Friday 21 August 2009, 16:33
There are many advantages to working in August.
True, while many of our colleagues (and listeners) are battling with dilemmas like "white or red?", "pool or beach?" and "if I eat anything else for breakfast, will I still be able to get into my swimsuit?", I am trawling through websites, specialist journals and my contacts (those who are left at work, anyway) to see what stories they may have that we can get on air.
But while London can be, like any big conurbation, rather oppressive in hazy, sticky summer days, you can at least get a seat on the train, the queue for coffee is mercifully short, and anything story you turn your hand to will have an excellent chance of getting on.
I've been a broadcast journalist for twenty years now, and every year it's the same. There is often, sadly, one overwhelming story that happens in August - the death of the Princess of Wales, or the murder or the two little girls from Soham (both of which I covered).
But lower down the running order, there's an interesting shift in editorial standards that takes place at about the end of July. A gradual descent downwards, hurtling towards the bottom of the barrel at about this point in the summer. Part of the job of a specialist correspondent is to advise the outlets we serve about the merits of a story. But no-one wants to hear "we've done it before" at this time of year - there are still hours of airtime to fill, and not a lot with which to fill it.
But if you manage to dodge the pleading emails from output editors, August can be a fantastic time to prepare for the big stories later in the year. So much of modern day journalism can feel like a bit of a hamster wheel. Within a day you must take calls and read emails from contacts, mobilise resources, book crews, check equipment (when I do radio slots for the Today programme it's me and a satellite dish, no back up, so it's vital to make sure it's working before you leave), talk to editors, and research and turn around a story at lightning speed. So the chance to lift your gaze towards the horizon at quiet times is enormously helpful.
Yesterday, I and producer Nora Dennehy took a trip up to Sandy in Bedfordshire, to the headquarters of the RSPB, to talk to their experts about illegal bird hunting, here and in the EU, and about the effectiveness - or lack of it - of the European legislation designed to stop the practise.
Much of our planning time is now being devoted to a big UN meeting in December in Copenhagen, at which - it's hoped - there will be a global deal to reduce in the future the carbon dioxide emissions that the vast majority of scientists believe are causing climate change.
My big concern is how we are going to cover a story that involves lots of people talking impenetrably to each other in a large conference hall, and cover it in a way that makes it relevant to our listeners, explains what is going on and considers the difference it could make to us all. Already there are some very highly placed people I've been talking to who think such a deal is too much to ask in the time available - so we already have to ask the question: what happens then?
One of our ideas it to take a van that runs on chip fat around the UK to visit some low-carbon projects and schemes that are actually up and running. It's obviously a big commitment, financially and logistically, for the BBC, so we've been talking this week within the department about how viable it would be.
But before I think about covering talks designed to save the planet, I need to check out a story about a UK-wide early conker harvest, and conker-killing beetles that seem to be travelling by car. August may always be quiet, but the variety of stories that cross your desk as environment correspondent never ceases to surprise me!
Sarah Mukherjee is BBC environment correspondent.
Join the discussion...