Newsweek Scotland: In honour of the producer
One aspect of broadcasting the public usually miss is the role of the producer. So dazzled is the outside world by the glinting teeth and flashing intellect of the presenter - and in my case the honeyed voice - that they fail to notice what lies beyond.
Every item, every idea, every question is the product of the producer's insight, energy and competence, right down to its place in the programme, its duration and its relevance. The producer and the back-up team work out the timings of each item individually and then collate the timings of an hour's output, frantically counting backwards to come out on the second.
When you hear an interesting point of view on air, the contributor was traced by the producer, tracked down through calls and emails, often across continents, transferred to a studio by taxi, let in by someone contacted by the producer, briefed on the topic, connected through the control desk and later thanked and paid by the producer. But how did they know this one individual in Johannesburg, in Kiev, London or Cambuslang was the right person for this item? Well, by insight, knowledge, wide reading, experience or just intuition. They need guts to call some big shot in Washington and wake them up at 5 am, and persistence to let them rant in complaint and professionalism to still get their agreement to be interviewed about missile deployment or the world economy.
They work longer hours than presenters for less pay. They instruct presenters and brief them before interviews. They keep them right during interviews and apologise afterwards to guests annoyed by presenters. They even make the presenter's tea. (No milk, bag out, thanks.) They are driven by curiosity about the world and a determination to find the answers. Producers are an eclectic and spirited bunch. They have to be. And if they are the jokers or the court jesters of broadcasting, then the presenter is the bell on the end of the stick...important for completing the effect certainly, but still just a bell on a stick.
This week the Newsweek producer, Pauline, is leaving the BBC. This will be her last programme. For six years she has performed all the above tasks while wrestling with computers and dodgy radio and Skype links to far-flung places. And she has dealt with the demands of the presenter, reasonable and otherwise. Probably her greatest trick is in locating just the right person to talk about any subject we come up with - Antarctica, earthquakes, currency markets, Scottish castles or asparagus through endless research and trial and error. Her rule is never to take the most obvious contributor just because they're the easiest. So she'll be at her desk late into Friday evening and in again with the dawn chorus. She is an example of what makes this the BBC. It calls for belief in the job for its own sake, beyond the obstacles of the Programme Prevention Department. It means belonging to the babel of radio broadcasting that keeps the people of every continent connected and informed and it means being driven by a need to be good at the job, to be right and to be consistent. For anyone who has enjoyed listening to Newsweek or even just learned something they didn't know, it is down to her. Of course she's had a little help from the rest of the team. (Not to mention your own leadership - Producer)
Just so. Well tomorrow on Newsweek we ask if Obama is as trigger happy as George Bush after we discovered that he personally approves drone targets... we hear of the difficulties of providing services in rural Scotland as doctors leave their practice in Acharacle in Ardnamurchan because of overwork...we examine the effects of power on the brain...hear how the Euro crisis is leading to deeper European integration and we'll pooter on about politics. Then there's Angus Macleod's paper review.
Join me at 8 tomorrow and hear how busy the producer has been.