You’ve got 45 minutes to tell everyone all the news from the world for that day. There’s a challenge.
Imagine having access to all the events that are happening in the world on your doorstep and then having sift, sort and cull them into 45 minutes without leaving out essential information or showing bias to particular people or places.
Add to the mix urgency, the need for accuracy, checking facts, adopting the right tone and making it relevant and understandable to the audience, and you’re starting to get an idea of how complicated it actually is to deliver the news.
Channel 7 Brisbane News Director Ross Dagan is the man who makes many of the final decisions, who foresees impending issues and who steers and supports everyone on the newsroom team. Not surprisingly, this is a position with all the gravitas you might expect — decisions are not made lightly — and if something was to go wrong, the burden of that falls on the shoulders of this man.
“It is team decision-making,” he says, “but obviously the buck stops with me. However in terms of how the day rolls out, it relies on the expert knowledge from a number of people to get to the point where we are comfortable where the bulletin ends up.”
“Basically, the newsroom is divided into two sections – getting it into the building and getting it out of the building.”
It all starts very early with the Chief of Staff, Warren Evans. “He gets a sense of what he knows is going on for the day and gets a sense of the stories we’ll be following. He looks at what we already knew about and planned to cover or things that have been breaking overnight, then he makes the judgment about how we allocate crews and journos for the day.”
After connecting up on an early morning conference call, Dagan and his team go through what they know and make a judgment about where to put their resources for the day. Dagan says he always asks one thing: “What are the most interesting stories and what are the stories most relevant to our audience? Then we make some decisions about how the day will unfold and how we will gather our news.
“It is a 24-hour operation but there are key points during the day where some critical decisions are made which will influence the direction and the end result of the program.”
One of the people who is a very important part of the end result is news presenter Bill McDonald. His recognisable face possesses those essential qualities — the ability to be trusted and to create a sense of connection with the audience. And even though he makes it look easy, McDonald admits there are some pressure points in his day.
“Making sure you are prepared and primed just before 6pm is always a pressure point. But today specifically, I would have to say it’s being ready to deliver breaking news at any moment. People want to see the news as it happens, so whether it be a big trial verdict, dangerous police chase or other major emergency, we break into programming and go live literally within seconds.
“Jumping into the news chair to anchor that sort of coverage brings pressure to think on your feet, gather information rapidly and work in closely with the rest of the team. Our promise to Seven News viewers is to be the first on air and provide the best coverage of breaking news.”
Sharyn Ghidella, the other half of the news presenting team, is an expert at looking cool, calm and collected under all circumstances. And even though she somehow makes this look effortless, she points out gently that is it similar to a swan gliding on a lake, looking serene but paddling furiously under the surface.
“The times of highest stress vary because we never know what’s going to happen from day-to-day. Some days it might be pretty straightforward, you know what you’re doing and everything works according to the normal schedule of the day. But then you’ll have a huge news story break like Baden-Clay where everything gets thrown out the window in terms of the schedule, and we have to just pick up the slack and work in the constraints that come with that. But it really depends on the deadlines that create the pressure and the stress for me.
“It’s getting everything clear in your head, knowing exactly what’s going on and then being able to sit down and look completely relaxed at news time like nothing has gone on beforehand. We don’t get a second chance to do it, the news goes to air at 6 o’clock no matter what.”
McDonald adds: “It never stops, really, in this day and age of the constant news cycle. Before you go to bed you make sure you are across stories that are or may be breaking for the next day. It means tracking all forms of media — TV, radio, internet, newspaper and social. With so much happening you filter out the material that is not important and concentrate on the issues relevant to your audience and area. With breaking news it’s important to keep across as many areas as possible because you never know when you may need to call on it.”
In complete agreement about the sheer volume of information out there and the difficulties that poses, Ghidella muses: “It’s certainly becoming more complex, particularly with social media now becoming part of the overall mainstream media. We have to take note of Twitter, Facebook and various other mediums that we didn’t have to deal with before and the hardest thing is processing all of that and churning it down into something that is digestible and easy to understand and that we can then convey to our audience so they know what is important in regards to the news agenda.
“You are swamped by news now, 24/7. The cycle just keeps going. And that is the most difficult thing to do but it’s also what we are trained to do — take very complex issues, whittle them down and make them easier to understand.”
However large the volume of news, there are some stories that always stick out and are easily remembered (or perhaps unable to be forgotten, depending on the content). For McDonald, there are two in particular that hold sway for him. “The natural disasters in Queensland, particularly cyclones and the Brisbane floods, because they impacted so many people’s lives and caused destruction and disruption on such a large scale. I think it’s important for the media to inform and assist during these tough times.”
He pauses, then adds: “The other event would be the trial of Daniel Morcombe’s killer. I don’t know anyone who wasn’t touched by this story and the relentless efforts of Daniels family and police investigators to get justice for Daniel. It was of enormous public interest. I was reporting live from the Sunshine Coast site where Daniel was taken, which has since become a public memorial. I was there for the verdict and touched by the outpouring of emotion and grief that community expressed for one of their own. It made you want to go above and beyond to share that sentiment with people who were watching our live coverage around Australia. I was proud to do that alongside such a hardworking and dedicated team of colleagues who all wanted to do the same for Daniel.”
For Ghidella, the stories that hit close to home are the ones she holds onto. “The ones that stick the most are the ones that hit home with me on a personal level. For example, Cyclone Larry, because my parents were affected by that and I had to go up there and report on it. Then of course the Brisbane floods were a massive event, but I was also personally involved because our home was flooded.
“I’d just had a small child, he was only five weeks old, and so we were going through all of that and then I had to come back and report on the floods. When your neighbours are involved and it’s your home and your neighbour’s home that has just gone under, it really affects you in a completely different way. Why? Because you actually are part of the story as well as reporting on the story.”
Each person on the Channel Seven news team is passionate, dedicated and an expert in their particular role (with some key members having been on staff for upward of 15 years). It is obvious the glue that holds this program together is the people, the way they approach their jobs and the genuine pride they take in delivering the news.
This is what the Channel 7 news team had to say about what they do…
Annette Caltabiano: Makeup, Hairdresser, Autocue
“From 3pm onwards is when it starts to get busy for hair and makeup but we are constantly doing things throughout the day — doing the makeup as different journalists and newsreaders arrive at various times, hair and face touch-ups, clothing repairs, stain removals, there is always something to do. Luckily we’ve never had a failure, just every day mishaps — a coffee stain, a button that has fallen off — which we can fix easily.
“When you’re in charge of the Autocue, there are many things you need to be aware of and keep your eye on to make sure it all runs smoothly. The scripts are changed all the time as stories and edited or adjusted as the news unfolds. One of the most important points is the ability to roll the script in time with the reader and if Autocue goes down (which almost never happens), the presenters have hard copies so they are always, always covered.”
Jamie Wilson: Specialist ENG Camera person
“The main challenge of this role is exclusivity and getting there first. Then once you arrive, you need to be able to relate to the people who are involved in the story – connect, comfort, chat or capture on film. There are so many elements to a cameraman’s role. Many people don’t realise but we are often first at the scene before the journalists so we need to be able to get people to tell their story, find the best angles and engage with everyone at the site. Also the number of cameramen out capturing the news is larger than people expect — typically we have over 12 cameramen out every single day, finding the news first and delivering it back to the station.”
Laurie Mooney: Audio Director
“Can you save bad audio? Good question, and actually, with the computer software available today, you’d be surprised at how much we can recover or salvage if the recording was bad. Also, another challenge with capturing usable audio is the interviewees themselves. Since they do not have any experience or background in being interviewed, often their speech can be muffled or slurred, especially if the scene is traumatic. And that can create problems back at the station.”
Oliver Eather: Graphic Artist
“There is no limit to the number of graphics that can be required for the 6pm news. Often we are required to create last minute graphics, and that puts a lot of pressure on us. As a starting point, there are usually 10-15 major stories, plus sports stories, so the number can get quite high. There are so many different types of graphics that can be used as well, from explainographics, maps, court statements to over-the-shoulder graphics – it’s about choosing the one that will best explain the story to our viewer.”
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