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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 March 2007, 09:38 GMT
Faces of Frontline

Sam Poling and Ross McWilliam talk about their lives as reporters.

When I was 10, I met a very well-known tabloid editor who told me, 'Sam, there are two things you need to know about being a journalist. One, you've only made it when you've had three death threats. And two, if your mother says she loves you, check it'.

Sam Poling

He was talking danger, excitement - and suspicion. At 10, my career decision was made. I was going to be a journalist.

My first job was a trainee reporter in Alnwick, working on the Northumberland Gazette. Glamorous it wasn't. But it was the best grounding I could have asked for as a journalist.

I returned to Scotland in 1995 and from then on, no two days have ever been the same. I worked my way from the Helensburgh Advertiser to a Glasgow press agency, then on to the national press.

Memories from those days? Reporting from Dunblane after the massacre. Writing from Paris after the death of Princess Diana. Being paid to follow the Tartan Army round France during the World Cup in 1998.

I joined the BBC as a reporter at the end of that year. I then worked for News 24 before being appointed BBC Scotland's Health Correspondent.

It was a busy time, providing coverage for both radio and television. Whilst I loved the immediacy of it all, it was often so busy I was unable to focus on what I really wanted to do - long-term investigations.

In 2001, Frontline gave me that chance. Since becoming one of the programme's reporters, I have had the opportunity to confront corruption at every level.

Broadcast awards

From exposing cigarette smugglers and holiday club conmen to charity rip-offs and dangerous medicines. I have filmed with the army in Iraq, with call centre workers in India, and in the casinos in Vegas.

In 2004 I worked undercover for Security Wars to expose a cartel of gunmen and murderers - a programme which later won a Bafta and other international broadcast awards.

More importantly, it forced politicians to speed up the tightening of security legislation.

I made my first Panorama - Scotland's Secret Shame - in 2005 working undercover to expose sectarianism at matches involving two of Scotland's largest football clubs.

And last year saw another Bafta for a programme which exposed the flaws in the police investigation into the murder of Arlene Fraser.

It also questioned the safety of the conviction of her husband who was given a life sentence for killing her. Five months after broadcast, he was released on bail pending appeal.

The original police investigation is now the subject of an inquiry.

Looking back, that tabloid editor was right. My work has probably made me as many enemies as it has friends.

So it's a good thing I have one other love in my life - my very big, very fast and very red motorbike!

I was born in Dundee - the city of jam, jute and journalism.

It was a tough career choice but jam and jute just weren't for me.

Ross McWilliam
Ross McWilliam went for journalism instead of jam or jute

I joined the DC Thomson newspaper group as a cub reporter .

One of my earliest tasks was collecting the daily traffic numbers using the Tay Road Bridge.

Heady days indeed. Soon though I was trusted with words as well as numbers and hard hitting news stories began to flow as fast as the River Tay.

Radio was my next port of call. I was reading the news and reporting for Independent and BBC Local Radio in Dundee, Aberdeen and York.

Having conquered the words - written and spoken - the next challenge was pictures. My first TV job was as a Production Journalist with BBC Scotland

But I missed getting out and about and jumped at the chance to be a television reporter with Grampian TV.

A bit of newsreading was thrown in as well. My parents, watching at home, were very proud.

Piper Alpha

Sadly terrible tragedies are often the biggest stories and they don't come much bigger or more terrible than the 1988 Piper Alpha disaster.

167 North Sea workers died in the world's worst offshore oil accident .

A chilling interview with one of the few survivors - the first to be aired on TV after the accident- and the vision of the charred and twisted wreck we flew over, will remain with me for ever.

A move to BBC regional television in the East of England was a chance to broaden my horizons.

And with a landscape as flat at the Fens it certainly did that. It was to be a busy time .

Reporting for regional and network television, newsreading, and presenting a leisure / lifestyle series was all part of a day's work.

And yes, sometimes it was all on the same day.

Current affairs

BBC East also gave me my first taste of television current affairs, reporting and producing half-hour documentaries.

I soon realised that in-depth investigations and long-form storytelling was the job for me.

So after 10 years down south it was time to return to Scotland.

A chance to broaden my accent but, more seriously, a chance to work on Frontline, BBC Scotland's flagship current affairs series.

Almost immediately I was despatched to America to interview a Scot on Death Row in Ohio.

That was 2000 and Kenny Richey is still alive and still fighting to be cleared of a crime he says he didn't commit.

I have been back to the United States half a dozen times on other investigations.

My passport also holds visas for Russia,China, India,and Kenya.

Frontline is not scared of taking on Scottish stories with an international angle.

But it's here at home the story with the biggest impact was uncovered.


Deepcut - everyone now knows the name but we were the first programme to link and investigate the apparent suicides of four young recruits.

Two Frontline programmes and a Panorama forced the Government and the Ministry of Defence to look at the way soldiers in training are treated.

It's a story that rumbles on.

The Deepcut story won an International Broadcast Award. There has also been a Bafta Scotland and a UK Medical Journalism Award for an investigation into the abuse of care for the elderly.

Foreign affairs, home affairs, criminal affairs, social affairs, financial affairs, secret affairs.

Frontline Scotland takes them all on. It's a great job.

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