Dealing with breaking news
This week the front and back pages of newspapers have been filled with news of Liverpool Football Club being crowned Premier League champions. However, in what seems like an eternity ago – but was actually just a week beforehand – I was getting some other sport breaking news to air. In what is a big story in my patch of Cumbria, Barrow AFC were promoted to the English Football League for the first time in 48 years.
Many followers of current affairs will be familiar with “breaking news” as a banner on news channels or smartphone push notifications to describe anything new or developments to an existing story. That’s one take which somewhat dilutes the term, I think. The kind I’ll be discussing in this blog post is the sort that, as a radio producer, makes you completely rethink a programme and turn items in a running order around.
Breaking news is the bread and butter of journalism; it’s something to be enthusiastic about, rather than panic. These are often times when we produce some of the audience’s most memorable moments of our output. Often, but not always, it will happen at unexpected moments – at the end of a shift, when you have made plans after work, for example. The news of Barrow’s promotion certainly wasn’t unexpected but happened right at the end of my shift.
Due to the nature of breakfast programmes on BBC local radio, which are broadcast from very early in the morning, there’s an afternoon producer who takes over looking after the programme from the morning producer when their shift finishes. The role includes reacting to the day’s developments as well as setting up content throughout the afternoon and into the evening. The role of ‘late prod’ is on a rota for the news team at BBC Radio Cumbria and I’ve been doing my most recent stint for the last month, while working from home.
It was 19:00 on Thursday, 18 June. I’d just subscribed to a Sky Sports day pass so I could watch my team, Manchester City, play their first game after the season break, due to the coronavirus pandemic. I’d finished setting up the next morning’s breakfast programme and was out of the loop while I’d sat down to have tea. The call from a colleague followed to inform me the announcement had been made – Barrow has been promoted.
It was not a surprise; due to the nature of this year, the non-league season wasn’t able to be completed. Therefore, the final standings were decided by a vote of all clubs in the league. When the season was suspended, Barrow were top of the league and became champions. Ironically, 48 years earlier the team had actually been voted out of the English Football League, as was the protocol at the time. The Bluebirds hadn’t even finished bottom of the league that season either. It’s reported the decision was made due to where the town is located and how long it could take some away teams to travel to the Holker Street ground.
I logged back onto the computer in my home office, that I had only five minutes earlier shut down, and began moving items around the running order. Previously, a plan had been devised on how the breakfast programme the day after any possible promotion should sound. It was a case of implementing that and ringing round some guests that had already been set up to ask if they wouldn’t mind being put on hold. All were very understanding of the circumstances.
A lot of liaising was done with my colleagues in the south of the county to set up certain pieces and deliver kit to the commentator, so he could appear live outside the Holker Street ground in the morning. Then guests that had been set up in advance had to be confirmed. Once all that was in place, I allowed myself a 45 minute break to at least be able to watch the second half of the football match that I had initially intended to. After that, I finished writing cues and drafting questions. The whole four-hour programme had to be re-worked and I finished putting everything in place in the early hours of the morning.
The advantage of working from home is that at least I didn’t have a commute to contend with after I’d finished and just went straight to bed. It’s part of the job to be flexible and hearing the programme go out live the next day makes it all worthwhile – the jubilation in the fans’ voices and the elation of those who work at the club. It’s always nice to play a part in such a celebratory programme. I believe it showcases the importance and value of local radio to be at the heart of communities like that, reflecting what matters to the people who live there. It wasn’t the first time I’d dealt with breaking news during my career and it, almost certainly, won’t be the last.