Time waits for no man (or woman)

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He never missed a deadline, but the stress was intense!

Here our Editor Phil Parry looks at how time is critical for all journalists and the stress in meeting deadlines can be overwhelming!

Earlier he has described how he was helped to break into the South Wales Echo office car when he was a cub reporter, recalled his early career as a journalist, the importance of experience in the job, and making clear that the ‘calls’ to emergency services as well as court cases are central to any media operation.

In television came more stress

He has also explored how poorly paid most journalism is when trainee reporters had to live in squalid flats, the vital role of expenses, and about one of his most important stories on the now-scrapped 53 year-old BBC Wales TV Current Affairs series, Week In Week Out (WIWO), which won an award even after it was axed, long after his career really took off

Phil has explained too how crucial it is actually to speak to people, the virtue of speed as well as accuracy, why knowledge of ‘history’ is vital, how certain material was removed from TV Current Affairs programmes when secret cameras had to be used, and some of those he has interviewed.

He has disclosed as well why investigative journalism is needed now more than ever although others have different opinions, and how the current coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdown is playing havoc with media schedules.

 

On the South Wales Echo in the 80s Phil had to watch the clock

The clock is critical for all journalists.

You must be in position to broadcast live on air at a certain time, it is imperative that your programme or news piece is ready for the regular transmission, and on newspapers (in the past) your story always had to meet the deadline.

The deadlines for that day’s stories when I started in journalism at the South Wales Echo are still seared into my memory – 10.30 for page three and 10.45 for page one.

These deadlines were always coupled with the extreme stress of getting the story to your audience.

Speaking to people for BBC Wales Today was important to Phil and he didn’t think about the deadline

On TV news you had to get the interviews you needed for that evening’s programme (often on a subject you knew nothing about), cut the item, and have it ready to go out at the allotted time.

I had a special technique for dealing with this – it was not to think about it!

When you were given a story for, say, BBC Wales Today (WT) it always helped not to think about what you had to do before the piece went out on air, otherwise you’d go mad!

When the red light went on Phil had to blank out the potential numbers in the audience

This technique has always stood me in good stead.

On BBC Radio Wales (RW) when I was presenting a programme, as the red light went on you should not think about the thousands (hopefully) that you were broadcasting to.

Rather like driving a car at speed on the motorway and thinking about how easy it would be to veer into a bridge to end it all, I often felt that at this point I could say anything and end my career!

Phil had to be careful what he said on air

I could swear or slag off my superiors and there would be nothing that could have been done about it!

When I was presenting programmes on RW I always had a number of recurring stress dreams, with time at the centre of them.

One was about finding myself in the centre of Cardiff roughly half an hour before I was due on air, and thinking I could JUST make it to the studio in time to do the programme.

On Current Affairs programmes like BBC TV Panorama the stress of meeting deadlines was just as bad…

But then I couldn’t find my car!

Another was when the clock was before me in studio, and EVERYTHING went down.

There was no guest to go to and no inserts to play.

I was alone live on air.

In this dream I desperately looked at my studio producer behind the glass for help because she was controlling transmission.

Phil’s producer couldn’t care less!

But she was playing a GUITAR!

A different incident which did actually happen and wasn’t a dream, occurred when I was presenting live a RW programme called Wales at One.

It is a cardinal rule to stick to time otherwise you would bump into the programme after you.

But on one occasion I did exactly that and ate into the time meant for the continuity announcer, so I sent a grovelingly apologetic email afterwards.

Keeping to time when Phil was presenting radio programmes was vital

She replied:  “Phil, in all the years I have been in broadcasting I have NEVER received an apology.  Congratulations!”.

For the live (or recorded ‘as live’) debates I hosted, time was also a critical factor.

I presented a debate programme on RW called ‘People’s Assembly’ which toured Wales, selecting questions for a panel of the great and good from an assembled audience.

Certain people looked candidates for a diet class

Before the programme went out I would always be stationed at the door to encourage our audience members to come in.

One ‘People’s Assembly’ was in Caernarfon with that week’s session of a diet class in one room and our debate in another.

As I excitedly pointed to the door leading to the ‘People’s Assembly’ debate, people would invariably gesture towards the door of the diet class.

One rather large woman approached and I said wearily:  “The diet class is that way…”, only to get the angry response:  “PEOPLE’S ASSEMBLY!  I’M A NORTH WALES POLITICAL AGENT!”.

The studio clock was always paramount for Phil

I remember on another live broadcast of ‘People’s Assembly’ I went to a question just before we were due to come off air, and the producer said to me in my headphones:  “Watch the clock!”.

In Current Affairs TV the deadline was less immediate, but the stress was worse if anything, because it grew gradually over weeks before the programme HAD to be delivered.

It was crucial to secure key interviews otherwise the programme would fail, and I would spend a huge amount of time persuading people to go on camera, using a number of tricks to do so.

One was to turn up at an interviewee’s door pretending you had not heard that he or she had already phoned the office pulling out.

Persuading people to go on camera was very difficult

The interview would usually be conducted without any problem!

Another one that I always found to be very successful was to appeal to the better instinct of potential interviewees.

You would say (quite truthfully):  “I can’t guarantee that doing this will help your own position, but it might help others if the facts come out”.

But the most difficult one was when I made a programme about the prevalence of rats.

The stress of making sure you were on time and had the interviews ‘in the can’ was intense for Phil

A crucial interview was with a woman who had found a rat in her kitchen.

She adamantly refused to do it, so I played my final card and told her:  “Look, do the interview, and see it back through the camera.  If you are unhappy with any part of it, we WON’T use it”.

She saw it back afterwards and of course was entirely happy, so the interview went out.

Book posterAll of this was another kind of stress – on top of the one about meeting the deadline!

 

Tomorrow – the question marks over the names of politicians’ parties as well as their honesty.

Phil’s memories of his astonishing 36-year award-winning career in journalism (including all the stress he endured and the deadlines that had to be met) as he was gripped by the rare disabling condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in a major book ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order the book now!