Break in transmission
What goes through an editor's mind after his programme falls off air?
Today on The Daily Politics, Jenny Scott gave a "big board" presentation on the troubles in Gaza - the kind of item where to tell the story we run pictures, graphics and clips into a big screen in the studio with a presenter, standing in front, linking them all together live.
Suddenly, in the middle of it, a picture of a bearded man in a studio flashed up, followed by the BBC Two caption saying there had been a break in transmission. We were back on air within two minutes; it was still a good show, and there weren’t loads of complaints; but there are two things I still think are worth talking about.
The first is about what went on in the studio. The problem was a straightforward bit of finger trouble: I won’t name names, but someone hit the wrong button in the gallery, was distracted by another problem and there we weren’t. The production team were understandably upset – all that work and careful preparation wasted. There was much grumbling. But to his eternal credit, the un-named button man, immediately owned up and then sent an e-mail to the entire production team apologising to each of them. That was a great move. But it made me think...
We all make mistakes. It was unfortunate for him that this one was at the end of the production chain and immediately apparent to anyone watching. Mine are never so exposed, but might often be much more damaging. When I (or any of my producers) make a bad call on a story, miss a key fact, rubbish a reporter, or perhaps – whisper it gently, despite my devotion to the BBC guidelines – let something untrue hit the air, the consequence is not there for all to see. But the effect is long-term, rarely addressed, and almost never the subject of an e-mail of apology to those affected.
The other thing worth talking about is the effect on the audience. Though it may not look like it, we spend a bit of time in meetings at The Daily Politics to find and produce the angles on the day's stories that are political and will move the narrative on. Today, before we were rudely interrupted, the big board would have laid before our audience some important facts; on the nature of the conflict in Gaza, and on the limits to British political influence there.
So the instant calculation when we went off air was this: to stop and reset everything so the argument could be followed by everyone once we returned to air – or to plough on with the big board regardless, unwatched, apologise once we came back on air and hope people picked up the gist anyway in the interviews that followed. I chose the latter course.
As I said we didn’t get many complaints, and I don’t think the viewing figures were affected. People either didn’t notice, haven’t written or rung yet, or were as engaged by the Auntie’s Bloomer unfolding in front of them as by the original story. So I’m inclined to think it was the right thing to do, and have told everyone we handled it brilliantly. But I’m still not sure. And it may prove to be another mistake which, unlike the one by my much appreciated technical colleague, will remain unnoticed and undiscussed. Perhaps I should apologise to him.