Page last updated at 09:41 GMT, Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Rising to the challenge of reporting on climate change

School Reporters from Cardinal Newman Catholic School in Hove

Rising sea levels are the focus of the report by the Hove students

Cardinal Newman Catholic School in Hove contacted the BBC School Report team with an idea for a report on climate change. The BBC's John Murphy helped the students turn the idea into a reality, and here describes how the project came together.

"Climate change" is a popular choice for School Reporters. The problem with any ongoing news story is how to keep it fresh.

So, when we heard, at the BBC School Report headquarters, from Cardinal Newman Catholic College, about a 32,000 km (20,000 miles) journey, a buoy being dropped in mid-Atlantic, a satellite tracking system and schools learning about ocean currents and sea level rises, our interest was immediately sparked.

A few phone calls later, two of us from School Report turned up in Brighton on a cold February morning, armed with our risk assessment form, a camera (well, actually two!) and sound recording equipment. We wanted to find out more about this story from the students and to help them make a TV and radio piece.

We met Maria Larkin, a Geography teacher, and six School Reporters. After the initial introductions, it was time to get to the point: What was the story and how were we, as a team, going to tell it?

An impromptu editorial meeting broke out as the students told us about an earlier visit from three people called Tim, Lynne and Will, who are on this year-long expedition travelling around the Atlantic coast and stopping off at schools on the way. Fortunately for the piece, the students had filmed that visit so we already had some useful footage for the piece. The expedition itself, called Atlantic Rising, is looking at the potential impact of sea level rises.

Race against time

As we found out more about the story, we [the BBC team] gave the students a mini master-class on the basics of making TV and radio packages, though it has to be said that we too were learning as we were going along. I, for example, usually make radio documentary programmes so this was a good opportunity to improve my TV making skills. My colleague, Kristel, is normally a film editor, cutting together pictures filmed by others. Today she would be a camera operator.

Seafront in Brighton
Potential coastal erosion around Hove and Brighton was also looked at

A structure had to be worked out and roles assigned. Kitty and Louis quickly emerged as the reporters. Pedro, with his family's background in photography, was going to be on camera, alongside Kristel. Millie took on the radio recorder. Ellie became TV sound operator while Neil seemed to have a producer's head on his shoulders, coming up with visual ideas.

The students had already prepared some script ideas which, through a process of negotiation, were honed down. We also all agreed the elements of the story, including phone interviews with Tim from the Atlantic Rising team and another one with students from St Augustine's College in Ghana, which Tim and co had also visited recently. A structure, involving boxes and arrows, was scribbled onto paper.

At that very moment, the Atlantic Rising team were in southern Spain, about to board a container ship which would take them across the ocean to Brazil, dropping off their buoy full of letters half way.

Kitty and Louis jotted down their thoughts for the interview and, after some initial technical hiccups, the interview was in the can, quickly followed by another one with the Ghanaian students.

Then the students had the idea to put maps on the walls of the classroom to illustrate the points they wanted to make, including the potential impact of coastal erosion around Brighton. It was a topic they had been learning about in Geography. Kristel and I were only too pleased to help choose which colour pins to use on a map.

Time flew by and our deadline to get everything done by the end of the school day, at 3pm, was fast approaching. Anything deemed unnecessary in the script was thrown out as we raced against the clock. With seconds to spare, as students began to pour out of their classrooms and head home, the last re-take was completed. Phew!

All we needed now were a few more beach shots - the students hadn't been allowed out of the school grounds during our visit. So, no going home at 3pm for the BBC. A few weeks later, the Atlantic Rising team sent over footage of the dropping of the buoy into the sea.

We now had all the elements we needed for the final cut: A structure, a script, interviews, TV pictures and some radio audio. It had involved thought and cooperation from everyone. Fingers crossed that it would all come together as originally planned back in Brighton. That's for others to judge.


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