Channel 4 investigative journalist tells students to hone “hang on…what?” reflex
Paraic O’Brien told students the idea for his Royal Television Society award-winning news package, ‘The King of the Sewers’, came about through a conversation he had in the pub with a fellow journalist.
“As journalists the most important question you will ever ask is: Hang on…what?” he said. “Which is exactly what we did when Radu Ciorniciuc told us about a community of people living in tunnels underneath Bucharest.”
This led to Paraic, 41, from Galway, taking a team of three journalists into those very tunnels – the legacy of former communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu’s failed underground heating network – in order to film the residents.
The vast majority are HIV positive due to drug use.
To gain access, he had to win the trust of Bruce Lee – an ex-street fighter – who is overlord of the tunnel network. He wore wears chains wound round his wrists and ankles.
“He might have been a scary character, but the social workers preferred to leave him in charge because he provided a sort of protection for these vulnerable people,” said Paraic.
Paraic is a fan of genuine stories and situations that are unscripted and real.
He has worked in TV for more than 10 years, having been a BBC trainee in 2001. However he left the BBC because he felt his edgy style was being reined in.
Paraic said: “There’s a huge amount of TV journalism that is about set pieces. A lot of it is quite staged. What I try to capture is real stuff happening.”
Reflecting on his time in the tunnels under Bucharest, Paraic added: “We felt privileged to be welcomed there, privileged as journalists to get a camera there, where a camera had never been before.
“Always give yourself time to decompress after working on hard-hitting material like this. It affected us all deeply for a while, but we’re still going back to Bucharest on Friday to do another piece.”
He has worked for Channel 4 since 2011 and was the first reporter on the scene of the London riots.
By Hayley Longster
I’ve wanted to be a journalist from a very young age, and started doing work experience at various newspapers whilst still at school in Wakefield. After graduating from York University with an English degree, I took up the opportunity of a lifetime to study a Masters in European Literature at Cambridge which funnelled me straight into life as an academic. However halfway through a PhD back at York, I found myself longing for my old life.
In my dream universe, The Independent would realise that I am in fact the next Caitlin Moran/Grace Dent and give me a job as a columnist as soon as I finish, but I’d be very happy working in print and digital media anywhere in the country.