. . and often a big story
WHAT HAPPENS when a big story breaks without warning in the Bush
House newsroom? It may start with a short news agency 'flash' on
the teleprinter. The copytaster (who sees hundreds of news stories
every day) passes it straight to the head of the central writing
unit. It comes from a capital city and claims that a revolution
has started in the neighbouring country's capital. It refers to
reports of heavy fighting and many casualties, but quotes no clear
or official source.
A bulletin in English is due on the air in ten minutes. But the
'revolution' report cannot be included as it stands. It could be
a gross exaggeration. It might even be quite untrue. Yet the bulletin
is going to be heard in the capital where the struggle is said to
be happening. So it's ridiculous not to mention it. But worse still
to be wrong.
A quick telephone call is made to the BBC Monitoring Service at
Caversham, near Reading, to see if any radio station in the country
has mentioned the story. Nothing so far. Calls to other news agencies
are also negative. A message is sent by telephone, cable or telex,
whichever is quickest or most feasible, asking the BBC's local part-time
correspondent in the capital (the 'stringer') for a report. A couple
more paragraphs come through from the original news agency, but
they don't dispel the doubt. The editor of BBC External Services
News cannot just wait and see: he discusses the possible movement
of staff correspondents.
The newsreader begins the bulletin and the teleprinters are still
churning out other stories. The copytaster goes on leafing through
sheaves of other material. Sub-editors toil at other pieces of news.
The impasse is broken by Monitoring Service with a 'snap' quoting
the radio station of the country concerned as saying that troops
loyal-to the government have put down an attempted coup. Seconds
later, another agency report chimes in with the news that fighting
is still going on. It doesn't add up. But it's enough to be certain
that something is HAPPENING at any rate.
A sub-editor composes a cautious item stating the points common
to all reports, and it is rushed to the studio and handed to the
newsreader as he comes to the end of an item. Later the newsreader
includes it in the 'repeat headlines' at the end of the bulletin.
Back in the newsroom, two regional desks with foreign language
bulletins on the air in five minutes have warned translators (by
telephone) that the item is on its way. By now, newsagency copy
is pouring in and a writer is putting together a considered version
for following bulletins.
The desk dealing with the actual language of the country has a
bulletin going out in half-an-hour. This team wants fuller story
than anyone else will need, but must take the utmost care to keep
its contents accurate and balanced.
The BBC's local 'stringer' may be able to read an on-the spot despatch
to Bush House in time for the next edition of Radio Newsreel. If
not, the BBC foreign correspondent nearest the troublespot will
come through with something from his own local contacts. In this
instance, it has been decided to keep him on base to slot the story
into its regional context. Another staff correspondent will go in
to do first hand reports. Quick arrangements have to be made to
get him there.
The story will now be swiftly absorbed into general output. It
will be re-written every time there is a significant new development.
But it takes more than a single story to make a bulletin and all
this time reports of other events around the work have been jostling
for attention. Other writers have been dealing with them. New bulletins
follow old. Old stories are trimmed and finally drop out of sight
to make way for the new. It's a non-stop process, 24 hours a day,
every day of the year.