Television reporting is a pretty social affair. In normal times, reporters and camera staff wander around the country, having the conversations that inform their stories and filming footage that helps move the story along and illustrate the report.
It’s a visual medium – it matters what’s in the background and seeing what’s being talked about is as important as the words coming out of the reporter’s mouth. This has obviously been tricky through the lockdown. And every time we broadcast from location – Peterhead, the Royal Mile, emergency rooms – my inbox rapidly fills with messages asking us why we are leaving the office and breaking the government’s quarantine guidelines.
Some of the emails are well intentioned, others have accused me of deliberately putting reporters in harm’s way (one person told me I have blood on my hands).
“On two occasions I have watched interviews take place in hospitals where news presenters and crew with no protective equipment have been present,” one person wrote. This is unacceptable! I think you need to review your working practices.”
Journalists are key workers and the government has recognised that it’s important for news reporters to be out in the world to tell the stories surrounding this horrid illness. We need to travel to care homes, we need to be in the parks that are allegedly overrun with Scots looking for a bit of fresh air and exercise (and possibly the hint of a tan).
Seeing is believing, and journalists are the eyes and ears of the nation. Official reports are important, but we can’t simply accept everything the government tells us as fact. We need to report. We need boots on the ground. We need to observe and report what we find.
Some people believe television reporting requires several people – a reporter, a camera, maybe a sound person and a helper. That was once the case, but today’s reality is quite different. Our reporters have their own cameras and can gather everything they need on their own. They will occasionally have a camera person with them, but that’s about as bulky as a team will get.
I appreciate the concerns many have voiced about the welfare of our staff. We’ve taken measures to ensure their safety and have amended our operating policies to shield everyone we speak to from illness.
- Skype and video conferencing are our preferred methods of interviewing our sources. This is a good way to get voices onto the television without having to sit face-to-face.
- Of course, not everyone has Skype. Not everyone in Scotland has access to adequate WiFi or the technical know-how. In these cases, we will send a reporter to do the interview. They set up a microphone on a stand and then back up two meters. The interviewee then stands at the microphone. We’ve also sat outside windows as the person inside the home phones us to talk through the glass. Innovation is rampant.
- We will broadcast from a public location if the location is important to the story. A reporter standing on the Royal Mile to talk about empty streets doesn’t put anyone at risk and is in line with government guidance.
- When visiting key sites such as hospitals and care homes, we follow government guidance and wear appropriate protective equipment. We also maintain adequate social distancing. It’s also important to note we can’t just strut through the halls of hospitals – we ask first. The hospitals have important stories that need telling, and they are also inviting us in to help inform the public about their efforts and daily situations.
We spend a lot of time talking about whether it’s necessary to leave the office on each and every story. I think we’ve gotten it right, for the most part. When we’ve erred, it’s been on the side of caution. I can live with that. Safety will always come first – and that goes for our staff and every person we interview.