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BBC Radio 4: The Today Programme Newsletter: Tuesday 19th July

PART II

 
Today reporter, Polly Billington writes about her experience finding a Today reporter for the day.

While everyone else in the office was mired in the gloom of London in the aftermath of the bombings, I kept a long-booked appointment with the Great Yorkshire Show in Harrogate. I was taking part on behalf of Today in the BBC's News on Tour. The BBC's presence at big events like the Great Yorkshire Show takes the form of a huge stand that offers listeners and viewers the chance to have a go at presenting the news in a mobile TV studio, reading radio news bulletins, and doing sports commentary.

If you're a Today listener it's a chance to become a reporter for a day. After asking for ideas to be emailed in a few days before, and trawling through all the potential stories, I arranged to meet the lucky listener, Michael Badger, at the stand on Tuesday. I woke up in Harrogate to find the whole place wreathed in mist. Michael told me this was called "Pride of the Morning" and was a sure sign it was going to be a scorcher. And so it proved.

Michael's bid for fame on "Today" ticked all the right journalistic boxes. There was a problem - a government cut to a service some people thought essential - and there were plenty of people to talk about it right there on the showground.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs are planning to cut 225,000 off the bee health budget which is likely to mean the number of inspectors will be halved. Beekeepers like Michael (who is vice-chairman of the British Beekeepers Association) are worried without the inspectors their health of their bees will be threatened by new strains of diseases that are difficult for amateurs to identify.

So off we strode through the mist (Michael with minidisc recorder headphones and mike in hand) to find the right people to talk to.

The great thing about somewhere like the Great Yorkshire show is that it is full of enthusiasts and experts, so it didn't take long to find just the right academic to explain that domestic bees play an important role in pollination that will increase the biodiversity that DEFRA is keen to encourage. Michael had an old friend who could tell a good tale of woe about when his hive was blighted by a nasty virus, and found his mate in the British Beekeepers Association to explain how DEFRA had justified the cut. We dropped in to the Young Farmers stand (while five male farmers did their karaoke version of "The Road to Amarillo" inexplicably dressed in pink nylon skirts) and found an arable farmer to tell us why he'd be worried if the number of domestic bees reduced because of disease.

Getting hold of DEFRA for a statement was a bit more difficult, but finally one was dictated down the phone to Michael, and we got a promise of the minister on air the following day. Michael hoped this meant there might be movement, that maybe DEFRA was going to change its mind; I was less convinced.

Once we'd collected all our material, Michael's job was only half done. I felt like a bit of a slave-driver shooing him back across a baking hot showground into a sweltering portakabin to start writing his script while I selected the bits of the interviews we'd actually use. The hardest part for me as a reporter is dropping really juicy bits of what people have said, but with a very tight time slot (for obvious reasons, we weren't going to be given a lot of time on the show) we had to be ruthless. And Michael certainly was.

Once it was all mixed down on the laptop, I wanted to make sure Michael had the chance to file his own piece down the line into the big BBC system called Traffic. I felt a swell of pride as he announced himself "Hello Traffic this is Michael Badger in Harrogate filing my package for the Today programme . coming in three".

Going live in the morning was even better. Headphones on, rehearsing his introduction, Michael gasped, "I can hear Charlotte Green". Then we were on. And two minutes fifty eight seconds later, it was all over. Michael bounced with excitement, I nearly collapsed with the same, plus exhaustion.

Journalism has never been a profession with certain qualifications which a person has to have in order to be a member. But sometimes it can be a bit exclusive. An exercise like this is an opportunity to open the door to people who have stories to tell, to give them the tools and skills to do it in a way that is credible and authoritative. This isn't the end of the experiment, but only the beginning. If you want to be a citizen journalist do let us know.


See Michael's account of his day, the pictures and listen again to the radio piece.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/reports/misc/news_on_tour_20050708.shtml

Furthermore you can find out how YOU can become a reporter for the day too.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/reports/misc/news_on_tour_20050708.shtml

Polly

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