BUSHLOG photo archive World Service Newsroom 21
Segment on a special feature in the BBC World Service magazine "London Calling", July 1988
A 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 journalists.

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