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January 26, 2007

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SpeakUp winners go to ITN

“I try to be pragmatic, because we want to get the story whenever and wherever it happens, which could mean sending a news team into a war zone, a riot or a natural disaster”, Steve Nicklin, health and safety manager for ITN tells us.

Steve is an IOSH member, and has invited the SpeakUp second prize winners Jack Storry, Anthony Webb and Matt Poole, along with teacher Mick Carroll, to spend a day with him at ITN offices that are based in London.

One of the world’s leading multimedia content companies, ITN produces content for ITV, Channel 4, More4, 300 commercial radio stations through Independent Radio News, all UK mobile phone operators, Google, film producers and researchers worldwide.

The people here need to be ready for anything, but they all look incredibly calm. The newsroom isn’t noisy and there’s no one running around waving news scripts in the air. News gathering is getting quicker and easier thanks to developing technology, which means that journalists can get everything they need from their desk. The whole building is an ad hoc studio, which explains the camera set up at one end of the newsroom floor. Interviews can take place here, in the corridor or the boardroom, as well as in one of the TV studios.

Working at ITN brings staff face to face with extreme and unpredictable risks. The hostile environment and first aid training (HEFAT) is mandatory for all journalists and crews who are likely to run into the kind of situations your average person would run away from. But they also have to deal with risks from stalkers, studio equipment, off-road driving, emergencies like the July London bombings, extreme weather and health scares.

The equipment needed to report the news is getting smaller and lighter, but that doesn’t mean the process is any easier. Steve shows us into the ‘war room’, which looks like a props store for ‘Full Metal Jacket’. There are stab vests, flak jackets, first aid kits, helmets and MREs (meals ready to eat) stacked and ready for crews to grab as they go into dangerous situations. A vest, camera and additional kit can add at least 30lbs onto your average cameraman.

It feels like we’re playing newscaster bingo. Krishnan Guru-Murthy, main anchor of the Channel 4 News at Noon walks into the pink-tinted Channel 4 News offices. Nicholas Owen is talking to his programme editor in the ITV newsroom as Steve takes us from place to place.

Watching the ITV lunch time news from the control room is exhausting. The director, programme editor, production assistant and lighting director are all talking to each other, as well as to the people in the studio and the newscasters. They make changes to the bulletin in the breaks and rewrite the scripts with only seconds to air. And because the network will cut to adverts when their time is up, they have to run on schedule.

Our SpeakUp winners all read a short news bulletin to camera, and try their best to distract their teacher when he has a go. He carries on regardless, but confuses Warrington with Washington and transfers a news story to a different country. At least it wasn’t a live transmission.

Steve’s job puts him in the thick of production, and he has to understand how to work with journalists and crews. “Generally, people are good at taking my advice. But I do have to say no from time to time when a production team wants to do something particularly dangerous. Like filming a presenter snorting live ants, or perching a weather presenter on the roof of a barn.” See www.itn.co.uk for more information.

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