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Editor as interviewee

Kevin Marsh Kevin Marsh | 09:56 UK time, Monday, 18 September 2006

Someone, some time ago, proposed that one of the things we should make sure was on the BBC College of Journalism website was a module - a film, perhaps - showing the way we cover news stories ... as seen from the perspective of those in the story.

I can't remember whose idea it was - but it's such a good one I'll call it mine and we'll do it.

Alternatively, we could just make all BBC editors appear live - or "as live" - on their own programmes; or perhaps, someone else's. But appear live/as live, anyway.

I had the experience this week on Newswatch. And it was both scary and salutary. I was invited on to talk about the CoJo's plans to help BBC journalists with basic English. A lot of viewers, listeners and online users get upset when our journalists make daft mistakes - and they do, usually under pressure... though I'm not sure that was the explanation for the capital of Ecuador being spelled K-E-E-T-O in one example.

I couldn't fault Ray Snoddy's team for the way they fixed the interview - all according to the Marsh rule book. They were open about the subject of the interview without giving away the actual questions; and what they said would happen did.

So far so good. Plus, I've done dozens of TV and radio interviews ... but until this, all except one had been pre-recorded at a leisurely pace for editing later; the only live one was a twenty-minuter on Radio Coventry.

What I'd never appreciated before was the immense pressure on the interviewee of a four to four-and-a-half minute live/as live interview - even though I've edited thousands of programmes made up of jigsaws of just such interviews. The short, live interview is probably the most familiar tool of my trade.

But it's very strange to be on the other end of it. It was nothing Ray did - but somehow, the time pressure conveyed itself as prepared words and ideas ran off and hid. And even though I knew the rule in theory - statement, context/explanation, next question - in fact, the strands of thought threatened to get into a complete tangle.

While Ray - as a good live interviewer should - kept up the pace of the questions, something close to panic wiped the synapses on one side of my brain.

I have a vague memory of talking about Caxton and Webster's dictionary; perhaps I did, perhaps I didn't. I certainly haven't the faintest recollection of anything I said [you can see for yourself here]. Either way, I now understand rather better than I did before the lot of the hundreds - thousands, possibly - of guests our programmes churn through in the course of a day.

Obviously - being a news man - I wouldn't go so far as saying I have sympathy with them ... even though I was one, briefly. But it does, as they say, make you think.


  • 1.
  • At 12:32 PM on 18 Sep 2006,
  • Dale Whitaker wrote:

"Obviously - being a news man - I wouldn't go so far as saying I have sympathy with them...". Why not? Professionalism doesn't require a loss of humanity. Perhaps it might be a start to conteracting the corrosive cynicism which blights much journalism. It might lead to getting more news and less comment.

Thinking under immense pressure: that is what BBC journalists are doing all the time. And what a fine job they do. When the pressure gets higher, there is more likelihood of silly mistakes creeping in. To err is human: after all journalists are human too and even though they may have an amazing repertoire of phrases, with facts at their finger tips, they do show their human vulnerablity from time to time. Thankfully BBC journalists are the cream of the cream and do real justice to the the profession and the journalistic fraternity.

  • 3.
  • At 10:24 PM on 18 Sep 2006,
  • Jenny wrote:

All those BBC journalists who get interviewed, live or as live, from remote locations, often immediately after all their best material has just been broadcast in a piece they did earlier, probably know the feeling already. I'm constantly amazed that more of them don't blush as they brazenly repeat themselves, or affirm that the in-studio interviewer is correct in quoting back to them what their own report had reported. It is so incestuous, and such a waste of time. Your in-studio presenters and their editors need to see the instructional film you propose, and another about how the viewers see their work.

  • 4.
  • At 01:03 PM on 19 Sep 2006,
  • J Westerman wrote:

I could not agree more with Jenny 18th September 2006, except that the in-studio presenters and their editors know only too well what they are doing.
When there is a shortage of news they have to make their presentation machinery fill in the allotted time somehow. With the ratio of presenters to hard news being what it is, we are getting a lot of filling in.

  • 5.
  • At 02:49 PM on 21 Sep 2006,
  • J Westerman wrote:

A module showing the way the BBC covers news stories as seen from the perspective of those in the story AND without gratuitous opinions by reporters and others, who were not highly qualified specialists in the subject concerned, would certainly be a very good idea.

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