BUSHLOG photo archive World Service Newsroom 18
"Telling the world the world news" booklet, published by BBC External Services, Summer 1978
. . . 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.

Colin Thatcher Ed Greene Derek Maggs Chris Cooke David Spaull Jane Cole Andrew D'Antal David Powers 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.

Newsroom photo. Clockwise around the desk: Colin Thatcher, Ed Greene, Derek Maggs, Chris Cooke?, David Spaull, Hindi or Urdu translator, Jenny Cole, Andrew D'Antal, David Powers.