BUSHLOG photo archive WS Newsroom 5
From London Calling, September 1979

NEWS: A million words a day

by J.M. Laurie
Senior Duty Editor

NEWS, in many ways, is like art. A declaration of war or the assassination of a world leader are simply obvious -- like an old master or an exquisite jade carving. Most other world events, statements, international posturings or local crises are Giacometti figures -- undoubtedly important, but their appreciation or interest is a matter of personal choice bound up in our desires or tastes and our cultural and political environment.

So producing a service of news for the entire world is often an unenviable task. One man's accuracy is another's bag of lies. One country's misfortune often brings satisfaction to another. The appalling boredom that humanity is capable of feeling when told too often of, say, the death of thousands in an earthquake, eventually has to be swept away with injections of fresh events, the latest polemics, even more tragedy.

So perhaps it is just as well that the team of 100 men and women journalists who, day and night, in eight-hour shifts, man the Newsroom at Bush House in London, have between them more than 2,000 years of journalistic experience gained in most corners of the world.

The technology and methods used to gather then produce the news bulletins for the BBC World Service could fill a book. The vast network of correspondents - the millions of words that flow in daily, the deadlines, the studios, the transmitters. Without all these we would be lost. However, the important thing is what part of this enormous volume of information should be broadcast.

The need for accuracy is paramount. Other journalists on newspapers often have the freedom to accept just one source for a story and perhaps even a doubtful one at that. The BBC does not allow itself this freedom. Unless it is a staff correspondent reporting, then at least two trusted sources are the rule. And the frustration of waiting for a second source to verify an important story has to be experienced to be believed.

We know, too, that every time a story is broadcast the people actually involved may well be listening. They will know exactly what has happened - the newsroom will have, in many cases, perhaps only delayed accounts of it. It is little comfort to sit in an area that has been torn by war to hear the BBC World Service tell you that there is a lull in the fighting while outside your window shells are raining down.

But perhaps our greatest test is the enormously high standard set for us by the men who made the World Service what it is. This in a world where the unvarnished truth sounds vile to the ear turned by lashings of bias or dull to the ear doped by increasing dosages of what the trade calls "jazzed up" material.

So it isn't the high technology of the machinery we use to get the facts to us, then to you, that is the important thing about the news we bring you. It is the men and women who check and double check, write and re-write, consider and worry, then finally decide to go ahead and broadcast what they honestly believe to be the nearest to the truth that they can get. They are the people who make our output what we modestly like to think of as the finest radio news service in the world.
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