Friday, March 31, 2006

Amazement and Pride

I don’t know about you but when a police officer waves at me to pull in, I panic.

When a team of anti-terrorist officers start to search the car that you are travelling in, I feel most uneasy.

When this is taking place outside one of the most iconic and nominally powerful buildings in Britain, I feel guilty even though I’ve no cause to be.

Then when they finally separate the crowds of tourists to allow you to drive across the forecourt of Buckingham Palace, you’re amazed and honoured to be experiencing this.

On Wednesday 29th March 2006, Daddy received his OBE at Buckingham Palace. It was truly amazing. As we drove into the palace, you suddenly realise the scale of what is happening.

We arrived at a little after ten in the morning and walked up the stairs into the palace. As Daddy pointed out, when you normally entire a stately home, you’re not allowed to sit on the furniture. Here you had to.

As Daddy was briefed, we were greeted by a charming former RAF man who guided us slowly to our seats. He complemented Mother on her ‘handsome escorts’ and made us very comfortable in what could be an intimidating location.

We sat in the Palace Ballroom with a very fine Household band playing and I met the family of the woman I interviewed who was receiving an MBE for her work with the Guides; one of those random encounters. Everyone was smiling.

Just after eleven, SHE entered (smaller than you expect and wearing a similar green suit to Mother). Then ninety-eight people went before her; some famous (Tom Jones, the Beverley sisters), some politicians (Lord Ashdown) and some truly amazing stories (my lady from the Guides, the fire and police chiefs). Amongst all of these was my Father. He had done something so good that he warranted this.

When it came to his turn, my Father looked good, standing straighter than he as ever done before. Though christened Juris, my Mother has always called him George (the translation) as he suggested when they first met at University. During their marriage, Mother married ‘George Juris’ at the vicar’s error. Whilst most people only had one name read out, Daddy managed to be announced as ‘Juris George’ which meant such a huge amount to my Mother and to us all. It made the ceremony so personal and ‘ours’. When we left afterwards you could not help but smile.

Tea and champagne at the club, Sandwiches at the flat, a walk to Tate Modern and then a fantastic meal at the club. We celebrated (and drank) the afternoon away.

It is very hard to describe why it was so special and why it was so enjoyable but it made you feel part of something great that few people would see.

The ceremony, the grandeur were great but the personal, family-feel to the day will make it one to remember.

But it still amazes me that it’s now Daddy OBE, officially.

And I’m astonished that the Police let me anywhere near it all!


Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Journalism Trip to London

I’ve been meaning to write this for a few days but have been searching for a suitable structure for the work. Having failed to find one, I think a quick report will be best to do a quick skip through all that we did in the few days in London and, more interestingly, what I’ve learnt through these experiences.

Tuesday 21/03/06

The morning was taken up with the journey south and the organisation of hotel rooms (weirdly my French came in to sort out rooms as the hotel was part of a major French chain and all the staff seemed to struggle with English).

Then across to BBC TV Centre where the new BBC journalism college is based. Thus followed a fascinating afternoon of talks and presentations. We met Ben Brown (you know, the Kate Adie wannabe who seems to pop up wherever a war takes place_ whose ego seemed to be only equalled in size by the list of the conflicts and countries he had seen.

We then had the Director of BBC Editorial Policy. I found all of this very disturbing. For me, he seemed to highlight the bureaucracy at the heart of the BBC. It also made me worried that, ultimately, one man was responsible for all that went out on the BBC editorially. Big Brother – like censorship came to mind and at time so much of his thinking seemed to rely on a general ethos of the institution rather than a set policy.

Next up was Vin Ray who gave a lecture on story-telling which was fascinating and confirmed all that we had been taught over the last few months. In a way, all the theory and practice suddenly made sense. He spoke in a very concise, quiet manner which was engaging and riveting.

That evening I met with Daddy for a drink or two (!) which was really pleasant; it was great to spend some time just he and I. Then I met the others at the pub before a night cap at the hotel bar.

Wednesday 22/03/06

Wednesday was Parliament day. We were at parliament bright and early and I picked up my ticket to see Prime Minister’s Questions and The Budget. I met the lady in Central Lobby which was huge (bigger than it looks on TV) and there was a real buzz about the place. Next was our tour which was fascinating; the Commons is smaller than you imagine, the sense of being at the centre of something greater.

I then had the privilege of seeing PMQs and the Budget at first hand. Government suddenly came alive. The interaction between the politicians was not ‘yah-boo’ but to me seemed like real discussion and ensuring that the best is done for ‘the people.’ The systems if debate may be antiquated but what people aim to achieve great. Also, Tony Blair is shorter than you imagine and David Cameron younger.

Next up was a visit to BBC Millbank where the Budget programme was going out and all the discussion of the political ramifications. This was a cramped space but also seemed close in its attitudes. It seemed more than a little old fashioned and a tad out of touch. I did wonder if this was part of the reason that young people are not engaged in politics; not because of the politicians but because of the way which they are reported. It seemed a very closed world and slightly introverted. A world so focussed on the politics that it missed the population who they were trying to inform.

The afternoon brought us a group of engaging speakers: Nick Clegg (nice but a little woolly and never answers questions), Julia Hobsbawn (so stuck in PR that she can’t see it) and Liz Parratt Head of the Parliamentary Media Centre (interesting and charged with the tricky job of bringing parliament’s media coverage into 2006).

After all of that we were shattered though a quick drink, a curry on Brick Lane and a pint made us feel better before we headed bed-wards.

Thursday 23/03/06

The last day dawned and Sky News called. Rather fearful that this was going to be Murdoch controlled, we arrived. It was wonderful. OK, it was shiny, new and glossy and the general show-business won us over but there was something more. Rather than having the studio and news room separate, this combined the two and where one started and the other stopped was at times hard to tell. The journalistic and broadcast elements were not separated but fundamentally mixed, just as they should be. The people were welcoming and there was a real buzz about the place. Instead of hating it, I do wonder about working there.

After lunch in Covent Garden, our last stop called, BBC World Service. This seemed to be the purest form of BBC journalism with almost impossibly high ideals. Again, it did seem like all these people worked in isolation and that there was a sort of ‘old boys’ network but there was also a genuine sense of trying to do the utter best for the listener and the greater God of Journalism.

On the train home, I was left thinking. Journalists are terrified. They worry that no-one will listen and use all sorts of techniques to make people tune in (shown by Sky’s modern gadgets aim to woo people). They fear that they will not be believed or trusted (shown by the BBC Editorial Director’s role and World Service’s defence of ideals). They fear that the politicians will take their powers away and render the journalist’s work impossible (shown by the closed atmosphere of Millbank despite the dynamism of Parliament). I do wonder if they should try and forget all of this and focus on the job of good journalism. But, perhaps, the one thing that most fascinated me and made me most want to be a journalist was these journalists’ fear that they would not do the best possible job and fulfil their important role in society.


Thursday, March 16, 2006

So who would be a journalist?

After the last ten days, I really do wonder.

I sit here at three in the morning when I would be better served to sleeping (tried and failed) or working (ditto). My brain is in that state where unthinking tasks such as filing and writing agendas for meetings is much more possible and, frankly, more fulfilling. Yet the muse overcame me.

I mean, I’ve had one of those weeks. Sit down to edit an interview and irretrievably delete it. Turn up to an interview and the minidisk decides it does not like working. The last TV news days have been technological nightmares. Reports not coming together or if they did in an unwatchable fashion ….

Then there have been the stories which have collapsed. After two days reading rather dry Local Transport Plans (who said journalism was glamorous?!), I try to get an interview with the councillor involved who then decides he’s too busy.

The hours spent moving small bits of sounds around at random hours of the day and night. The constant wandering about, looking for a story and the hundreds of questions you need to ask all the time.

And yet …

Being nosey is quite fun. You hear all the stories that people would not be able to tell otherwise. Like the Stocksbridge brass band. In constant struggle but still a marvellous example of success in a trying world. Or the Council’s General Market Manager who tells me that he has had far tougher questioning in the past, not realising that his natural tone and attitude towards his traders when faced with a friendly me was far more revealing. There’s a certain satisfaction in exposing the story and doing your utter best.

Then there are the fun bits. I received my first press pass in the post the other day. OK it was to a Brass Band Contest but once again I was allowed to walk around with utter freedom. I can sit in Courts and Council Meetings where others are chucked out. I have a privileged position in society and that’s great.

Just this afternoon I got a call from an MP’s security saying that they had managed to get a ticket for me to see the budget. Live. In the Commons. Not everyone gets that.

So who would be a journalist? Well me. And at this moment, despite the issues, I’m proud to call myself one.