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I’m writing this on my lunch break sitting in a plastic chair outside Courtroom 2 at Hove Trial Centre. At any moment after 2pm, a tannoy could summon us into the courtroom itself to hear the verdict in a rape trial. Precisely when this happens will depend entirely on when the jury reaches that verdict. It could be within minutes. Or some time before the court closes at 4pm. Or tomorrow. Or perhaps next week.

I’ve been a journalist for nearly thirty years now, and days like this still make me a little nervous. But here’s why I think that nerves can be a good thing.

  1. Feeling nerves shows you still care. Nerves are often created by an awareness of the emotions around you, and that can create empathy. For the people sitting here, today, this isn’t Wednesday’s news story — this is a defining moment in their lives. It’s good to be reminded of that. (The defendant’s family are sitting downstairs, the alleged victim’s family sitting two rows from me upstairs.)
  2. Conquering the nerves can give positive results. I’ve quietly introduced myself to both families, to reassure them in case they’ve been spooked by my BBC badge, or wanted to ask me anything about the reporting of this case. Yes, it took a deep breath on my part; it always does. But the response has been warmer than you might imagine.
  3. If you’re nervous, you’re learning. As one BBC training guru once told me, it’s only when you step outside your own comfort zone that you add to your skill set.

You may think this is all nonsense, and that confidence is the only emotion you should aim to feel at work. But either way, here’s my tip on what to do when you are nervous.

Smile, and look people in the eye.

Ahead of a big job interview, a public presentation, a sporting performance — or introducing yourself to two families who may not particularly want to meet you — it’s the best way I’ve found of ensuring that nerves recharge my batteries, rather than drain them, and that the charge created is a positive one.

If you have a workforce you’d like to take to the edge of the comfort zone, my Newsroom Bootcamp workshop may fit the bill. It’s safe, fun, serious workplace skills development — based on my newsroom theme. It’s training they’ll remember, and thank you for.

Let’s face it, blogs can be boring, so I keep these to six snappy paragraphs — do  spread the word if you find them amusing or helpful! 


Wasn’t it a perfect day?  Perfect weather, perfect bride, perfectly adorable bridesmaids and pageboys — even if the Most Rev Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon may have raised the eyebrow of whichever courtier was frantically trying to keep it all to time.  But a few days later, it provided me with a perfect example of why light and shade matters in news, and, I believe, in business.

The day after the photographs appeared of the happy couple in the grounds of the castle, word reached our regional newsroom that the photographer had been trained at Brighton University.  Regular viewers of the programme I work on will be aware that Brighton is well and truly deemed in our patch.

Further inquiry established that Alexi Lubomirski’s training was in fact in the late nineties, and he did now live a jet-set lifestyle based in New York.  So the question at our newsdesk became: should we (as the regional news service for Sussex) be covering the story at all?  And the answer, as the rousing Rev himself might have put it, was hell yeah.

News bulletins can be gloomy affairs.  Stories like this lift them.  The artist was happy to give us an interview, the University were happy to arrange shots of their current photography students, and I was interested to ask the students themselves what they made of it all.  My journalism that day won’t be winning any awards.  But I do think it will have put a smile on some faces.

What does your company do to put a smile on your staff’s faces?  An article I read recently made a link between productivity and happiness.  A no-brainer, perhaps.

But with the World Cup coming up, would a flexible attitude to working hours be an idea?  My suspicion?  Hell yeah!


If you’re looking for a teambuilding activity that will cheer your workforce up a bit (but give you the satisfaction of knowing you’ve challenged and developed them meaningfully too) why not give me a call to discuss a spot of my Newsroom Bootcamp


Many thanks to my 6 year old niece Sophie, and 4 year old neighbour Evie, whose portraits of the happy couple have helped me get around any copyright infringement risk if I’d shown you Alexi’s photographs. 

 

 

You’re busy, I’m busy — so I keep these tips, based on my newsroom life, to six paragraphs.  I love writing them, and hope you find them useful.

A few weeks ago I was asked if I would help out with a rota problem in our TV newsroom by producing the lunchtime news, rather than presenting it.  The idea intrigued me.

Producing a BBC news bulletin requires a very different skill-set from presenting or reporting.  It’s less about the writing and the story-telling.  Much more about the delegation, trust in the team, holding your nerve — you’re the one deciding what goes into the entire programme.   Here are three things it taught me.

  1. You’ll probably discover that the other job isn’t as easy as you thought. This is of course good, because only by going under the bonnet of a colleague’s working day can you develop the empathy required to be a really good team-mate.  I was reminded that there were a raft of unexpected little decisions to be made and tasks to be performed (newspapers read and monitored, captions chosen, on-screen graphics commissioned …)  That will help me next time I’m needing the lunchtime producer’s attention.
  2. You may well discover that the other job is a bit easier than you thought. And no, I don’t think that’s a contradiction to Point 1.  One of the things I quietly realised that morning was just how many other people there were to support me, waiting for me to delegate the tasks to them.  As someone in the newsroom who’s generally seen (amiably, I hope) as a bit of a control freak, that forced me to test a set of skills in myself.
  3. You may well enjoy a shot of pure adrenaline that will leave you bursting to tell your partner about your day when you get home.  I certainly did.  And not just because, with four minutes to air, two of our live connections to our reporters hadn’t yet been established, and one of my the two edited reports I needed to fill the bulletin wasn’t yet finished.  I’m quite used to holding my nerve filing a live report with minutes to spare — but it was quite a novelty to face last minute drama in the control room, with others looking to me for decisions on how we were going to fill an entire eleven minute news bulletin as the problems mounted.  The adrenaline was not from doing it, but discovering I could do it.

What reasons can you think of to try someone else’s job in your workplace?  Which members of your team could you switch around for the day, without compromising quality?   Of course, it will never be possible for everyone.  But with a bit of imagination and support, wouldn’t the personal development be worth the risk?  I’ve been working in TV news for almost 29 years.  But I think I’ll be a bit better at it tomorrow, than I was last month.

If you’d like me to create a little newsroom chaos in your workplace for a couple of hours, maybe we should chat about running one of my Newsroom Bootcamps for your staff?

This is the story of a 25 year old man who is dying of bone cancer. It’s a little longer than my usual posts. But I want to share it with you to help spread the word about the charities he is supporting — and tell you the precise wording of a question that has never failed to help me when interviewing people who may be nervous on camera, and when I may be nervous, too.

It was just after 2pm when I took the call from my News Editor. My assignment that afternoon would be to drive to the St Peter and St James Hospice in Chailey, about 40 minutes away, to meet David Willie, a young man who may have only months to live. He had been due to marry his girlfriend Olivia Meheux in early April, but after receiving the latest medical prognosis, they had brought the marriage forward by a month.

I set off from Brighton thinking hard. I was due to meet them within the hour, my report broadcast that evening. As a journalist, I am paid well to think of appropriate questions, in difficult circumstances, on tight deadlines. I make no apology for saying I felt anxious as I drove past the sun drenched daffodils along the drive to the hospice. I simply had to get this right.

I needn’t have worried. David and Olivia were smiling when we met, and remained smiling throughout the hour we spent together — as my cameraman George filmed David being craned into a wheelchair, and wheeled by his bride into the gardens to pat the donkeys in the meadow beyond. They chatted happily on camera in the hospice’s bright day room, talked us through their photo album, and then, as George moved quietly around them, got stuck into a game of Trivial Pursuit.

I had chosen four questions. I asked them how they had met, and what it was like planning a wedding in ten days. I asked them what their best memories of their wedding day were. And finally, the one question that reminds me without fail why I choose to be a reporter. “What” I asked them, “do you want people to think as they hear your story?”

“What do you want people to think tonight?” It is a question, I believe, that distils the essence of journalism. Yes, questions to those in power often need to be tough, and probing, perhaps crafty or blunt. But very often, we are interviewing those that feel power-less. Good journalism should surely hand over power, not display it. Hand power to those let down by authority. Hand power to victims of a crime. Hand power to a dying man and his bride with an urgent message.

“We want to tell people about the work of this hospice , the charity that helped us arrange the wedding, the campaigns (Sarcoma UK and Bone Cancer Research Trust) to tackle this disease, chondrosarcoma,” David and Olivia said. Olivia then added, as David nodded vigorously: “We don’t want people to feel sorry for us. We want them to be happy for us — yes, happy, that we got to have our special day.”

I look back on that hour with a happiness of my own, their gift to me, a special day of my own. It was one of the most privileged — and powerful — of my working life.

You can see David and Olivia in the BBC South East report here: https://vimeo.com/261075700

You’re busy, I’m busy, so I keep these thoughts to a few pithy paragraphs once a month — I hope you find them both amusing and useful!

A few years back, when I was on secondment training BBC journalists, I set myself a rather agreeable assignment.  I visited a local pub with my Iphone, and asked anyone who was prepared to talk to me if they knew what three particular phrases (often heard on the news) actually meant.    I wonder if you do?

  1. Judicial Review
  2. Government White Paper
  3. Government Green Paper

The results confirmed my hunch.  We journalists often forget one of our primary roles: to translate things.   Many of the drinkers in that pub had a decent stab at it, and I seem to remember that a couple got two out of three spot on, but most were rather perplexed.   (A judicial review, by the way, is when the courts step in to take a long hard look at a public decision; a government White Paper is what ministers want to do once they’ve sounded them out in an earlier set of ideas, their Green Paper.  I looked them all up to find out.)

I think my little experiment was a wakeup call for the journalists I was training, and I think there’s a lesson in there for business, too.  We don’t like to admit when we don’t know things, so we shelter behind a quiet hope that other people do.  Honestly?  How often have you written or approved a document for public consumption that you haven’t fully understood yourself, using phrases borrowed from someone a bit senior, in the blind hope that everyone else probably does understand them?

Here are a couple more, rather topical.

  1. Screenplay
  2. Customs Union

Confession time: I had to google ‘screenplay’ once to find out what all those earnest people were actually winning at the BAFTAS and Oscars — the Arts Correspondents never actually used the word ‘script’.   And I’m still wrestling with the difference between the Customs Union, a Customs Union, and the European Union.

It’s good to know I’m not alone thinking this.  Arnando Iannuci, the actor and director, made this very point in an excellent podcast a few weeks ago.  Reporters, executives, film-makers, politicians — we often speak the language we’re fluent in, and forget at our peril that not everyone in our audience has taken the advanced class.   So let me end on a challenge.  What phrases would you put in a Dictionary of your business’s jargon, and what would the translations be?

If you’d like a bit more from where that came from, do sign up for one tip a month here — and ask for a reduced rate if you book me for a workshop!

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