The University will award an honorary degree to the journalist, author, broadcaster and campaigner Justin Webb at this year's Winter Graduation Ceremonies taking place this week.
Having worked for the BBC for over 20 years, Justin has strong connections with Bath and is still a regular visitor to the city, including as a Patron of Bath Rugby. He will receive an honorary Doctorate of Letters for his services to broadcasting.
Early life in Bath
He grew up in Bath with his early education at Sidcot School in North Somerset. Justin read Economics with a specialism in Government at the London School of Economics – before embarking on a distinguished career at the BBC.
Commenting on the City, he said: “Bath is a gem: walk through it in the early morning – preferably just after the sun has risen – and see one of the finest built environments in the world.”
This began in 1984 working in Belfast as a graduate trainee for BBC Radio Ulster. He then took up a role as a reporter on Radio 4’s Today programme, before working as a foreign correspondent covering numerous significant world events – notably the Gulf War, Bosnia, the collapse of the Soviet Union as well as the election of Nelson Mandela in South Africa.
He went on to present the BBC’s One o’clock and Six o’clock television news, as well as Radio 4’s The World Tonight. This was followed by three years as the BBC’s European Correspondent based in Brussels.
BBC's man in America
A move across the Atlantic to become the BBC’s Chief Washington Correspondent in 2001 came at a particularly tumultuous time in US politics following the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington. In 2007 Justin became the BBC’s first North American Editor, covering the 2008 Presidential election and giving him access to one of the first interviews with the new President Barack Obama.
He counts the Obama interview as a particular career highlight: “I felt a sense of joy interviewing Barack Obama after he became President and that I had made it to the White House but sadness too that my mum, who was my greatest supporter, was not around to see it.”
Towards the end of his time in America, Justin’s young son Sam, who was eight at the time, was diagnosed with type-one diabetes. In the UK there are 300,000 sufferers and the number of children under five developing the disease has risen fivefold in the past twenty years, yet no one knows why. Justin has since campaigned to raise awareness and understanding of the disease.
In 2009, Justin returned to London lured by regular 3am starts as one of the main anchors for the Today programme which regularly attracts audiences of over 7 million. During this period he has interviewed numerous world leaders and Prime Ministers.
Justin's advice to our graduates
Of his own degree, Justin says: “I realised at university that the subjects I was studying were fascinating and the chance to study them in depth was a real privilege. My degree helped hugely with my working life: it taught me how to think straight! I am in a world where ordering information quickly and writing fast compelling prose is what it’s all about: essay writing, really, even after all these years.
“My advice to today’s graduates is to be resilient and optimistic rather than focused on one particular set of ambitions. In journalism, the new world of digital media is making it easier to get noticed as a writer but much less easy to get paid. Stick with it. Good writing and fearless reporting is not easy to do and few will stick with it. If you do there is no question in my mind that this career can still be rewarding and worthwhile. And radio is better than TV. For years we thought that radio was going to die but in fact it’s TV news that’s toppling and losing audiences. So you never know what’s around the corner.
“I am hugely honoured to receive this degree and I hope it will be the beginning of a long relationship with a university that has become world-class in recent years.”
Justin Webb will receive an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters from the University Chancellor, HRH the Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex on Tuesday 8 December at the ceremony held in the Assembly Rooms, Bath.