Newsroom For The Nineties
THERE is one part of Bush House which excites the
curiosity of visitors more than any other, and that is the newsroom.
It is the heart of BBC External Services, pumping out World Service
news on the hour and much, much more besides, and around that steady
heartbeat the rest of the programme schedules are built.
Those visitors who do get the chance to see the newsroom
- and as it is a busy working area, sightseers are a fortunate few
- sometimes appear vaguely disappointed. Perhaps they expected something
closer to the national newspaper office beloved of film-makers,
complete with scurrying copy boys, hacks typing, telephoning and
chain-smoking all at the same time and city editors yelling "Get
me a rewrite man!
Although the Bush House newsroom is one of the biggest
radio newsrooms in the world, with around 110 journalists and 140
support staff working on eight-hour shifts, the atmosphere is not
like that of a newspaper tied to daily edition deadlines.
It has been described, in no disparaging way, as a
"news factory". Apart from the world news bulletins in
English as heard on World Service, the newsroom produces regional
variations on its central output, with individual items either simplified
or elaborated on before being translated by the 36 vernacular services.
It also produces every 24 hours three Newsdesks, News About Britain,
British Press Review, three Radio Newsreels and similar newsreels
for the Australian and New Zealand broadcasting services. The users
of the material produced are regarded as "customers",
with the 24-hour World Service the most prominent among them. Altogether
the newsroom produces some 200 news bulletins every 24 hours --
or one every seven minutes -- so if the staff worked themselves
up to fever pitch whenever they hit a deadline" there would
be nervous breakdowns all round! That's not to say there is no sense
of urgency, simply that the continual updating process that is international
radio news-gathering is handled in a controlled, disciplined manner.
It has a long tradition, after all: the central bulletin can claim
to be the oldest in the world - It has simply been updated continuously
since the '30s!
The newsroom is dominated by clocks, but they are
clocks set at different times to reflect the difficulties of news
gathering across global time-zones. Variable reception quality and
the special needs of translators are further complications which
make working in the Bush House newsroom a unique proposition for
The questions they must ask themselves remain the
same, however: what are the most significant, important and interesting
world events of the moment as seen from here in London? The watchword
in serving up the news is not speed but accuracy. The house rule
is that every story - except those of BBC staff correspondents -
must be checked with and confirmed by at least two trusted, independent
sources. Of course speed is important, but better the correct story
on the next bulletin than a doubtful story now.
Apart from accuracy, the news must be presented factually,
with all opinions attributed, and impartially - both sides of an
argument presented in a balanced manner, if not within a story at
least over a period of time. And one thing is never forgotten --
it has to be interesting...
-- Steve Weinman