In The Newsroom

I am back in the belly of the beast-in a BBC newsroom.I am here in Belfast at the BBC representing David Dimbleby’s interests.Nearly.I am the hub producer for the Vote 2011 Election programme.Anything you see from Northern Ireland on BBC 2 tomorrow will have come through me. 

Elections are the Cup Finals of factual television.Live and lovely.I’ve done all the British General Elections since 1979-the last three here in Northern Ireland. I am an expert on their politics-well I’ve just read the 100 plus page bible they produce for each election here so expert for today.Ask me any question you like about Upper Bann or the PR system and I’ll try to answer! Try.

By John Mair at the BBC In Belfast…

But working on an election programme is like being a prison officer.One in Lewes Gaol on described his life as ’99 percent boredom and one  perfect sheer terror!’ I ‘ll be here for four days for probably four minutes of live television.It goes with the territory. But it is still fun.

It’s given me time to reflect on the newsroom of today and what students might expect if and when you get here.If you’re a journalism student and never been into one, book a visit today to your local paper. It may put you off or it may hook you.Me, the latter.

Newsrooms are rough and ready.Darwinist almost. Full of noise, full of mayhem,full of faces old and new,full of enemies and friends.Usually they work together for the common end. Don’t come into journalism or a newsroom unless you have enough of an ego to fend for yourself and to fight battles.Make friends and always be nice to enemies.You may meet them on the way up-or down.

Everybody has a role to play in a modern multi media newsroom-broadcast journalists ,be it radio or television or on line(here as in most BBC newsrooms online has been brought in from  the cold outhouse to the centre of the newsroom ; they are very firmly facing the future.Intriguingly here in Belfast they still have the Ceefax-which begat Newsonline-headlines on display.A la recherce..

You know the score from the morning meeting of all platforms taken by the Head of News.There’s much banter there-this morning dentists got a good kicking-but much work done in allocating who is doing what and when and making it all joined up. People fight their corners and push stories they want to do or not to. From there, it is heads down or out on the road.Too many of modern young journalists think that finding stories is something  you do on the internet.You find gossip and rumour there.Stories come from people and contacts and shoe leather.Good ones anyway.

Any daily newsroom is like a sausage factory-it  consumes ideas at a rate of knots. Forget it if you come to meetings with no thoughts.You soon will be exposed. I always tell the story of the current BBC Director General Mark Thompson whom I first knew thirty years ago as a young stripling on ‘Nationwide’.He would be annoyingly full of story ideas at 08.30 in the morning having been up since the early hours sampling all sorts of media.That i guess is why he is DG now.

Talk to other people in a newsroom -they are a font of knowledge  and experience.Every newsroom has wise old heads and frankly geeks.They all have something to teach you.Have patience, it will pay off. Wasters are obvious from the start.Avoid them if you can. But good journalists tell stories and they also enjoy listening to them.Old hacks,especially after some drink is imbibed, are great for tales of yore-usually at the cost of another hack. Humour is the engine oil of journalism. If you do not have a sense of humour get a bypass and get one soon.

Watch your back too. In any newsroom there are people for whom the sword replaces talent.They know how to be destructive not creative.They live by scalps.Make sure you are not one.They’re usually transparent but watch ourt for the Nicola Machiavellis amongst them.They are the most dangerous.

And honour those with honour.You’ll find them few and far between.In my two odd decades in the BBC i can count on the fingers of one hand the decent and honest bosses i have had. Just lunched one here.he is a national treasure.

And brand yourself-inside and outside.Make sure people know you are are and what you do.Shrinking violets get trodden upon.

But most of all remember in any newsroom beyond the b****ks and B*****t it’s the audience and the product you produce that matters.That is the be all and end all.It is what we do.The audience  pays our wages.Never forget them and their needs.Do so and you are no longer working in public media.

And  mostly enjoy it…I do


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