Reporting live from Paris

Emily Unia Emily Unia broadcasting live in Paris in the aftermath of the attacks on Friday 13 November

When news about Paris broke last Friday night, I was at home in north Cumbria.

It was a wild and stormy night, the river was rising and we were worrying about a missing dog. I saw a news flash on my phone and within minutes, my editor, Peter Owen, was calling.

Peter lives in France and said he'd be heading to Paris as soon as possible - he wanted me at the scene too, offering live two-ways about what had happened for BBC local radio. He said the Brussels Reporter, Gavin Lee, could cover the weekend, so I travelled out on Sunday, along with producer, Aoife Hayes and a very large suitcase of heavy broadcasting kit.

We arrived at the Gare du Nord on Sunday evening and received an urgent phone call from Peter. An incident, possibly another attack, was underway in the Place de la Republique. People had reported hearing gunfire and were screaming and running in all directions. It turned out to be a false alarm, someone had set off a firework, but the city was on edge and the slightest bang caused total mayhem.

Messages of love and solidarity

When we finally arrived, there were armed police everywhere and a cordon in place. Over the course of the evening, reports of people hearing gunfire and fears of new attacks kept popping up across the city.

After a safety briefing from Peter, we tested our satellite signal and took a walk around some of the scenes where attacks had taken place. Bullet holes were clearly visible in the windows of the Casa Nostra restaurant and outside the Bataclan Café, the tour bus belonging to the Eagles of Death Metal remained parked outside.

Gavin Lee Emily's colleague from Brussels, Gavin Lee, joined her during the 30 hours of live broadcasting

Flowers were tied to railings and people were chalking messages of love and solidarity onto the pavements.

It was a warm, still evening and the flames of hundreds of tealights flickered in the darkness, I looked around and saw tears streaming down stricken faces.

As we headed to bed that night, the Place de la Republique stayed awake. Satellite trucks for broadcasters from across the world were parked side-by-side in the square, broadcasting through the night. I overheard reporters speaking French, Spanish, German, Italian, Japanese and English.

On Monday I did seven hours of live two-ways for local radio - updating breakfast, mid-morning and drivetime programmes on the latest news. There was a huge appetite for news from Paris, many members of our audience have connections to France and this felt so close to home - it made the possibility that an attack of this kind could happen in the UK very real.

Once it was confirmed that a British man, Nick Alexander, had died at the Bataclan Café, BBC Look East asked if I could do a live for regional TV on Monday evening. Some artful negotiation by Peter and a very kind team from BBC Northern Ireland meant I could go live from the Place de la Republique into the 18:30 programme. GNS (General News Service) is primarily a radio service, but I have TV experience and if I'm on the location of a major news story, serving as many outlets as possible is always the aim.

Like a ghost town

By Tuesday evening, we were pretty sure demand from our local stations was going to drop.

We planned to offer for Wednesday breakfast and then head back to London. We couldn't have been more wrong.

Emily Unia Working for GNS (General News Service), Emily broadcast into BBC radio and TV across the UK

I woke up at 05:00 on Wednesday to a stream of messages about the ongoing siege in St Denis and warnings to stay put in central Paris. By 10:00 we were told it was fine to head out there. Public transport had stopped so it took a few attempts to find a taxi driver willing to take us. The streets of St Denis felt a bit like a ghost town.

Police had told people to stay indoors - and they were. Those we spoke to recounted the terror of waking up to the sound of heavy gunfire. Most could not believe that the people responsible for the attacks were hidden in their community.

Over the course of the day, details of the seven-hour raid began to emerge. The most astonishing information of all was the news that the chief suspect, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was believed to be in Paris, not in Syria, as previously thought. We went on air at drivetime still not knowing the identities of the people who'd been killed or arrested.

The confusion lasted into Thursday morning's breakfast shows, when some UK papers were already confirming Abaaoud's death. We caught a train back to London at lunchtime and as we arrived at St Pancras, we got news that his body had been officially identified. I headed straight back to the office in time for drivetime two-ways.

Over the course of the week, I'd done close to 30 hours of lives. The feedback from producers and presenters was overwhelming - they all appreciated the regular updates from GNS, the fact that we were offering lives in quality and that we were on the scene, which meant audiences across the UK were kept informed about one of the biggest news stories of the year. And judging by the news from Brussels, it's still not over.


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