Today, along with a few others from the Media departments travelled down to Sky News in London for a tour of the main 24-hour news building. I opted to go on this trip in order to see first-hand how the production of the news was researched, organised and presented to the millions of viewers worldwide.
One of the first things that I noticed was the sheer numbers of people involved behind-the-scenes. There were so many people that were in the research department, gathering news from various sources from around he world; whether it be phone calls, online, face-to-face or in the field. The second thing that shocked me was how open the main studio was; the presenter was sat in the middle of the room surrounded by cameras, but also just 5 or so metres away people were sat at their desks doing work, chatting away. I thought that the presenter would have been in a much more closed off environment in order to present without being distracted, but because the tie-mic was so close to her, it did not pick up the sound from all around her.
Our tour was led by Sarah Whitehead, the Head of International News at Sky, formerly of BBC. She mentioned how everyones ideas count, from Tea-Runner all the way through the ranks to Executive Producer and Head of Sky. I was told how the main source of income comes from advertising, however Sky News is still a loss-leader. It is distributed on Free-view and the website is also free. She went on to raise the debate: ‘Is Twitter right in providing free, fast news? Is it reliable?’ We all sat down and were told about the reliability of sources, as many sources cannot be proven for some time before they are distributed by a presenter. Sarah told us about Reuters Wires, who are apparently an extremely reliable source, with quick intel from a world perspective. She also mentioned how they are continually in competition with other news channels such as BBC, ITV and Channel 4 and how she was in contact with such a reliable and trusted source for the Berlusconi story that Sky got the information worthy of distributing on air 15 minutes before the BBC. She went on to say how sources are based on trust, reliability, past-experience and performance.
I also learnt about fixers. Fixers are people (usually locals) who are picked up by the crew on location and know the local area and people; they often speak the language and can get you out of a mess if something is about to happen. From this she went on to mention the conflict in Cairo where reporters are at the moment and the importance of: ‘If things go wrong, what is your exit plan?’
In the past there have been critical responses to Sky News suggesting that they focus too much on distributing the news the second it is found by researchers, however while I was there it really shows how things have changed. Sources is checked, double checked, triple checked and so on. Sarah admitted that things are not what they once were and that it is ‘better to be right than first; we only use trusted sources’ – and many of them. It’s unbelievable the amount of people soaking up the news through either phone calls, meeting the people involved, speaking to them, and actually being there.
We went on to question about the necessary requirements when applying for experience at Sky. She stated that:
You must have a clear idea of WHAT you want to do, which department you want to be in and your short/long term ambitions. What can you offer? It is important to be specific and use your most unique skills to the best of your ability (and beyond), whether they be technical, presentational or research based. Be different, be PASSIONATE. If accepted, research into your role well in advance; you must completely understand what is expected of you before you begin. In terms of being a runner:
Be energetic, passionate, on-time and engaged. Bring ideas with you – WANT TO BE INVOLVED.
While we were there we even had the opportunity to meet the Head of Sky News, John Ryley and even enter the gallery while the news was being broadcast live. We could not make any noise whatsoever for obvious reasons, but we got to experience the roles of Director, Executive Producer, Technical Director, Vision Mixer, Sound Engineer etc. All in all, it surely was an experience to remember, and I for one am definitely interested in applying for work experience.
The Sky News Website can be found HERE.
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