I’ve been meaning to blog about this for a couple of days now, but I’ve been working on a presentation that was planned for this afternoon, which got cancelled last minute. And that’s ‘last minute’ as in I arrived at the uni, ready to present, only to discover I had travelled down for nothing. Grumble, grumble.
Anywho, last week I got invited to a special guided tour of the ITV London News studio. Now I don’t actually watch the news; I don’t hassle with “normal” TV anymore and most news I find out via the web anyway. I almost declined the invitation for that reason. But the chance to go behind the scenes at a news station? Doesn’t come very often I’d think (not for me at least).
So last Friday (after a good Social Media Cafe) I made my way down to the ITV studios on Gray’s Inn Road. Of course, I managed to be 10 minutes late, but it didn’t matter that much; the first half an hour was for drinks and introductions. (Sidenote: I didn’t take any notes at all, I’m doing most of this based on what I remember. Sorry, if I get any names/titles/facts/etc wrong). I met up in the lobby with Jack, one of the writers on the ITV Local London Blog, and also the person who had invited me. After going upstairs, I met the four other bloggers also there for the tour: Ben Locker, Ludovic from Richmond Transits, The Brinkster and Rob from About Mayfair. We got introduced to a bunch of people from ITV Local London branch (Juliette, Casey, Colin and two others who’s names I’ve forgotten, sorry!) and then started with the tour.
We first had a quick look around of the ITV Local offices, where most of the (web) content was taken care of. After that we hopped over to the building next door, the ITN headquarters, where both the ITV national news and the local news is recorded. We first got to see the newsroom, where all the news is collected and edited into editorials. The desks are arranged here as circles within circles, all centering around one active point (called the hub or the pit). Half of the room was for the national news, while the other half was for the local news. I have to mention the monitor set-up here (cuz me wantz!): most desks had 3-4 monitors, some with an extra 3 smaller monitors stacked vertically above each other, all displaying a different news channel. Yes, this was the place where news was made.
The editor of the London Tonight News, Stuart Thomas, then took some time to explain what he was doing. With the help of some special news software (it was called something like NewsEdit), he was working on one of the editorials for the program that night about surfing dogs. The funny subject matter aside, it looked very similar to Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere, where you can select the parts of film you want and add a separate audio track to it. Besides that, he could see (and edit) the schedule of the program that night, including which news items weren’t finished yet and which were live on location.
We then got a quick look at the London Tonight studio. It look exactly like on TV: comfy couch, grey interior and a big LCD screen with a view of London. The national news studio, on the other hand, is completely green screen. Okay, the desks, chairs and people are real… but everything else? Green screen. The first thing I noticed when entering that studio were the dozens and dozens of target-like plates hanging from the ceiling (I wish I was allowed to take a picture of that). The idea is that every camera uses these targets (by pointing a laser, I presume) to determine it’s location and thereby determining how the virtual news room should be correctly mapped onto the image it’s recording. Pretty nifty, right?
The highlight of my visit though had to be sitting in the gallery, seeing the news being “put together” live. We arrived there before the actual broadcast to see the presenters (Alastair Stewart and Salma Siraj) record some smaller voiceover bits which would be used later on. I’m not sure if they were putting on a show for us bloggers, or if it was because of the last-day-of-the-week syndrome that is Friday, or if they’re always like that, but both Alastair and Salma were cracking jokes and giggling while they were off-air. The moment they started to record though: pure professionals. Brilliance!
Then we got to the actual broadcast. During this, there were 5 people at the control panel: the director, who operates the video switcher and selects/controls/mixes all the elements of the show; the audio technician, who is in charge of the audio (duh), microphones and music; a production assistant, who takes care of the autocue; the editor, who makes sure all there are no problems with the editorials, and a fifth person (not sure anymore what they called her, for now I’ll refer to her as the timer, for lack of a better word) who makes sure the timing within the overall half slot is perfect. This last task is what makes a broadcasting so hectic: they’re given a half an hour time slot and it has to be exactly half an hour. Not a minute longer, not a minute shorter. Exactly half an hour. Throughout the broadcast an estimate of the end time is given with “plus” and “minus” indicating “over” and “under” time.
You’d think the presenters “only” have to read off the autocue, but they’re doing so much more. During the broadcasting, the director and the timer are both giving directions through their earpiece. I don’t know about you, but could you read out something aloud, while you’re listening to something else? I couldn’t. Then when they’re a minute over, they have to speed up another segment, without it being too obvious to the viewer. And it’s even more difficult, when they’re a minute under; they have to start ad libbing bits. Another cool bit was the live report, where you saw the reporter getting ready on location. What made it even better for me, was that “on-location” was my local bus garage; I was just there that morning! From all the places a live report could have been, it was a place I knew (okay, okay, there was a strike and that’s a pretty big bus garage, but still).
After our stint in the gallery, some time was reserved to blog about the tour, which would be followed by drinks at the pub. It was a friend’s birthday party though, so I had to leave earlier than all the others. All in all, it was a great day. This experience really has given me much more appreciation of everybody involved in putting the news on our telly. Thanks, ITV Local for inviting me!