Broadcast news

Phil pretended he knew all about it
Phil had to learn a new language

After describing how he was helped to break into the South Wales Echo office car, recalling his early years in journalism at the start of a 34-year career, the importance of experience in the job, making clear that ‘calls’ to emergency services and court cases are central to any media operation, as well as the vital role of the accurate quotation, here our award-winning Editor Phil Parry writes about starting in broadcast news. 

HTV’s Pontcanna studios were a gentle introduction

A central part of when you go into broadcasting, is learning the language.

After a few months at the independent station, HTV Wales, I started on BBC Wales Today in 1987 and had to learn a completely new set of terms.

This was before I presented the now-axed BBC Wales Current Affairs TV programme ‘Week In, Week Out’.

A key word to learn was “pumping”.

Broadcasting terms are different

This had nothing to do with water, or anything more sniggery, but was in fact a crucial part of getting the pictures back to headquarters when you were out in the field.

It was easy enough to report a story if you were a reporter on a newspaper – you simply had to find a phone and ‘file’ the piece back to the newsroom.

In fact you would often look for the house with a telephone line (this was long before mobiles) and ask to use the owners’ phone with a transfer-charge call.

It was different again at the BBC

But in broadcasting then it was completely different.

In television the pictures are, of course, a critical part of the report.

When I started in television you either had physically to drive the video tape (VT) to headquarters in Llandaff, Cardiff, or ‘pump’ the pictures back.

‘Pumping from Blaenplwyf’ was no laughing matter

This would often involve driving to a large mast in the middle of nowhere after you had covered the story, and transmitting the pictures back to headquarters, where they were then recorded by a friendly VT operator.

Now of course it is far easier to get the pictures on to TV screens, but then it wasn’t.

The term I always remember was “Pumping from Blaenplwyf”.

‘Norman Shaw’ is not a person

Blaenplwyf is a village in Ceredigion, near Aberystwyth, but crucially it also has a transmitting mast to send back your pictures.

“Pumping from Blaenplwyf” was one of the most unusual terms you had to know.

But there were plenty of others.

A friend of mine was completely stumped by the phrase “pumping from Norman Shaw”.

These were in fact buildings in London which were used to send back the pictures of the Political Correspondent based there, and record the ‘links’ to the radio recordings of the debate (television cameras were only allowed into the Commons in 1989).

Getting the pictures back from London was crucial

She thought, quite understandably, they were a person.

Apart from the almost impenetrable language, it was also crucial to learn HOW things were said.

Questions could be asked perfectly innocently, but to the hapless reporter or sub-editor, they would sound as if a terrible mistake had been made.

Complaints after a bulletin were to be feared

I remember coming back from the small studio in Llandaff after producing the BBC Wales TV lunchtime bulletin, and the News Transmission Assistant (NTA) would ask:  “Phil, did YOU do lunchtime?”

At this my heart would always sink, thinking someone had already phoned in to complain, and I was in trouble.

But she would then go on to say:  “Could you give me details of who we need to pay?”

It was not child’s play dealing with complaints

It was a perfectly reasonable request.

Language in journalism is everything.

But perhaps it means the most in broadcasting!

Tomorrow more problems at controversial Welsh alternative technology centre.




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The Eye
The Eye is edited by Phil Parry. Phil is a former BBC news and current affairs reporter. He is winner of the BT Wales award for journalist of the year, BT Wales TV reporter of the year and radio reporter of the year. His programmes have won in the current affairs category of the Royal Television Society and BAFTA Cymru. Phil has presented Panorama programmes, Newsnight films and BBC 2’s Public Eye. For 10 years he was the face of BBC Wales TV current affairs programme Week in, Week Out. He was a reporter on the evening TV news programme ‘Wales Today‘ and has presented numerous daily radio programmes. Phil has also worked on local and UK newspapers. If you have a story you wish us to investigate then get in touch. We treat your disclosures in total confidence and with the journalistic integrity you would expect from our professional team.

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