able to report royal stories with the same impartiality and analysis as we do for story.
KW: Describe your first time meeting a member of the royal family…
Louisa: Contrary to what people might think, royal reporters have very little actual ‘face time’ with members of the monarchy. We are usually observers; standing just a few feet away but not interacting with them directly.
The first time I actually ‘met’ a member of the royal family was Prince Harry at his Invictus Games in Florida. The games were in their infancy and he was keen to promote them, so we had been granted an interview on Good Morning Britain. He was friendly, helpful and most of all extremely passionate about the cause.
KW: The Royal Wedding must have been a magnificent day – what’s an occasion as huge as that like to report on and be involved in?
Louisa: Harry and Meghan’s wedding was like nothing I’ve ever worked on. The Americans have always been fascinated by the royals but this time they had a seat at the table and they certainly made the most of it.
I worked for both Good Morning Britain and Fox News for the week of the wedding. On the day I was in a temporary studio Fox had built on top of a Victorian cottage in the centre of Windsor. They had sent over some of their most well-known anchors, as well as a huge team of producers, reporters, make-up artists and technical staff.
Other American networks had spent even more (one paid a reported £35,000 to hire a pub opposite the castle for a few hours). The atmosphere in Windsor was incredible. I usually find myself remaining quite cynical and detached about these things but as I was watching the ceremony on the day I realised even I had become caught up in the hype.
KW: When and why did you decide you wanted to be a journalist? And what drew you to broadcast journalism as opposed to other platforms?
Louisa: I started making my own ‘radio’ news bulletins at the age of 12 or 13 – with the help of a cassette recorder and a walkie talkie (for on-location reports).
I dabbled in newspaper and magazine journalism when I was at university but I think I always knew I wanted to work in television. I’d like to say I had a better reason, but it just seemed to be the most exciting branch of journalism, and still does!
KW: What advice would you give to someone looking to embark on a career in journalism?
Louisa: Be an insatiable consumer of media – broadcast, print and online. Have opinions about what you’ve watched/read/listened to. And try to get ‘published’ as much as possible. This is much easier than it was when I was starting out: I was advised to write letters to newspapers or magazines as a way of getting my name in print for the first time.
These days anyone can put their work out there, through social media or blogs. Curate your own online presence so when people Google you, they find interesting, well-written social media posts, links to blogs or articles you’ve contributed to website or publications, and even showreels on Vimeo or YouTube of any audio or video work.
KW: What was the first major event you covered as a journalist?
Louisa: When I was in local television I was sent to cover a conference at which Desmond Tutu was speaking. I’d asked in advance for a one-to-one sit-down interview but was told he wasn’t doing any.
At the press conference before his speech, journalists were each allowed to throw one question. The person before me had mumbled his name and question (which hadn’t gone down well), so when it came to my turn, I tried to speak as clearly and confidently as my nerves would allow.
I can’t remember exactly what I asked, but I think I asked Desmond Tutu to name the three current world conflicts which most concerned him. He very politely refused to answer, on the basis that he would be covering that exact question in his speech, but promised me an interview afterwards.
When the event was over, his people tried to bundle him away but he spotted me in the media scrum and – true to his word – came over and gave me a very quick interview. He was utterly charming. He’s still my favourite ever interviewee.
KW: Why do you believe the royal family get so much global attention?
Louisa: I think it’s partly the fascination with the history and tradition of the monarchy but also that in many ways they’re a family just like the rest of us.
People love watching the royals experience the joy and excitement that all families feel at things like weddings and new babies. And even more so, delight in the fact that their dysfunctional family dramas are even worse than our own.
KW: What would you tell someone who no longer believes the Royals have a part to play in modern society?
Louisa: It’s definitely not my place to defend or justify the existence of the royal family. All I’d say is that they are still a huge part of modern discourse, whether people are talking about their outfits, their charity work or their driving (!).
While people are still interested, we’ll keep reporting.
KW: How has social media changed the public’s relationship with and perception of the royal family?
Louisa: The royal family is increasingly using social media to connect with the younger audience. All the royal palaces have Twitter and Instagram accounts – @ClarenceHouse tweets on behalf of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall, for example; @KensingtonRoyal tweets about The Cambridges and the Sussexes.
Those accounts will often ‘live tweet’ so they can be the first source of photographs and videos of royal events. Big announcements (like pregnancies and engagements) are also made simultaneously on email and social media these days. But – as ever – there’s always a dignified distance.
Princess Eugenie is (I believe) the only royal to have a public ‘personal’ Instagram account. And of course, Meghan Markle famously shut down her blog and Instagram as soon as her relationship with Prince Harry became serious.
KW: How do you maintain and nurture relationships with journalistic contacts and sources?
Louisa: Now that would be telling!
The increased accessibility of social media and the 24/7 news cycle does make privacy even harder to come by for those who live so much of their lives in the public eye (which is probably why the majority of the Royals avoid personal accounts), but it has also helped the Monarch to remain relevant at a time when they were becoming more distanced from political decisionmaking.
The press and digital media combine to ensure the great work of the Royal Family is kept in the limelight. As we saw with the England team in the recent World Cup, social media can be a brilliant tool for making yourself more accessible to the public, something The British Monarchy clearly recognises, having just hired a “Head of Digital Engagement“.
What were once intangible figures, known mostly through television, newspapers and the odd public appearance, are now seen not just as symbols, but as personalities. Whether it’s a hungry Prince Harry cheekily pinching a samosa behind wife Meghan’s back or Twitter reacting to the Queen’s awkward encounter with US President Donald Trump, the public love nothing more than seeing just how relatable and “human” these people are.
This new perception means the days of being “chased by 30 guys on motorbikes who block your path, who spit at you to get a reaction from you… and make a woman cry in public to get a photograph,” as William described the press’s treatment of Princess Diana in The Mail on Sunday, are well and truly gone.
Louisa James is a reporter both fortunate and talented enough to be a part of an industry that now celebrates the milestones of the family we have watched grow alongside our own: the Princes and Princesses we have seen mature into loving husbands and wives, devoted parents and passionate ambassadors; the very individuals we will watch take over the reins from their parents in years to come.