Monday, 24 October 2011

Two years in the job

Just over a year ago I wrote "One year in the job", a review of my first year presenting the BBC Surrey breakfast show.

A year and a half ago, I wrote "A day in the life", a fairly extensive blow-by-blow account of my daily routine.

Here's an update.

There have been three significant changes to my routine in the past 18 months.

1) I no longer regularly make programme pieces for my show.
2) We have shifted the programme back an hour, so it is now broadcast between 6-9am.
3) I have taken on the Saturday breakfast show.

Stopping doing regular pieces for my show happened during the summer of last year. The time commitment was too much. I was leaving the office more or less straight after finishing the programme, going to a job, and then spending two hours at home putting the edit together.

After travel time, I often wouldn't file the piece until 2.30-3pm, making it a difficult working day. I was getting more and more tired, and whilst it was nice having three minutes of good quality audio on the show, it was affecting my performance during the other 177 quite considerably.

It also meant that I often wouldn't be around for the morning meeting, which is an essential debriefing and planning session. Here we get an early idea as to the likely stories in the next day's show. We also get to discuss those stories, and try to think creatively about how we could bring them to air.

These meetings can throw up some brilliant ideas, and can turn a weak story on paper into something very vivid when you hear it. It can also flush out the duff stories - ones which look good on paper, but are much harder to develop or execute on the show.

By the end of the planning meeting we will all have some idea of what should be happening the next day.

Then it's off home, or on to any other work commitment that might come my way. Recently I've been working with the BBC South Inside Out team again, which has been great. I have also had the enormous satisfaction of working with a Private Eye journalist to get a story about the Post Office into print, and I'm pleased to say there may be another broadcast piece to be made about the latest developments there.

More often than not, though, I will head home to have lunch, go for a run, sleep, do my share of childcare, or all of the above.

Since we have moved the show to 6-9am (it used to be 7-10am), I get up at 3.45am. I remember Nicky Campbell saying his alarm call was 3.45am when he used to start at 6am, and that's good enough for me.

It means I have less time to prep the show in the office. Some days, if a cue isn't quite right, or the producer, newsreader and myself think we need to make significant changes, it can be challenging.

The upside is: I'm not exhausted by the time we get to air, and I still get to listen to the excellent Morning Reports on 5live (and BBC Surrey!) on the drive-in, which gives you a full briefing on the day's news agenda.

The lack of prep time in the morning means it is more essential than ever to speak to the day producer at the end of their shift to discuss the next day's stories. I'll usually get a call between 6pm and 7pm, and we'll have a chat about everything. I think the producer finds it helpful too. They've spent all day with their heads inside the various stories, changing them, writing them, finding guests and working them up into something worth broadcasting; now they have to brief me verbally. Given that's what I'm doing for the audience the next day, it's a neat test of whether or not they've got the "tellability" of it right.

It doesn't matter how good the story or guest is, or how much work you've done on it, if I can't tell the listener what is going on in a simple, accurate and engaging way, everyone's hard work is wasted.

Whilst talking to the producer on the phone I can obviously ask questions that immediately occur to me. If any changes are needed (or have time to be made) the producer will make them, and I will use the basis of our conversation for some kind of approach on air the next day.

Once the scripts have been finalised, the producer sends them through to me on email, and I will read through them before I go to bed, making notes as to any further changes I think might need making, and absorbing the briefing notes which sit below the cues.

So the my current routine is:

3.45am Alarm goes off. Take phone off charge, stagger downstairs and make breakfast.
3.50am Watch last night's BBC1 Ten o'clock news on PVR whilst eating breakfast. Also check twitter feed on phone. If anything comes up on there, I'll forward it to my colleagues and to my work email to watch/read on a big computer screen.
4.20am Shower. Get dressed.
4.50am Get in car, listen to paper review on LBC.
5am Switch car radio to BBC Surrey to listen to 5live's Morning Reports.
5.20am Arrive BBC Surrey in Guildford. Discuss stories with producer and newsreader. Make any changes to cues as necessary. Get weather, write show introduction, choose 6-7am quiz question.
6am On air. The first hour has a relatively gentle start with a quiz and 4 songs before 7. But we have a top story, there is a full news, weather, travel and sport service, plus a rather enjoyable entertainment fix, and the papers.
7-9am All speech. Full on, full service breakfast show.
9am Decompression.
9.30am Morning planning meeting.
10.30am email and other admin. Occasional meetings with management.
11-11.30am Leave the BBC Surrey building.
11.30am Sleep or eat or work or carry out family-related duties.
6-7pm Producer phone call (10 - 25 mins)
8.30pm Read scripts
9pm Lights out.

Since taking on the Saturday breakfast show, I will also spend some of the post-show production time at the office thinking about what should go into Saturday. I'll talk to the news editor on a Friday and stay in regular contact with my weekend producer throughout the week. He comes in on Friday to set up the show and will studio produce on a Saturday morning.

We've only been doing this for four weeks, but I think already we've started to push the show in the direction we want to take it. It is a bit more relaxed than the weekday breakfast show - we have music running throughout the 3 hours we are on air, and it is a Saturday. So whilst we are geared up to take on breaking and important news, I think there should be a weekend feel to things.

So that's me. It's a reasonably punishing routine, but nowhere near as wearing as looking after three small children, which is what my wife does when I'm not around to assist. I also love doing it, which helps.

The main thing I have learned over the course of the last two years is that whilst good journalism is essential, the show is a performance. As a presenter, my responsibility is as much to the performance as it is to the journalism within it. Most of what I've been doing over the past year is working on my performance, and shaping my daily schedule to give me the best chance of doing it well.

To extend the point I made earlier in this post, the material I work with has to be simple, accurate and engaging, but unless I can do something extra with it, to put a smile on someone's face, or really connect with a story, everyone's hard work is completely wasted.


1 comment:

  1. Wow. Great job. It was my dream job but i end up here. Not bad.
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