From late Thursday night through to early Friday morning a team of young, highly dedicated and passionate university journalists combined their zealous efforts to put together a truly memorable election coverage broadcast. This experience was the first of its kind for me, a novice in the field of broadcast journalism, but gradually I realised how easy it can be once you stave off the woes of an all-nighter and embrace the sheer impact of a once-every-four-year event: the general election.
May 6th 2010. This is the date of a day in my time as a first year journalist at Winchester University I will certainly never forget. Ignore all the fancy, glorified TV leaders debates that preceded it, and the overwhelming swell of hype surrounding the race to power that the media fostered; this was an event that I was a part of – not on the sidelines, but at the very heart of its thriving operation.
To begin with, after we had been given a run-through of our roles, responsibilities and had received some swift directions as to how to behave correctly in a live studio environment, there was a noticeable apprehension among the ebullient first year journalists – my colleagues. While the matured 2nd and 3rd year students flitted back and forth in preparation for a job they had been programming themselves to get done efficiently, we bumbled about awaiting instructions from management (lecturers, graduates and WINOL* journalists).
Once the call came for us to put on our game faces we were ready. But ready to do what exactly? The answer to that question was not hard to discern from the buzzy of activity engulfing the newsroom, news studio and the main media artery between it: chaos. Right from the word GO we were thrust into the torrent of election information, wrestling with the anticipation of which constituency was going to whom. The battle for the UK’s political power exploded into a glood of ballot papers, which were to determine the outcome of this election after four hard weeks of electioneering.
For me the greatest rush of the night was to be found working on the studio frontline, overseen by the constant vigil of the cool and collected ‘gallery ghosts’ (I call them ghosts because when you’re in charge of a camera half of what you hear are the commands issued from the gallery – their attentive whispers). At first I was unsure of my role, but then a serious 2nd year landed me with the duty of boom mike operator. What followed for me was four hours of laying down on a cold studio floor, lifting the mike to record the sofa guests’ voices without it cropping up in shot and, generally, being a studio grunt.
Now, that might sound like a bit of a negative portrayal of my duties, but it was far from boring. I was right in front of the cameras, although not in the same way as the studio guests and presenters; I was on the frontline, hearing all the announcements and witnessing the changing reactions of the rest of the news team as the night’s dubious operation got underway.
At points it was bittersweet. Equipment failed, Skype (the medium through which we acquired outside broadcasts from vote counts around the region) connection was blurry at best and sometimes you just felt like you were going to collapse like the unstable broadcast signal. But all the while you knew you were contributing to something immensely important and influential to your future.
After my gritty stint as boom mike operator I took on the responsibilities of the 3rd studio camera. Camera work, regardless of your position in relation to the relevant feed, is highly engaging. You’re watching the live feed for yourself and getting a personal glimpse at the real nature of spontaneous presenting and discussion. While I managed on the studio floor I was also simultaneously focused on keeping a taped record of the work in progress, although this was a bit confusing and eventually individual tasks became shared opportunities between team members in order to maintain the pace of the output.
Everyone was fantastic throughout the whole affair, but for me, and I’m sure I can vouch for everyone else when I say this, the man of the hour was definitely Graham Bell. Completely suited for the job, 100% capable of delivering the instantaneous charm expected of a professional presenter and as well-informed about the updates of the night as any BBC reporter, Graham was the glitter coating the whole performance. My favourite moments included his droll mock-advertising of Chris Horrie’s book Tory Nation and the witty banter exchanged between himself and another star presenter, Tom Otrebski – those two could easily be a first class comedy double-act. Claire Ysbrandy also put in an admirable shot as presenter, filling in for Graham – a tough seat to fill.
The night itself was, for us, dominated by the increasing tension revolving around the undecided condition of the Winchester constituency vote. All the while we were left wondering whether the Lib Dems, under the amicable Martin Tod, would retain the seat they’d held since 1997 under Mark Oaten, or if the Conservative candidate, Steve Brine, would snatch it out from under the resident party’s feet. This impending prospect of a result was ballooning as the minutes ticked by and turned into hours, But, after delays of an hour and then another half hour, at exactly 5:32 am we got the final count conclusion: Winchester was another Tory gain.
Relief washed over the weary news team as the night reached its apex, at least for us. Us first years bundled into the media centre and shared celebratory sips from a bottle of champagne, provided by one of our reporters in the field, Andrew Giddings. We had started working as the sun set on Thursday evening and had completed the job as it started to rise on Friday morning. It had been exhausting work – the first ever time I’d pulled a political all-nighter – but it was worth every second.
I’d like to sign off this article with a big thanks to the whole crew who made the event possible; I had a fantastic time. An extra thanks in particular to Chris Horrie and Brian Thornton for giving us this chance to participate in what can only be described as an event I’ll keep stored away for a long time to come. Close auto cue.
*WINOL – Winchester News Online – type that into Google and get set for the best student journalism you’ll find on the web!