“Newsday” Postgraduate Leadership Event

No one said journalism would be easy, but it was even harder than we made it look. Here’s why.

April 25 2022

On March 16th, around 20 postgraduate students (including myself and Chandula Wanasinghe) were tasked with collectively producing a 25-minute live news broadcast. Multiple segments were to be included, such as “vox pops”, fake news stories (including interviews with actors), and a live cocktail disaster master class. Technically we succeeded… But in a much more literal sense we failed comprehensively. It would not be an exaggeration to say we fell at every hurdle – including the one’s that came provided with steps.

Chandula and I worked together to report on one of the fake news stories – a child falling into the University of Bath Pond[1]. To bring a less serious edge to the story Chandula suggested we push some buttons when interviewing the negligent mother. We even contemplated accusing her friend, an activist who had previously lobbied for better safety precautions around the pond, of deliberately pushing the child into the water with the intention of raising awareness for her campaign. Luckily, we never required this plan, as a fictional University of Bath representative arrived to spice things up. Chandula showed no compassion in the editing suite– arranging each comment to fit the narrative he liked most whilst also showing the worst side of everyone involved. It was truly beautiful to behold.

14:15 – High praise and high hopes 

If you had attended the mid-day briefing (led by the producer, assistant producer, and director) you would have been forgiven for feeling a false sense of optimism towards the 5:30pm live broadcast. Indeed, Alex Lovell, a current BBC Points West presenter, gave a glowing review of the director (Jasper), saying his initial performance during the first run-through was the most professional she had witnessed during her participation with the Newsday event. Unfortunately, Jasper wouldn’t have opportunity to recreate this performance, as to be a good director, you first need something to direct…

14:45 – An apprentice parody

I think most people imagine that they could do better than the half-witted candidates featured on Lord Alan Sugar’s Apprentice. This process was the closest I have come to working in a similar environment. It is truly remarkable how quickly the stress of deadlines and inexperience can melt the minds of otherwise competent individuals. In the previous days briefing, the organisers of the event had made specific reference to how many groups fail to provide scripts to everyone early enough for them to prepare – “Ideally, a script should be in everyone’s hand by around 16:30, and absolutely no later than 17:00” … How did we do? Well, content-wise most pages of the script had been finished by 15:00. So naturally it took until 17:20 to format and export the files to a USB. Unfortunately, Chandula and I found out in the printing room that this had not been enough time to put each page in order. We frantically tried to compile enough scripts for the director and his gallery team, but in the end only three could be completed in time, leaving all the camera men blind to what was required from them. Which went well.

17:30 – Pure chaos from start to finish

One thing I will say is that our interpretation of a live-news broadcast was far more enjoyable for the viewer than anything I have seen on the BBC in the past year. Even the marketing campaign included moments of pure gold. When asked what would be included in our show, the producer listed every segment in our running order, to which the presenter responded: “That’s amazing, but is there anything interesting?”. No response followed.

He should have said yes. Why? Because the topic of conversation for the Vox Pops segments and live interview was the quality of the university bus services, and it’s never not funny watching university students moan about the buses. Our very own Chandula Wanasinghe played the role of the fictitious bus company COO for the live interview. He was instructed to act as if he only cared about profit, and deeply despised students. He did remarkably well, which was certainly a red flag for our friendship. At one point he effectively told students “If you don’t like it, then walk”, which made me laugh because no-one considered the statement out of character for a corporate executive.

Without a script to rehearse with or to make notes on, Jasper did astonishingly well to keep things running. However, there were clear and obvious hiccups throughout which made for great entertainment. None summed up the evening as perfectly as the final remark made by the main presenter whilst he thought he was off air. “That went well”. The perfect combination of irony and naivety from the only person unaware of the magnitude of our group’s failings.

Overall, I had a brilliant time and would recommend “Newsday” to anyone. It was a test of time-management, teamwork, organisation, problem solving, ingenuity, and improvisation, but in the end, I was most glad of how incredibly humbling the experience was.

[1] Any agents looking to represent me are advised to send their enquiry to jm2731@bath.ac.uk

© Copyright 2021 AAPS CDT, Centre for Doctoral Training in Advanced Automotive Propulsion Systems at the University of Bath