Monthly Archives: November 2012

It’ll be alright on the night

Whether on radio or television, in broadcasting there’s a risk something might go wrong; it’s part of the excitement that keeps us on our toes. In every job I’ve had ‘health & safety’ is always first on the agenda and usually greeted with lots of eye rolling! Risk assessments can seem more of a burden than a necessity but last week I found first-hand just how important they are.

We’re familiar with blooper clips shows where a reporter is presenting a piece to camera and members of the public are larking around behind them. I’d been warned to have my wits about me in this situation, but it was still a shock to be attacked from a behind by gang of youths while filming in central Manchester.

As a journalist, presenting a piece to camera is a time when you are at your most vulnerable – I’d memorised my script and was concentrating on getting the delivery right. I was aware there was ‘action’ going on behind me because actuality makes a good background to a shot but when watching the footage back I could see how quickly the attack unfolded. A gang of about six teenagers had spotted our camera and started to make a beeline for me. Initially, it felt like I’d been punched in the head but it looks like I was hit with a rolled up magazine.

Unfortunately, this type of occurrence is not uncommon; camera operators will have all sorts of horror stories about being attacked while doing their jobs. Big broadcast cameras take great pictures but are conspicuous and instantly make you a target by drawing attention to what you’re doing. This can be an advantage of course, people will approach to chat about what you’re filming but it’s important to be aware of the negative type of attention that can cause people to behave strangely or aggressively.

After the Leveson inquiry there seems to be a lack of respect for journalists somewhat but it’s important not to generalise everyone. I got into journalism to promote the good of society and expose the bad. Presenting to camera is a time a reporter needs to be natural rather than worrying it may provoke an assault.

What I love about broadcasting is meeting people and I have certainly met all kinds during my last few assignments(!) The majority of members of the public are lovely people and we mustn’t let the minority of attention-seeking yobs overshadow that. I have a bit of trepidation about filming my next report, I suppose the confidence has quite literally been knocked out of me. However, I know how important it is to get back on the horse and ride it. Or in my case – get out there and film it. Onwards and upwards!

“They who turn and run away live to write another day.”

Health and Safety advice from the Chartered Institute of Journalists.

The commercial radio ‘vampire’ takes a bite…

It seems that “vampire” has become a new buzz word; around this time last year at the Radio Festival, The Who’s Pete Townshend described iTunes as the ‘vampire’ of the music industry. Now journalism lecturer at Leeds Trinity, Richard Horsman, has labelled commercial radio news as the bloodsucker of its own industry:

UK commercial radio news has become a vampire industry, sucking in talent whilst putting next to nothing back.

The notion of local radio hardly exists any more.  If you scan up the dial in a highly populated city you might think that because there’s so many stations around this must mean that lots of jobs are available for new blood. The reality is that an oligopoly has been created by networks owning a portfolio of stations, each targeting a specific listener demographic.

This is great for advertisers, who can approach a network and have commercials pigeon-holed on a station depending on the audience they want to reach. The outlook is not so good for journalists, especially those trying to enter the industry. Networking means fewer job opportunities because it saves money when news can be syndicated across many stations instead of having a different output at each one.

Like anything, cutting costs and corners can reduce quality. You’ll hear an example of this if you station hop in the evenings, at a non-peak time the same IRN news will be read by the same bulletin reader from the “Sky News Centre”. The only differences being that it might be jazzed up with a bed and top and tailed with a station jingle. This saves money, but it’s not locally targeted and not presented in-line with a station’s house-style.

on airHowever, now the licence fee is frozen, the BBC has made cuts of their own too. The ‘Delivering Quality First’ (DQF) report may not have been as destructive to local radio as first thought, but a 10% reduction in staff can be quite substantial to smaller stations that are affected. If the BBC begin to syndicate more local programming across their stations then this fits in with what’s becoming something of an industry standard, but this sacrifices the very essence of what ‘local’ radio should be about.

I am trying to be realistic, rather than pessimistic, because this is the reality of what’s happening to the industry. The only people who have any real power to change this landscape are the listeners. As long as they’re listening, the RAJARs are up and the advertisers are kept happy because they know there are people out there hearing their commercials. While advertisers keep funding the stations nothing will change the cycle will continue. Obviously, advertising does not affect what happens at the BBC but RAJAR figures do matter.

When I initially wanted to turn my radio hobby into a career the response I often got was “Can’t you do something else?” I could – but my heart wouldn’t be in it. I’m well aware that I might not get my dream job or even any job in broadcast journalism at the end of my masters course at UCLan. Maybe I’m a gluten for punishment, but the reason I’m determined to be part of it is simply because I love the industry and, regardless of whether it’s commercial or the BBC, I want to make good radio. Vampire or not, I’ve been bitten by the radio bug and it’s not letting go.

Video killed the radio star

The Buggles’ 1979 release was the first music video to be played on MTV but does it also serve as a premonition? Having worked on both audio and visual mediums over the years I have seen convergence happening – and embraced it. Media consumers are bombarded with content that’s instantaneous and accessible at the touch of a button, so it makes sense for both sides of broadcasting to progress in parallel, especially in this digital age.

The fact that ITV’s head of commercial and online, Fru Hazlitt, spoke at this week’s radio festival about the future of digital radio shows that video hasn’t killed off radio. One broadcast medium can learn a lot from the other as well as being used as tools to enrich content on an additional platform.

Sources such as student media can be full of ideas, which can be trialled out in a relatively risk-free environment with no external constrictions to creativity. When I joined the committee as head of marketing at Fuse FM, I had just bought a video camera and was eager to put this to good use. Our studios were situated next to the Academy music venues and it became common to have the likes of Frank Turner, Kid British and Zero 7 popping in for interviews between sound checks. I was interested in promoting the station on as many platforms as possible to raise station awareness within the student community. By filming interviews as well as recording them for broadcast / podcasts we could tap into a whole new listenership that spanned beyond the university campus.

Hits to the videos we posted onto the YouTube channel soared (there’s over 15,000 views on the video I filmed of UFC fighters who we interviewed!) I didn’t want this output just to be a visual record of what went out on-air; my specialism was marketing and I wanted to tap into the thriving nature of social media to make unique content. Together with fellow presenter Max Behr, we devised a visual concept that would be a parody. Max had a well established nostalgia show on the station, playing music from the 1920s to the 1950s, so we decided to flip this on its head with a send-up video called ‘Wannabe White Boy Rapper’ that used humour as a way to make the video go viral. It certainly got people talking around campus and has been his party piece ever since!

BBC – British Broadcasting Crisis?

BBC Director General and ‘editor-in-chief’, George Entwistle resigned from his post following a string of mistakes during his time in positions of authority. Of all the news stories you would expect the BBC to break it would be one concerning a change at the top of its own corporation – but ITN got the scoop. The announcement came just seconds too late to make the BBC 9 0’clock news bulletin, which epitomises the corporation’s bad luck over recent weeks.

The decision came after the BBC themselves made headlines by not airing a Newsnight interview that revealed allegations into Jimmy Savile’s paedophile past as well as airing another Newsnight programme which wrongly accused former MP, Lord McAlpine, of child abuse in a North Wales care home. The freelancing fiasco about how presenters were paid indirectly through separate companies to avoid tax wouldn’t have helped matters either.

Entwistle had been in charge for just 54 days, making him the shortest director general in BBC history. His time at the top was short and sour, rather than sweet, after being made a scapegoat to take the blame for the mistakes of others. Of course, part of his responsibility was to oversee the corporation, but a consequence of a big corporate hierarchy like the BBC’s is that the people who made the crucial mistakes will escape punishment and carry on, if not at the BBC then at another media organisation. These flaws don’t even concern good journalism – it’s common sense. Programmes about child abuse should have alarm bells ringing to be referred for checks.

However, Entwistle’s name may not have been on the Director General’s door when the root of these problems occurred but he was high enough in other positions at the corporation to have done something about it. We don’t get second chances often in life but Entwistle did when he was promoted to the top spot. Part of his role was to deal with controversy when it occurs and it’s a paradox that John Humphreys’ interview with Entwistle on Radio 4’s Today programme on the morning of his resignation probably played a part in his decision to leave. Instead of sounding like a man of authority Entwistle came across bumbling about facts, not displaying qualities of a strong leader.

The BBC’s ability to examine and interrogate themselves must be commended; this is one of the reasons why the ‘crisis’ will be resolved when the news becomes chip paper. Critical times lie ahead for one of the world’s much-loved and trusted broadcasters. Former head of BBC Worldwide, Tim Davie, takes over as ‘acting Director General’ for now. He lacks a journalistic background but also lacks involvement in any of the scandals that contributed to his predecessor’s downfall. A series of unfortunate events led to Entwistle’s resignation but this was probably the right decision in order to sustain the public’s trust in the organisation that we fund through our licence fee.