Page last updated at 16:54 GMT, Friday, 3 October 2008 17:54 UK

School TV reporters go on air

By Andrew Webb
Technology video producer, BBC News website

Plumline News on air
Plumline News went to air at 2pm
I had hoped that my first meeting with Plumstead Manor's School Report team would have been well-organised and planned in the finest detail.

But as is often the case with journalism, it followed a flurry of

arrangements, re-arrangements and a good measure of confusion.

A fine example of what it is really like in the world of journalism, I thought to myself as I staggered into the school's media lab, weighed down by camera equipment.

Schools taking part in the project had their own mentor to help students with the journalism.

However, the Newsnight producer originally scheduled to go there was forced to back out amid worries that a legal case he was following was about to become a big story.

And so I had been drafted in as his replacement.

Flexibility

Meanwhile, I had brought my camera in the hope of filming a report for the technology website.

But plans had to be adjusted almost immediately, and I became the cameraman for the school's budding journalists.

This day was all about recreating a TV newsroom using a sensible amount of technology and within a limited budget.

So maybe I cheated a little by using professional broadcast equipment.

In the end, our report on re-using plastic bags looked very similar to those that the children had filmed a few days before.

Girl throwing bag away
Pupils produced a report about wasting plastic bags
It was inspired by a story one of the girls had found - that San Francisco was preparing to ban carrier bags in an attempt to clean up the city.

So just like newsrooms the world over, the pupils chose to localise an interesting story.

Affordable editing

Their report had humour and the message that waste is wrong.

Pupils had been trained to use the Adobe Premiere editing software.

But on the News Day itself, Plumstead Manor's technician, Sam Burls, took on the role of video-editor, allowing students to concentrate on the journalists aspects of news-making. I used the same picture editing package last week at the Cebit technology show in Germany.

It was more than adequate for the reports I filed for the BBC technology web site, BBC World TV and News 24.

Sam told me it cost the school less than 300 - an amazing price when you consider that just a few years ago TV editing equipment cost thousands of pounds.

She was editing material filmed on domestic digital video cameras.

They are rarely used in Britain's broadcast industry, but I often saw journalists clutching them when I worked in Asia.

From a technological point of view, the only point which failed to resemble the real thing was when Plumline News went on air at the stroke of 1400 GMT.

No school could expect to compete with a professional TV studio.

"Nerve wracking"

Rather than a bank of automated cameras, an overhead conference call camera captured the show.

But this was not the point - what mattered was recreating the pressures of TV news and it really felt as though we were putting out a programme with real viewers.

Presenters looking at video screen in studio
Pupils used PowerPoint on a projector screen as a backdrop
The show was live. There were no retakes.

To put the cat among the pigeons, I introduced a breaking story five minutes from air (an unheard of luxury for any News 24 or BBC World TV presenter.)

If I had been back at World TV, of course I would have run a breaking story about a mortar attack shaking the UN Secretary General's press conference in Baghdad.

Our two presenters, Elizabeth and Emily, took the late-breaking story in their stride.

And their verdict on the turn before the cameras?

"I learned a great deal about presenting," Elizabeth told me once the show was over.

"It was exciting but nerve racking."

Would Emily - Plumline News' number two anchor - like to work in a real TV newsroom?

"I really enjoyed it but I'm not sure as I don't know what I'm going to do.

"I did have some nerves - but I think I tried to hide it."

There must have been a lot of BBC presenters who did just the same on their first day.


video and audio news
Plumstead Manor's bulletin: Plumline News



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