Sunday, 23 May 2010

General Election Coverage – Gonzo Journalism

I arrived at the newsroom at 10am. The atmosphere was tense. People were already getting stuck into their individual roles that would keep them busy for the next 20 hours. It felt like a normal day apart from the BBC News Channel on the projector screen being watched vigilantly for any updates on the big election race. Opinion and exit poll results were coming in all day filling the news team with excitement, dread, nerves and fear all in one. It was going to be a long day.

By 1pm the smell of Red Bull was rife. What a mistake. Don't these people know that drinking caffeine too early gives you a massive come down when you need to be most alert? I, myself decided on an early night with a hot chocolate to mentally prepare for the reporting marathon but I suspected others had refused to let a simple all nighter at University stop them from partying the night before.

As with any big project, things didn't run perfectly in the run up to broadcast. Everyone was pretty excited at the prospect of having outside broadcasts from across the country but it wasn't until very late in the afternoon that the Skype connection was even confirmed with many of the contacts. Several of these posed problems but nothing too major! The initiative within the outside broadcasts (OB's) was to be able to send reporters to the different constituencies so we wouldn't have to rely on other news channel sources. This made the whole experience feel even more real. We were all there and we were making the news happen. An experience each and every one of us would take away with us and utilize in our future careers in Journalism.

Towards late afternoon, time began to evaporate. The regular newsroom routine had been abolished and so it was necessary to avoid the clock at all costs if I was to keep my head about me. Otherwise I risked losing motivation. I was becoming swamped with pressure from the election editor, Chris Horrie, to keep in contact with the world and his mother, so I was forced to find a way to juggle all this correspondance and also find time to revise every leader of every party in every constituency - I wanted to be properly prepared for my on camera role that would come later on.

With 10pm fast approaching like a cross country train, the pressure on everybody was immense. Rehearsals had been scheduled to start at 7.30pm but with some bodies missing and some slight technical issues there wasn't a huge amount of time to devote to run throughs.

I was introduced to Graham Bell, the anchor for the first 2 hour stint who would be throwing over to me and my screen for news from the different counts. He was a charming, confident guy who showed no sign of nerves. He had graduated from this very course 2 years previous and moved on to the likes of Sky... he had bigger fish to fry now and it was clear this was just something to do for him.

The gallery was not an inviting place during the 8 hour broadcast. I avoided it like the plague... I was not about to subject myself to any frustrated outbursts from overworked directors and stressed out vision mixers. That was not my game for the day. I put on a smile and made my way down to my post in the corner of the studio. While I wasn't on air I was making calls to the OB reporters to find out what was going on so I could decide which person to line up for when Graham was ready to throw over to me. This allowed me to establish an idea of what questions I could ask them.

The first 2 hours went by like a dream. The night was still a massive novelty for everybody involved and the reality that we wouldn't be walking out until 6am had not sunk in yet. Graham took to it like a duck to water, even improvising when the script didn't seem relevant at the time. I assume sources such as Google and Twitter were his Bibles as he seemed to churn out news about the three running candidates as it happened like a reporting machine. I had a few pre-broadcast nerves but unlike a WINOL bulletin, this was not going to be all over in 10 minutes so I decided to try and address the OB reporters as I would normally. I didn't want to look all stiff and formal.

Between midnight and 2am Lucy took over my role in a sort of tagteam effort. Five minutes was all we had to get the microphone and earpiece off off me and onto Lucy and for me to get acquainted with the autocue... which would be my new companion for the following 2 hours. And while the studio was filled with a guilt trip attempting 'adopt an Orangutan' advert I soon found a scripting issue. The autocue contained material that we couldn't use in this part of the night. A few strops later and Rob was enticed to come and help me out.

Autocue issues aside, things continued to run smoothly. Claire was given the difficult job of following on from Grahams more than impressive performance, but she stepped up to the mark and delivered a faultless performance. The studio erupted in giggles when Claire recovered from a vision mistake with a Orangutan gag. Everyone was still in very high spirits.

The final 2 hours were not the final 2 at all. We had expected results for Winchester in shortly after 4am but as luck would not have it, they came in at 5.30am. Everything that happened after 4am was a daze. I had been given a sudden burst of energy one hour earlier and was on a bit of a come down by this point. Adrenaline was running low and the finish mark was on my mind. I spent the last 2 hours making calls to my reporters to make sure they were safe and I found myself returning to the studio for a final stint in OB presenting. I don't remember if it went well.


The end was nigh and everybody had put in a sterling effort to keep this ball rolling. Everybody gathered in the studio on tenterhooks waiting for news from Stu. He was about to reveal the new leader for Winchester. A few moments silence and the words "It's Brine!" became audible. Stu was the man of the hour, he'd taken the results before anybody. Winchester was now a Conservative city. A few moments as we faded to black and then a round of applause. Tiredness always makes me emotional and the clapping brought it all home. We'd done it.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent work. Can you use this as a script and record it as an MP3 somehow. WOuld be good to include this on the special website we are doing for the election.