This column appeared first in the response.
The nice terrorist attack and the EHRC report on anti-Semitism in the Labor Party, Sky News & BBC News Channel
The problem with breaking news for any broadcaster is that often you have very little information to move on. The challenge is to keep the viewer or listener interested without repeating yourself.
I remember being on the air when Flight MK 17 passed over Ukraine. And that was all we knew, but it was clearly a big event and we went on rolling news mode. It is in such moments that you earn your money as a new moderator. They sink or swim. Everyone in the newsroom is dropping what they’re doing and their hands are on the pump. Contact books are searched for anyone who knows something. Twitter is searched for eyewitnesses. I am always amazed at the ingenuity of the producers who manage to get people on air in minutes.
In the gallery the studio producer gives you a flood of information. Another barrage will be uploaded to the Google Document screen in front of you. To the audience, you are as calm as possible as the presenter – or at least that is the goal – but you are like a swan that glides calmly and calmly, but moves quickly under your feet. You think of ten things at the same time. Your brain has to separate the wheat from the chaff. Your job is above all to report, not to speculate. And deep down in the niches of your mind you are fully aware of the fact that a word is out of place, a wrong fact is given, and it could be the end of your career.
It is the ultimate in high pressure broadcaster. After a three hour program like this, you will be both physically and mentally exhausted, but also somehow intoxicated. It may be an uncomfortable thing to admit, but as a broadcaster, you live to be on the air in stories like this.
The news of the Nice terrorist attack was first featured on Kay Burley’s breakfast show on Sky News. It presented itself from a very cold Washington DC on a rooftop overlooking Congress. All she had was someone to tell her what was going on in her ear and an autocue to read. If Twitter is to be believed and I can’t verify this while writing, the BBC News Channel was at least half an hour behind Sky News when it covered the fact that the attack had taken place.
When I tuned in, Martine Croxall was on the air interviewing analysts and Nice residents to get their reaction. Emma Crosbie did the presentation in Sky News. She normally would have presented an hour of business news, but she is a seasoned general news presenter and has handled everything with due equanimity.
Both news channels then had to grapple with another big breaking piece of news – the EHRC report on anti-Semitism in the Labor Party was released at 10 a.m. Ordinarily this would have been rolling news for the next few hours. The BBC did not go to a reporter until 10:27 a.m., and met again half an hour later.
In reality, the story never really got the meaning it justified, especially given Jeremy Corbyn’s deaf-mute statement posted on Facebook. However, at 11 a.m. it hit the headlines. Sky made it a bit more popular at first, but stayed with the 11am terrorist attack as the main story when Adam Boulton took over the line. Given that his show is all about politics, it seemed a little strange that after the class began with the terrorist attack, he published an article on the latest developments in Covid. The EHRC report was only covered in the third story when Sir Keir Starmer started his live press conference.
In these situations, news channels are doomed if they do and doomed if they don’t. Editors hope they are making the right decision about how to treat two breaking news items at the same time, but inevitably they may not please everyone. There will always be someone who thinks a wrong editorial decision has been made.