Alumnus Nick Stylianou (BA English 2011), Producer at Sky News, was part of the production team who recently won a BAFTA for their coverage of the Hong Kong protests. We spoke to Nick about his time at Royal Holloway, what it was like working on the Hong Kong protests and how he celebrated his BAFTA win.
Image: Cathy Chu
Nick has known he wanted to be a journalist since he was 13 so it was no surprise that he threw himself into all of the student media opportunities at Royal Holloway. “I was editor of The Orbital, worked in various board positions at Insanity Radio (where I’m now an external trustee) and founded rhubarbTV! The benefit of a campus university means you get to meet a huge amount of people located in one place, with the time to tell their stories. The University of London affiliation also helped a lot to foster new connections. I eventually went on to do a journalism MA at City University – and without my experience of student media at Royal Holloway, there’s no way that would’ve happened.”
His degree in English also developed skills he would need in his desired career. “I loved literature – the experience of learning other cultures, times, places, emotions – and the ability to interrogate those ideas and challenge my own thinking was a perfect set-up for journalism,” he says. “The staff and the seminars were the best bit: leaders in their field letting you really chase your passion. You could shoehorn almost anything into your interpretation of a piece of work be that your love of television, film, a specific period of history or even a country. The ability to select really specialised modules in the last two years are unrivalled – learning about the ‘art of noise’ one moment to American literature the next and rounding off your day with Booker Prize winners all shaped a critical part of understanding modern life. Gertrude Stein, Frederick Douglass, James Baldwin, Zadie Smith – the diversity of female talent, of black talent, of black female talent was really supported.”
Image: Cathy Chu
After his MA at City University, Nick worked at Channel 4 News, ITV News and the BBC before joining Sky News almost eight years ago. “I’ve been lucky enough to travel the world to cover Australian bushfires, Middle East tensions in Iraq, the seeming never-ending bout of European terror and work with some of the world’s best camera operators, editors and correspondents,” he recalls. “I’m a senior producer, which day-to-day means I work on news reports for the main stories of the day for that evening’s News At Ten. It could be a complicated graphic sequence, a short film or a combination of the two. I also file my own pieces on our website and app, and work on special projects and investigations. But I worked my way up from nightshifts, and I’ll never forget that.”
In 2019, Nick was part of the production team at Sky News who covered the Hong Kong protests. “It was the second time that year I’d been deployed to Hong Kong to cover the protests, and the mood was a lot angrier than before,” he remembers. “It was achingly hot, humid and peppered with monsoon showers. The time difference meant we were always out of kilter with the locals as we were filing on UK time. But the team was world-class, and it’s an honour to work alongside some household names. Mark Austin and I spent every waking hour together, only briefly getting separated when I had to deliver our equipment to a team whose camera and live unit had failed in the weather. We got tear-gassed on the way, which as you can understand even with a mask on, is pretty unpleasant. But it all came together for a special half-hour programme that had everything thrown at it – presented by Mark Austin from our location with the Hong Kong skyline as a backdrop, a piece from us in a small business area outside the centre of the city, a top report from Siobhan Robbins right in the thick of it, Alex Crawford’s exclusive interview with a policeman’s family, Tom Cheshire live in Beijing and graphics explaining the situation and an interview with the last governor of Hong Kong Chris Patten. It’s a real team effort to put a production like that together, in the field and back in London.”
The production team at Sky News won a BAFTA this year for their coverage of the protests, beating competition from ITV News At Ten's election results, Victoria Derbyshire's Men Who Lost Loved Ones To Knife Crime and Newsnight's Prince Andrew & The Epstein Scandal interview. Unfortunately, due to Covid-19 this year’s BAFTA ceremony was filmed behind closed doors with winners accepting their award virtually so there was no star-studded bash for Nick and the team.
“I was at home alone eating a McDonald’s! I’d just got in from work and grabbed something to eat on the way, sat down and turned on the TV in time to see we’d won! A representative from each team recorded an acceptance speech, so it was a genuine surprise. So much so, no-one from the team believed me when I was WhatsApping each of them! The Beijing Team got dressed up in black tie to watch it, although it was about 3.30am there. Siobhan Robbins was asleep in Thailand. Alex Crawford had gone out for an Eid dinner in Istanbul. And Mark Austin was convinced I’d got it wrong and the BBC had won! Then I went to bed early because I was working at 8am the next two days (Saturday and Sunday).”
Nick’s advice for anyone aspiring for a career in journalism is simple: “Practice journalism wherever you can. Writing, recording, asking questions (sometimes of your own existing opinions) are all crucial in 2020. The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in huge cuts and difficulty across all media, but there’s still hope out there for great stories. Meet as many people as you can from all walks of life, and get out of your comfort zone as much as possible. And follow me on Twitter, obviously!”