Reporting a Revolution: 5 live in Cairo
Every journalist wants to cover the biggest stories, of course. But actually doing so is often nothing to do with finely honed news instincts, or meticulous planning. Sometimes you just get lucky, and just try and make the most of it.
I was working on some stories that were supposed to be broadcast sometime in the next few weeks. It was about 4pm, and I had a couple of hours of phonecalls and emails left to finish off. A few desks down, I could see 5 live's most senior editors talking about something that was clearly important, and I wondered who was about to get told off.
Like many of you, I'd been following the events in Egypt, and had seen that President Hosni Mubarak was reported to be on the verge of stepping down. I'd known I might have to go there for a couple of weeks, so when Stephen Mawhinney and Jonathan Crawford, 5 live's head and deputy head of news respectively, called me over, I knew what was coming.
They told me I'd be travelling with 5 live's elder statesman Peter Allen and Phil Mackie (5 live's West Midlands reporter).
I had two hours before I'd have to leave for Heathrow. The first thing to sort out was the kit. I always take a laptop, a portable satellite dish and receiver, a digital recording device, and a small mixing desk. Peter told me he first used this type of equipment nearly 20 years ago, and despite heavy usage and plenty of repairs, they're both still going strong.
After we checked in at Heathrow, we found out that Mubarak had decided to stay till the end of his term. We seriously considered turning back, because it looked as though everyone had got it wrong. But, given the size and duration of the protests, we decided that this announcement would only mean more people on the streets pushing for Mubarak to go. The story was still big - and it was worth Peter, Phil and I being there to cover it.
We got here after an overnight flight, and had to find somewhere secure to broadcast from. That's 'secure' in both senses of the word: we needed to be safe, and also make sure we had a constant, stable line to the studio back home. This took all day, in an unfamiliar city. Incidentally, our hotel was near the site of the old British cantonment, where Phil's great grandfather was posted in the late 19th century. He didn't know Peter though.
When Drive went on air, we didn't think we had enough material, and the story didn't seem strong enough to justify all the airtime we were about to devote to it. We weren't happy.
Then, just two minutes into the programme, Hosni Mubarak quit.
We legged it to Tahrir Square, the centre of several weeks of protest. We decided to ditch the bulky satellite kits, so Phil and Peter could walk more freely among the crowds, and report on their mobiles. Even though the sound quality isn't as good, the strategy worked.
We found ourselves in the middle of the world's biggest party. No point in complex analysis at that point (revolution? coup?) - we just wanted people to hear the atmosphere. Peter and Phil were brilliant, just doing what great reporters should do, simply describing what they could see. Sounds easy, but it's not.
We spent the weekend covering the celebrations, and with the help of people far more knowledgable than us, tried to put the whole event into context. Mubarak had ruled with a firm hand for 30 years. Five more before Sir Alex can match that.
On Drive this afternoon, we'll look back over the dramatic last few days. Peter said he wished he'd been there when the Berlin Wall fell, and maybe he's seen something similar here.
Hasit Shah is a senior broadcast journalist at 5 live.