Yesterday I was lucky enough to spend the day at Sky’s Westminster studio shadowing Sarah Hewson, news presenter of Sky News Tonight.
I met Sarah Hewson 3 weeks ago at an event which launched work experience week. My husband and I had received an invite to this event as I would be featuring in a short video that was to be played there. The lady who had invited us kindly introduced us to Sarah who was extremely warm and friendly. She chatted to us for a while about how she had got to where she was today. A day or two later I emailed her to see if I could spend a day shadowing her to get a better idea of what her job entails and she said it would be no problem (told you she was nice) and we set a date.
Yesterday I arrived at the studio just before eleven in the morning and met the Sky News Tonight team. The show doesn’t start until 7 at night but there is a lot of preparation to be done and so some of the producers arrive at 9am to get started. Both presenters; Adam Boulton and Sarah arrive after lunch. First, I was given computer log in details and was shown how to find the Sky News’s agenda of the day online and had a quick look at the news stories.
Sky’s Westminster studio is one of many inside a large building close to the Houses of Parliament. I walked past a BBC TV studio on my way up to Sky News. It is much smaller than the main Sky News building in West London, but for me that was nice as I could quickly find out where to make a cup of tea! In the meeting rooms there are pictures of the news presenters with President Obama, David Cameron, Ed Miliband and other world leaders from past and present – so I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t intimidated! The bold blue, red and white Sky News branding is everywhere and areas of the news room are used for filming and so there are lights and cameras ready for action. I was recognising reporters every few minutes but there wasn’t long to stand around being impressed, the team had a show to put together and I wanted to be helpful.
Two of the producers had the responsibility of finding guests and contributors for the show by that evening. The other producer was working on scripts and a graffix element of the show that would go into depth on the top story. The rest of the team were in West London, at the main Sky News Building and so we met with them via skype to discuss which stories would be covered and which guests we should aim to find.
I helped with the challenge of finding guests but to be honest I struggled to get hold of any expert who was available that same evening. It’s more difficult than finding a guest for a radio interview as, obviously, there is the visual aspect! They have to be able to get to Westminster and come into the studio or we have to arrange to have a camera crew to go and visit them rather than just asking them to pick up their phone from where ever they are. When I worked in the news team at Heart FM, guests could call in from their living room if they wanted to! They needed to be heard not seen!
High on the agenda was a story on the Home Office’s drug report which claims that tough laws on drugs don’t affect their usage. Among others, we were looking for two people who would come in to the studio to have a discussion with Sarah’s co-presenter about this issue. Eventually two different people, with contrasting views on the subject, agreed to debate the issue live between 7 and 9pm. Eliot Albers is Executive Director of the International Network Of People Who Use Drugs and pro-decriminalisation and Elizabeth Burton-Phillips, founder the charity, DrugFam. You can see that debate here (and that’s me in the bottom left corner behind Eliot!)
Another element of the show required an expert on drugs laws and their usage, or someone who conducts a lot of research on this field. One of the team managed to confirm the guest at 5.30pm, an hour before they had to come in for a rehearsal. So it really was a relief. This guest, Kirsty Douse who is head of Legal Services at Release, took a close look at the statistics which were presented on a large touchscreen and explained reasons behind them. I also helped the producer with the appearance of these stats and felt pretty proud of myself when my suggestions were taken on board.
One of my favourite parts of the day happened at 3pm when Sarah had pre-recorded interview with US ambassador to the United Nations, Sarah Power. I got to sit in the gallery with the technical team, and producer, and was given the responsibility of taking the minutes (alerting the presenter when they have 4 mins left, 3 min left etc…)
I have studied the United Nations a lot in my degree and also have researched Ebola over my time in journalism and so it was brilliant to see Sarah have the opportunity to ask questions to an expert about this. Like all diplomats, Sarah Power was extremely polite and politically correct when presenter, Sarah Hewson was asking direct questions. This made it interesting to watch as Sarah H persisted with the same question, asking it in a variety of ways in order to get the information from the vague US ambassador. Seeing it done so well was inspiring and I definitely learnt a lot despite it being a relatively short interview.
When it got to 7pm and the show went live, I again sat in the gallery so I could hear the directors comments, see the autocue and all the different camera screens. A story broke moments before the show began (about a fire in a Stafford fireworks factory) and both Adam and Sarah had to talk about it without having time to do any research. I was so impressed with the way they make their job look so easy as there is a director talking in their ear constantly giving them instructions and they have scripts that are only visible to them a second before they read them. That’s the excitement of breaking news of course! But seeing it first-hand caused me to respect presenters even more.
It’ll take a lot of hard work before I could think about becoming a TV news presenter, but having the opportunity to see what its actually like has given me a clear vision of a job I would love to aim towards. There were lessons I had learned from interning in radio news that came in handy for this opportunity yesterday, but TV has a whole lot more to get your head around. The day was fast paced and you had to stay alert and be able to adapt to changes. Many things happened that viewers wouldn’t have been aware of, for example a guest was late and missed his interview, but the presenters stay cool, calm and collected and with the help of the team, they make sure the show always looks professional. I think its unlikely that anyone at home would suspect there were unexpected issues arising during the show because both Sarah Hewson and Adam Boulton are so fantastic at adapting and ad-libbing while live on air. This is a skill that probably only comes with a lot of practice so I will continue to apply for work placements and hope that one day soon I’ll get the opportunity to report a story of my own live on air. For now, the University radio station (URF) is an excellent place to be learning!