Review of the year: 2020
Covid-19 has dominated the headlines this year and will continue in 2021. Mostly unrelated to the pandemic, it has been been a year where much-loved friends and family have passed. Like everyone, social contact has been limited, unless it’s taken place over a screen. There has been a lot of sadness, that’s for sure. It doesn’t need dwelling on, which is why I thought I’d make this review a look back at things to be grateful for.
JANUARY – MARCH
Life continued relatively normally up until March, although the virus was starting to spread more widely. At work I was out and about, reporting on stories. Then, the week before lockdown, I achieved a long-held dream which was to studio produce the breakfast programme.
A holiday of a lifetime had been planned for April to visit New York City to watch a Broadway show and see the sights. It wasn’t to be this year but I’m glad to have took the plunge to book something I had wanted to do for so long. The plans will hopefully not go to waste, when life gets a bit more normal and holidays can resume.
STAYING AT HOME
I started working from home on 19 March 2020, shortly before Prime Minister Boris Johnson asked the nation to do the same, during the first lockdown. Underlying health conditions mean I’m classed as clinically vulnerable to coronavirus. As restrictive as staying at home for such an extensive period may seem there are advantages.
Not having to commute to work gave me extra time in each day. It’s been lovely to spend this with my fiancé, who has been shielding with me. When we both worked together in Blackburn we were able to take our lunch breaks together and it’s been nice to do this again, usually with our cat sitting on one of our knees!
In a busy life it’s all too easy to overlook some of the simple things that bring joy. I’d never paid too much attention to the changing of the seasons before. Noticing the plentiful flora and fauna around us and the way it transforms and continues – despite what nature throws at it – became a metaphor for the year. This enhanced awareness of the world around us is something I hope to take with me beyond 2020.
One of the best things I did at the start of the first lockdown was to set my parents up on an iPad. Something we won’t look back on because it’s been a great way to communicate. I normally visit my family in Manchester a lot and vice versa. To have this contact restricted has been difficult. Video calling on FaceTime has helped massively to feel a sense of connection, for which I’m grateful.
Using Zoom and Microsoft Teams has kept me connected to colleagues too. I was delighted to give a talk to journalism students at my former university, UCLan, remotely using this technology. Video conferencing also enabled me to be involved in BBC’s England’s Diversity Action Group. Connecting people and ideas across the north. I’m passionate about diversity, inclusion and equality and am glad I can be involved in this important area, alongside my job as a journalist.
This blog was updated more than I expected, as a way to document and diary my time, particularly as I was shielding. It’s been cathartic to do this and I hope one day I can look back on these posts when Covid-19 is a distant memory. This year has allowed me time to expand the pages on this website and very soon the content will all be able to be accessed by visiting www.katybooth.com.
A DREAM COME TRUE
In this challenging year, for so many reasons, a career ambition of mine was realised…
I’ve had such a varied career in broadcasting and journalism which has given me valuable experience. For the majority of time, this has either been as a freelancer or via fixed term contracts. I’m at a point in my life where I want to settle, which is something I can now do thanks to becoming a permanent member of BBC staff on a continuing contract. I’m delighted this can be in Cumbria – part of a talented team at a fantastic radio station.
The positive reactions to my posts on social media about this step in my career have been phenomenal. Thank you to everyone who has got in touch with kind comments It’s been nice to share such a joyous moment with so many people.
2020 has taught me not to take anything for granted – to take a day at a time. My thoughts are with everyone who has lost loved ones to Covid-19 or other causes. Just because the date changes doesn’t mean the problems of the pandemic will go away. We all need to be as vigilant as ever. However, a new year brings new hope. I wish you health and happiness in 2021. Stay safe.
Working from Home
I was delighted to be invited to speak to journalism students at my former university, UCLan in Preston, about how I work from home for BBC Radio Cumbria. Also, how the broadcast industry has adapted to the changes we’ve seen this year, because of the coronavirus pandemic.
I’ve been working from a back room in my house for more than seven months due to underlying health conditions. In keeping with the topic of the talk, it was delivered via video call to the students who were watching in their own homes on Microsoft Teams. An enjoyable session with about 40 people watching, who asked excellent questions at the end. Some of the salient points of the discussion are included here.
As a key worker, it’s a privilege to continue to contribute to the radio station throughout the pandemic in an important role. There’s a wide range of things you can do in the broadcasting industry, while working from home. I mostly produce items for the breakfast programme but can also record and edit reports as well as broadcast live, using specialised apps and software.
Here’s political correspondent, Paul Rowley, doing exactly that on BBC Radio Cumbria. Even with disruptions, it turned out to be a memorable moment and Tweet!
Without a commute of over an hour each day, I have a lot more time. I’m able to read for pleasure a lot more than I used to. There’s also more time to spend with family and pets… Even if my cat does seem to know when I’m on an important phone call because that’s exactly when she’ll meow for Dreamies! For parents, arrangements can be flexible to allow for childcare and appointments.
Technology has increased our connectivity; people from across the organisation can connect in an instant with the likes of Zoom. That’s something I do weekly for a diversity and inclusion steering group that I’m part of. I’ve had training sessions, without the need to travel or meet face-to-face, and even taken part in a Pilates session during a lunch break.
One of the main aspects I miss is the social side of going to work. Those ‘water cooler moments’ where you get to know colleagues personally in the little chats in the kitchen or corridor. Bouncing ideas around with others and having a banter in the office is great… it’s not quite the same over email! Our weekly team Zoom call to catch up with each other is something I look forward to.
The amount of screen time has, understandably, increased. Usually face-to-face meetings provide a break from this, but not so on a video call. It can be tempting to avoid taking breaks and just plough through but it’s actually even more important to do so when working from home, to prevent eye strain. Try to move around, rather than stay completely sedentary, too.
It can be difficult to ‘switch off’ from work when there’s no commute to provide a mental break and a chance to assimilate all that’s happened. My tip is to try to have a separate workspace that you can leave at the end of the day. If you only have something like a dining table to work off don’t sit in the same place to eat as well. If you use a laptop, pack that away once you’ve finished using it.
When the computer is only in the next room it can be tempting to “just do a little bit more” work – something I have been guilty of on occasion! Set boundaries so that you will only work the same amount of hours as you would, if you were physically in the office.
Our ability to work from home will probably be with us, long after this pandemic. It would be a shame not to take the positives of what has been learnt to become more effective in future. Without the need for as much travelling, it gives us more productive time in the day – and it’s better for the environment too. Our homes are now the equivalent of district offices.
As broadcasters and journalists working in the media, being adaptable is what we do. It’s how the industry has developed into what it is today and we shouldn’t fight this. We’re currently in a period of great change at the moment anyway, but the possibilities of what can be achieved when we put our minds to it are still limitless.
A recent example of how working from home has become a ‘new normal’ was evident in how the latest episode of Strictly Come Dancing was broadcast. Showbiz reporter, Betty Redondo, Tweeted that it was actually directed by crew members from home. You wouldn’t have known any different while watching the show live on Saturday night either:
Finally, you can claim tax relief of £6.00 a week for job expenses, while working from home. More information is available HERE.
A lot can happen in a year
It’s a strange time to be writing a review of the past year but, let’s face it, 2020 has been a strange year! August is also a month of anniversaries. I’ve worked four years consecutively for the BBC, (a bit longer in total but I left, came back and also freelanced for a while) and I’ve spent the past year of that service with BBC Radio Cumbria.
It was a tough decision to leave my previous station, BBC Radio Lancashire. I’d worked in most roles in the newsroom there, my last substantively was producing the drive time programme. I had a great working relationship with the presenter; we were a small and effective team of two, who reformatted the programme. It was going down well with listeners and that was reflected in the listening figures.
I feel like I ‘left on a high note’, as the idiom goes, which is always good to do. The team gave me a brilliant send off and I’m still in touch with many former colleagues. Another saying is ‘life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans’ and my life was taking me further north. The time was right for my fiancé and I to live together, so moving base coincided with moving home to beautiful Cumbria.
Carlisle’s a historic city: on one side of the studios is a castle and the other a cathedral. It has a particularly familiar feeling for me because of the aroma that comes from the nearby McVities factory. I grew up close to a biscuit factory near border of Stockport and Manchester. There’s nothing quite like it! The scent is very reminiscent of home. Even though the two are more than 130 miles apart.
After my first day, I was reporting in Kendal about work on Victoria bridge. As I was recording that report news broke that a lorry had hit a nearby railway bridge and I ended up being one of the first reporters on the scene, which demonstrates how important it is for news outlets to have a local presence.
I’ve enjoyed getting to know a new patch and developing contacts. In the months that followed I did a range of shifts. Filming and editing social media videos was something I’d never done before joining BBC Radio Cumbria and that’s been a useful skill to develop in an ever increasing multi-media industry. Here’s one of them… (Post continues below.)
Producing the overnight election programme in December has been a highlight – powered by pizza and coffee! I worked with two experienced presenters who took direction well, with a team of talented reporters based at counts across the county and inserts from political experts. Even the technology worked well. As a producer, you can’t ask for much better than that.
I’ve stood in for the news editor, covering the comings and goings of the news desk and I’ve read bulletins. I can recall when coronavirus was in the running order when I was on shift on New Year’s Day. I knew it was a big story but I didn’t realise then how life-changing it would eventually become for us all.
The week before I began working from home I was the early morning producer of the weekday breakfast show. A career milestone for me, as it was something I hadn’t done done before and I enjoyed having overall editorial responsibility for the programme. Covid-19 was high up the news agenda then, as the first cases of the virus had been identified in Carlisle.
Shortly after that I started working from home, which I’ve documented on this blog previously. I’ve been doing that for 20 weeks now. When it began I never thought it’d be something that would last for five months, but here we are! I actually thought I’d be back in the office so quickly that I almost left my headphones in my locker. I’m glad I did think to bring them with me because I use them everyday.
While I obviously don’t have the range of shifts available than the likes of what I’ve described above, I’m classed as a key worker. It’s felt like an important time to make a contribution to the radio station, during the pandemic. Mostly as ‘late prod’, the afternoon producer of the breakfast programme. I can also edit audio from home too, so I’ve been able to record audio remotely on my computer and package it up.
My first year with BBC Radio Cumbria has been amazing, I packed a lot into the seven months I was in the newsroom and the five months of working from home have been a learning curve that I’ve adapted to. There’s exciting things on the horizon as well. I’m part of BBC England’s Diversity Group North which focuses on inclusivity and equality, an area I am incredibly passionate about.
Other than that, it’s quite difficult to predict what the future may hold. Could there be a second wave of the virus? What will happen to the radio industry in this uncertain time? A lot can happen in a year and if this past one’s anything to go by, it has reinforced my outlook to take it a day at a time and not take anything for granted.
Coronavirus: Shielding paused
Guidance for people who have been shielding throughout lockdown changed at the beginning of August. In summary, this means that:
– You can go to work, but should carry on working from home wherever possible.
– You can go outside as much as you like but you should still try to keep your overall social interactions low.
– You should continue to wash your hands carefully and more frequently than usual and that you maintain thorough cleaning of frequently touched areas in your home and/or workspace.Source: UK Government.
If you’ve followed some of my posts this year, you’ll be aware that I have underlying health conditions and took the decision in March to self-isolate during the coronavirus pandemic. I’m classed as “vulnerable”, rather than “high-risk”, but have been following shielding advice as a precaution.
For almost five months, I’ve tried to make the best of the situation. As a key worker, I’ve also been able to work throughout lockdown producing content – and sometimes broadcasting – from a home office set up for BBC Radio Cumbria. I never take a day that I work in this, an ever shrinking, radio industry for granted. I’m grateful to be able to make a contribution to the station’s output during lockdown.
I always do my utmost to make sure that my quality of life is on a par to that of everyone else around me. Feeling ‘different’ has never really been an issue for me, until the pandemic hit. I was reluctant to work from home initially, because I didn’t want to be treated separately to most of my colleagues. In hindsight, the decision to work from home, that was made at the beginning of lockdown, was absolutely the right one for me.
This Tweet by fellow journalist Lucy Webster sums my thoughts up well and, judging by the amount of engagement the thread has had on Twitter, many others feel the same way too: (Blog post continues below.)
After a chat with my manager, not much will change for me going forward and I won’t be returning to my main base in Carlisle yet. I’ve adapted to working from home very well and have everything I need at my fingertips. More and more meetings are being held virtually, I used Microsoft Teams for the first time last week too, so I don’t feel like I’m missing out on much.
Although I would like to build my confidence up again, I don’t intend to venture out much either. Of course, I want to get back to life as close to normality as possible but I will do so at a time and rate of change that feels right for me.
We’re in the middle of the school holidays at the moment, so there are a lot of people enjoying Cumbria’s beautiful landscape. Some will be having staycations after cancelling foreign holidays this summer. Therefore, I will probably wait until it’s a bit quieter around the Lake District before I reacquaint myself with the local area.
In terms of further afield, the majority of my family and friends are included in the tighter lockdown restrictions that have been brought in for all of Greater Manchester and parts of East Lancashire. This means that any potential visits are now, sadly, postponed for the time being too. (Blog post continues below.)
There are two perspectives to the approach of shielding being paused, which I was able to garner for the breakfast programme. We spoke to a lady who had been shielding her 89-year-old mum and didn’t feel comfortable changing anything. On the other hand, there was another lady who celebrated her birthday during lockdown and was going to see her daughter for the first time since February – she was looking forward to getting out and about again.
Neither of those perspectives are right or wrong; these are personal judgements that we all have to make on a daily basis. The government has issued guidance on shielding, rather than rules that are enforceable. Everyone’s personal circumstances are different and we all must assess the level of risk that each individual situation poses, while coronavirus is still being transmitted in society and may well be for sometime.
A nice side note to end the post on though: Since working from home, my office faces a window looking out to the back garden. Usually, in pre-coronavirus times, I wouldn’t be at home on weekday mornings let alone facing the back of the house. It’s usual to see wild rabbits and an array of birds here in south Cumbria. However, this past week, I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a deer that had jumped over the wall in the daytime – it’s one of the advantages of living next to a wood. I’d been keeping my camera close in anticipation of a moment like this and I was able to capture it, as you can see in the snaps below.
A gentle reminder that a greater appreciation of the nature that surrounds us is at least one of the good things to come out of time spent in lockdown, for me personally, and hopefully many others too.
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.
Coronavirus: Week 10 in self-isolation
I’d like to start this week’s reflection in tribute to our nephew George W. Dyson, who passed away in Canada at the age of 41. He was a lovely person, whose inspirational spirit transcended countries, was felt by all fortunate enough to know him and was taken too soon. I send my love to all his family and friends at this, the most difficult of times. The death wasn’t coronavirus related but the horrible reality of restrictions surrounding the virus is that we cannot attend a funeral at this time.
One of the things George loved, when he visited his family in England, was the garden at our home. We will plant a memorial tree in his honour. Since I’ve been staying at home more than usual I’ve been able to appreciate it too, becoming aware of the subtle changes over time. Normally, I wouldn’t be so attuned to when certain plants bloom but that’s one of the positives to come out of lockdown. Spring blossoms are now transforming, getting ready for the summer season.
You can see the changes to the flora in the front garden in comparison to an earlier photograph I took on the first day my precautionary self-isolation started. When asked to submit a photograph for one of BBC Radio Cumbria’s social media posts documenting life in lockdown I knew that snap was what I’d use. The reflection from the glass in the shot was a ‘happy accident’ but encapsulates my view of the world, carrying on outdoors, while I stay inside. You can see what it looks like in the video here… (Post continues below.)
At work I’m becoming a whizz with Zoom, an app I’d never used before. Seeing team members is a great way to stay connected with more than one person at a time. I’ve also taken part in BBC training over Zoom which allows me to now record interviews with contributors, while still working from home.
Meanwhile, the radio industry itself continues to change. It was announced earlier this week that stations which had been acquired by the Bauer group will be rebranded as Greatest Hits Radio, as reported by the industry news website Radio Today.
This includes many UKRD stations, a group where I worked on staff for nearly two years, as well as stations in the Wireless group like Wish, Wire and Tower FM that I freelanced at in Wigan. Going forward, there will be fewer job opportunities available for broadcasters and journalists. You can read my thoughts on the changing landscape of local radio in a blog post I wrote in March last year HERE.
It’s also the end of an era for travel news; today’s the last day BBC local radio is taking voiced bulletins from the traffic data company INRIX Media. From tomorrow, bulletins will instead be provided in-house, using scripts.
I had a great time in my four years as part of the weekend team at INRIX, working in the Altrincham office. My highlight was delivering travel bulletins for BBC Radio Manchester’s ‘80s programme because I got to chat to Clint Boon from the band Inspiral Carpets each week. Another was when I was going to a fancy dress party shortly after work, so spent the last bit of my shift dressed as a Blues Brother! BBC Radio Cumbria was also one of my regular stations, which is where I now work.
To broadcast travel news well takes skill which is quite niche – similar but essentially different to presenting or news reading. Travel broadcasters assimilate information from various sources to bring you what you hear on-air, without verbatim scripts and often with only a short amount of time between bulletins for various stations around the country. I know I’m a better broadcaster having worked at INRIX, alongside many talented colleagues. My thoughts are with those affected by the changes.
Back in December 2016, during a busy Christmas party season, I recorded myself delivering a travel bulletin on BBC Radio Manchester for a Facebook live video. If you want to see what it was like ‘behind the scenes’ in the travel news centre, here it is…
Coronavirus: Week three in self-isolation
I can’t help but feel reflective while in “lockdown”. Last Good Friday, I was buzzing after presenting a music special on the radio called Eclectic 80s. This year I haven’t left the house for three weeks. It puts everything into perspective about how different life can be from one period of time to the next.
My fiancé was due to present a radio programme this Good Friday. He’s usually always on-air on Bank Holidays, that’s how we met when I studio produced one of his shows almost four years ago. The programme was postponed this year, due to alternative arrangements made because of the coronavirus pandemic. I know first-hand how much time and effort goes into planning these programmes, so hopefully it’ll make it to air after the outbreak is over.
For the past few years, Easter has always been very special. Not just for religious reasons but also because it allows for precious family time. As I spend Christmas Day with my parents at Easter I spend it with my partner and his children. It’s always an enjoyable time. Due to social distancing the family can’t be together this year, so it’ll feel strange. We’ll have a video call meet up instead and have plans to celebrate together as soon as possible, once the peak of the virus has passed and it’s safe to do so.
Lockdown during the pandemic is difficult for everyone; it’s something many of us have never experienced the likes of before. I’m trying to keep positive about my own situation in self-isolation but one of the reasons why it is hard is because, for the first time in my life, ‘underlying health conditions’ have literally stopped me in my tracks.
I’ve spent years making sure my quality of life can be on a par with anyone else’s and I’m fortunate that, usually, that is the case. However, at the moment, I can’t do what I want which is to go out and about and be part of a bustling radio newsroom. I can actually do quite a lot for the station from home though and soon a computer from work will be delivered, so I can access the internal network and that’ll aid my workflow even more.
I’ve got four days off over the Easter period and, while this would usually be a very busy time, I’m using the time it to relax and recharge. It’s been great to dig out my DSLR camera again to reacquaint myself with my hobby of photography. One of my garden wildlife pictures was used on a social media video for BBC Radio Cumbria this week and I was able to get a great shot, using an extended zoom lens, of the supermoon.
I wish you a peaceful Easter at home. This year’s will be a memorable occasion but probably not for reasons anyone could have anticipated. However, the religious comparisons are quite pertinent during this “lockdown”. These unusual times will pass and we will get our lives back again. A new beginning will come.