Day One: BBC WHYS

I’m late! I’m never late. Let’s just call me the white rabbit of news, turning up on the doorstep of BBC radio’s London base, half an hour out of step. I’d been in contact with Mark and Ben at BBC World Have Your Say (WHYS), and would be doing work experience for three days.P1050863

So, what was I there for? World Have Your Say is a conversational program, devoted to giving people the news they’re talking about. They hunt down the topics of the moment, research it, and find guest speakers to carry on the conversation.

Once I navigated my way through the revolving doors, and was through the check point, I was faced with the News Room. A sprawling mass of desks, a hive of reporters- all behind a pane of glass. Upstairs, I find the WHYS team, and in Studio 31, I watch the morning’s broadcast. Before today I was uneducated about the situation in Iraq. Now I’m something of an expert. My dyslexia was something of a challenge, but I can now spell ‘Baghdad’.

The WHYS team produce discussion every weekday for the BBC World Service, normally on Radio, but on Fridays it airs on BBC World News Television. As soon as the broadcast was finished, we went to our desks and began on the next.

The whole office (which is really a huge room of lots of groups working on different broadcasts) whispers from headphones, telephones and radios. the murmur of conversation is the broadcast news, and people writing the news. I’m in awe.

Coming into work, the team has NO IDEA what they will fill their hours of broadcast time with. Well, that’s not exactly true. The constant stream of news online and throughout the BBC building lets the team know what people are talking about. The news doesn’t get any fresher than that. We spend the next hour surfing the internet, getting pitches together for what stories we think will work for the day. I wrote down a few ideas, but they weren’t global enough.

We meet together, sitting in a corner of area C, and have 3 options.

  • Continue with the Iraq theme from this morning, this time concentrating on daily life
  • Weiner, the politician with a scandal attached to his name. ‘Stand by Your Man’, and wonder if we can get any wives on the show
  • A German poster scandal, ‘Late, but not too Late’, wanting to prosecute war criminals from the Holocaust.

In the end, we went with Iraq and Germany, and discussed Egypt. We spend the next few hours on the internet, searching for guests, reading blogs and news reports. The WHYS team have lists of contacts, and we ring any civilian Iraqis we can find. I twitter, facebook and email, but get no response during the day. I had no luck with my list of people to phone, and no luck at all until I asked why this could be. As it turns out, all external numbers have to be prefixed by the number 9 if you’re calling them on a BBC phone. And a handy trick if the phone signals are weak, is to add 1470. Add an area code to that, and I was punching in very long strings of numbers.

  • At 6pm (8pm in Iraq), the show begins. But things have already started in studio 33. It’s a larger studio, and rather than perching on a cabinet, I have a comfy chair.
  • 17:33 Recording the minute long promo on daily life in Iraq and the Nazi poster scandal. The producers ring our speakers to check line strength, an interviewee arrives.
  • 18:00 We begin the broadcast.
  • 18:20 News of the Royal Baby’s name comes in. Ben James, today’s presenter, pauses to give a short message about WHYS, and then announces that the child’s name is George, rather than dumping it into the middle of a conversation on Iraq bombings.
  • 18:29 A new guest is brought in.
  • 18:35 Doctor Heinz is prepared for the second story, but we’re still on air talking about the Iraq story.
  • 18:43 the Iraq story is wrapped up and the German speakers are rung, checking line strength.
  • 18:57 Wrapping up, the broadcast is still going, but behind the scenes the producers and sound crew are sorting out the ending sequence and some suitable tweets about the royal baby.
  • 19:00 Off air.

Two programmes in one day, 8:30-11 planning, the broadcast, and then 12-6 planning, and the broadcast. The late shift actually runs until 8pm, just in case there is any breaking news and the team needs to put together another broadcast.

WHYS is testament to what a team with the right skills, equipment, and the strength of the BBC behind them can do if they put their mind to it. Using twitter, hotmail, facebook, Skype and Google- tools everyone has, they source their speakers and information. The one piece of software they won’t have, is ENPS, a news production program. My internet skills were tested today. I feel like I’ve been hard wired, I’ve been concentrating so hard.

Later I receive an email from a civilian living in Kurdistan. ‘Kurdistan region is very stable and safe. There hasn’t been a single bombing in Northern Iraq since 2004 which is extremely remarkable considering that fact that there are bombings in Arab populated areas of Iraq on a daily basis.’ Excellent English, and a passion for what is going on in Iraq. In England, very few people care about politics, but it just shows, from the amount of blogs, twitter feeds and facebook posts, that the people of Iraq are broadcasting on all frequencies.

I have no idea what it will be like at the BBC tomorrow. I’m already casting brief sweeps across the internet, looking for what people are talking about. But tomorrow morning, I know they will be different. WHYS certainly keep their news current- I have no idea what I’ll be searching for!

I was dropped into a big pond, and I feel like I’m paddling hard underneath the water. But with very little idea of what I was going to be doing, I think I tackled the tasks well. Focus. Breath. Do.

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