Last Thursday, I was lucky enough to spend the day shadowing an editor on the news desk at the BBC. Being a print journalist, I didn’t really know what to expect. But I certainly didn’t envisage it being the best journalism work placement I had ever done (well-timed considering that Wannabe Hacks launch our quest to find the top 50 journalism placements just days before).
The reason it was so good was that I got to see a huge variety of different aspects of the BBC in a relatively short period of time. I had to be at Television Centre for a 7am start when I was quickly ushered into the first of many news meetings of the day, this one deciding what was going to run on the News Channel over the next 15 hours or so (mainly Bin Laden). Almost immediately after that, I sat in on the Online news meeting, which went over what stories had done well the day before and how they had had a good day of stats, with a touch over 8 million unique users.
Then it was off to the big 9am meeting bringing together all the editors from across all the multi-media platforms, including the 1 o’clock, 6 0’clock and 10 o’clock News bulletins, Online, UK News, Arts, Business, World and Radio 4 programme World Tonight. Overseeing all this was Helen Boaden, the Director of BBC News across all platforms and a formidable and yet very personable boss who spoke to her team with the utmost respect.
Immediately after that, I was taken to the news meeting for the 6 o’clock and 10 o’clock news bulletins where editors discussed what was going to run in both programmes. Bin Laden’s compound was obviously the big story but Obama was planning to lay a wreath at Ground Zero at 6:30pm GMT (not ideal time for the 6 o’clock news) so that was factored in to the programmes to an extent, even though it wasn’t clear if there would be pictures or if the President would say anything (he wasn’t due to make a speech). Then the Vincent Tabak manslaughter story broke and it all kicked off – where was it going to fit in? How would it be covered? This was an exciting 20 minutes or so.
That done, I was given the guided tour around the cavernous newsroom, winding through the news bulletins, production (who organise news trucks and helicopters to get to the areas where stories were unfolding) and online downstairs before meandering upstairs and passing travel (as in logistical travel, when the BBC need to get someone out to Haiti, for example, or Libya), Sport, Radio5Live and the World News channel, which was broadcasting in a small studio in the middle of the floor. I even saw Simon Mayo wandering around, getting ready for his Drivetime show later.
By this time, it was just gone 11am and I went a sat with the front page editor of the BBC site, who controls the stories that appear online and is responsible for pulling ones that they think will do well into more prominent positions. I really enjoyed this part, justifying the position of stories on the home page, change headlines to fit the column space, looking at the heat map to show what links were clicked most and keeping an eye on Twitter to see what was being share.
After grabbing a sandwich at my desk, I headed to the gallery on the other side of the newsroom where I watched the 1 o’clock news being produced. Not knowing anything about broadcasting, this was a incredible process to watch, the director instructing a mixer, autocue person and sound controller as well as a few others, calling feeds in, shouting seconds at people and frantically bashing the keyboard in front of him. It was like watching a huge finely tuned orchestra and a complete eye-opener. I certainly won’t watch the news in the same way again.
In the afternoon, I went to a planning meeting for the next day (BBC works in short rotas wherby editors plan a day’s news on a separate desk and then follow it through to avoid the complicated hand-over. It’s an interesting concept and one that arguably underpins their super coverage across all mediums). Looking ahead to Friday, it was all local election/ AV referendum coverage and different platforms, 5Live and online mainly, had different ideas of how to cover it.
With the afternoon approaching 4pm, I was introduced to Huw Edwards, the experienced newsreader who fronted the BBC’s Royal Wedding coverage recently. He was immensely kind in sitting me down, asking me where I was in my journalism career and then very patiently going through and re-writing the heads (intros) for the 5-6pm news hour on the News Channel which he fronts. As I bade goodbye to Huw just before 5pm and he joked about turncoating from print to broadcast, I realised how giving of his time he had been just ten minutes before going live to the nation. That kind of generosity was reflected by members of staff throughout the day.
I went back into the gallery to watch Huw flawlessly deliver the heads he’d been working on and then saw as pictures came in of Barack Obama talking to fire staff in New York. This hadn’t been expected to make the news but the director made the decision to play 3 minutes of it and it was seamlessly integrated. After all that excitement, I sat down to watch the 6 o’clock news with all the stories that the editor’s on my desk had been working on all day. Once that finished I headed home but duty editors can expect to do up to 15 hours depending on the stories they’ve got that day.
Overall then, a fantastic day in which I was lucky enough to experience a lot of what BBC News have to offer. The people there were fantastic to me and, more than that, felt like they believed in what they were doing, which I hadn’t REALLY felt on any other work experience placement. Even though I was a bit out of my depth sometimes, not knowing what a oov or a float was, I soon picked them up and ended up learning more in those 12 hours than I ever thought possible.