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‘I was so exhausted I almost walked away': Nick Robinson talks about the election

August 10th, 2010 | No Comments | Posted by in Broadcasting, Politics

BBC political editor Nick Robinson has admitted he was close to “walking away” from Downing Street before announcing David Cameron as the new Prime Minister because of exhaustion.

Speaking in an interview with BBC College of Journalism, Robinson shares some of the challenges he faced covering the election.

At the end of the five days there was just the sense of total exhaustion. I had planned really to go to bed after staying up for 24 hours on air after polling day closed and suddenly discovered I couldn’t because of all the ups and downs (…)

When it finally came to Gordon Brown leaving Downing Street I remember being so cold and so tired that I actually said to Laura Kuenssberg, ‘you do it’ and she looked at me as if I was completely mad. I was so exhausted that I briefly thought of walking away. But it was a great story to do.

Robinson also discusses how he dealt with surprising exit polls live on air and how he wants to encourage more debate via his blog but first needs to tackle “abusive” comments.

See the full interview here…

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‘The day Gordon Brown resigned': behind-the-scenes at Sky News

June 30th, 2010 | No Comments | Posted by in Broadcasting, Editors' pick, Journalism

Video from Sky News showing how it put together its coverage of Gordon Brown’s resignation and the post-election coalition talks between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.



Video also available at this link…

Related reading: Sky News’ Niall Paterson on “bigotgate” and the parliamentary press pack.

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#ge2010: Who was first-past-the-post in this year’s election coverage?

May 13th, 2010 | No Comments | Posted by in Broadcasting

It is an event producer’s nightmare. You book three big speakers, and they pull out with two hours to go. Reader, that was my nightmare on Tuesday.

Five day after polls had closed and Britain was still without a government. I had the general election editors of the BBC, Sky News and the editor in chief of ITN all set to go head-to-head on ‘Who won on TV?’ at Westminster University for a Media Society debate. The debate looked promising until Gordon Brown decided he had to go and would be replaced by David Cameron that very night. The broadcast editors decided they had better, well, broadcast.

Fortunately, the audience was nearly as distinguished as the panel, and veteran media commentator Raymond Snoddy and Professor Ivor Gaber were recruited to join Dorothxy Byrne, head of news and current affairs at Channel Four. They were joined by the doyen of political documentary makers, Michael Cockerell, and were under the watchful eye of ex-Sky News editor Nick Pollard, who chaired the debate.

The televised leaders’ debates came to dominate the election campaign and they very nearly dominated discussion on Tuesday night. Given the tight rules laid down by the politicians in advance, many claimed ‘debate’ was something of a misnomer. David Hill, Tony Blair’s ex-spin doctor, felt anything was better than the bear pit Question Time had become in the 2005 election. The audience at Westminster felt that broadcasters ITN, Sky and the BBC had too easily rolled over and accepted the preconditions laid down for them. The BBC was largely felt to have produced the best of the three debates thanks to the magisterial presence of David Dimbleby.

There was a different opinion of Dimbleby on the BBC Election night programme though. Some felt he looked tired and over-rehearsed, and a little lost in the behemoth of a set. While admiring his stamina, at least one person remarked on his miscall of a couple of swings. Jeremy Vine and his virtual reality graphics show divided the audience as did, inevitably, the Jeremy Paxman experience.

It seems that the BBC got it mostly right, but very wrong in one case in particular, namely the ‘Ship of Fools’, a barge on the Thames full of celebrities being quizzed about the results. The political opinions of Bruce Forsyth and Joan Collins were both predictable and irrelevant on a night of high drama. Nobody defended the ship. Clearly a wrong move.

As to network alternatives on the night, both ITN and Sky were seen as sharper and quicker than the BBC, partly because they got to the locked-out voters story earlier. In terms of set design and presentation though, there was no match for the BBC.

Where all the networks scored was in putting the newspapers in their place. The printed press was following the agenda in this election not leading it. Nowhere was this seen better than the live interruption of our debate to show the Gordon Brown resignation statement live from Downing Street. That moment really summed up this year’s election coverage – fast, exciting, and on television.

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#ge2010: Digital timeline charts campaigning and media innovation online

It was always obvious that at the end of the election campaign there would be a slew of articles declaring that it had or hadn’t been “the internet election”. I decided back in March to start collecting examples of campaigning and media innovation around the election and putting them into a digital election timeline, so that when we got to polling day I’d have a timeline of events.

I chose to use Dipity as my tool. The free version allows you to create up to three timelines. Within a topic you give each event a title and a timestamp. Optionally you can add a description, image and link URL to each event. Dipity then builds a timeline using Flash, and the events can also be viewed as a plain chronological list, or in a ‘flip-book’ format. If you link to a video on YouTube, Dipity automatically embeds the video in the timeline.

To get the data to go into the timeline I relied quite heavily on Twitter. I made sure that I subscribed to the Twitter streams of the major parties, and to election Twitter streams from broadcasters like Channel 4 and the BBC.

During the day, every time I saw a link on Twitter that I thought might lead to an interesting bit of the digital campaign I marked it as a favourite. At night, I would then spend 20 minutes looking back through the day’s favourites, taking screengrabs, and entering the details into Dipity. I also had help from various people within news organisation who began sending me messages about content and services they had launched.

The timeline has around 150 events in it now, and I’ve been continuing to update it in the aftermath of the indecisive result.

A few things stood out. From the political parties, the Conservatives #cashgordon Twitter fiasco was amusing, but worrying. It seemed that the people who look likely to be commissioning the nation’s digital infrastructure in the next couple of years couldn’t commission a website which got basic security right. Worse, instead of holding their hands up to a “Web security 101″ SNAFU, they tried to shift the blame to “left-wing” hackers, an example of tribal politics at it’s worst.



For their part, the Labour decision to turn their homepage over to a Twitterstream during the Leader’s Debates was a brave, but I believe, misguided one. First time visitors would have been perplexed by it, just at a moment when the nation was focused on politics and they had a chance to introduce floating voters to key elements of the Labour manifesto.



The Liberal Democrats Labservative campaign was a favourite of mine for sheer attention to detail. Fictional leader Gorvid Camerown even had a profile on Last.fm, where he enjoyed nothing but the status quo. The campaign was clever, but whether it increased the Liberal Democrat vote is impossible to judge.



It seemed to me that as the campaign progressed, the cycle of social media reaction got faster and faster. There were plenty of spoof political posters early in the campaign, but on the eve of the poll it seemed like it took less than ten minutes for the first spoofs of The Sun’s Cameron-as-Obama front page to appear. Likewise, within minutes of the Landless Peasant party candidate appearing behind Gordon Brown giving a clenched fist salute in Kirkcaldy, a Facebook fan page for Deek Jackson had been set up and attracted over 500 joiners. It has now reached 4,000.

It has been a really interesting exercise. I definitely feel that compiling the digital election timeline personally kept me much more engaged in the campaign.

Would I do the timeline differently in the future? In retrospect I may have been better off putting the events into a mini-blog service like Tumblr, and powering the Dipity version from that. As it is, the data is locked into Dipity, and can’t be indexed by search or exported. I have though uploaded around 100 of the screengrabs and images I used to a Flickr set so that people can re-use them.

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Charlie Beckett: ‘How do you report a hung parliament?’

May 10th, 2010 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick

POLIS director Charlie Beckett looks at the challenges a hung parliament poses for journalists:

The likelihood of a hung parliament raises all sorts of interesting procedural issues for journalists – especially the BBC and other Public Service Broadcasters. How do you report impartially and proportionately and how do you avoid getting bogged down in procedural detail? And how will our partisan press respond?

Generally, governments are given the dominant position in news coverage and allowed to dictate terms and set agendas because they have the popular mandate. New governments also tend to get a honeymoon period where the media allow them to set out their stall and give them the benefit of the doubt.

Full post at this link…

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#ge2010: Times experiments with news and polls tracker

May 7th, 2010 | No Comments | Posted by in Online Journalism

As part of its election coverage the Times attempted to chart the relationship between the news agenda, represented by Times reports and articles, and the political parties’ perfomances in the polls.

It looks like this:

And works like this:

Each bubble in the above graph is a news story. Its size reflects the number of comments it received on our site, and its position (on the y axis) indicates the number of recommendations the story received. (The basic idea here is that, the higher and larger the bubble, the more ‘important’ the news story, assuming that larger, more important stories tend to get commented on and recommended more.) Colours show to which party a story relates. The lines show (depending on the tab) either Populus polling results, or the number of seats the parties were predicted to win during the campaign based on Ladbrokes odds, which are used elsewhere on the site.

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#ge2010: Election Night review – a night of TV drama starting in Northern Ireland

May 7th, 2010 | No Comments | Posted by in Broadcasting, Comment

Broadcast journalism lecturer at Coventry University John Mair reviews last night’s election coverage from the BBC from his post in the broadcaster’s Northern Ireland election newsroom:

Lunchtime Friday and still no clear answer. The British people have spoken but in a divided way. The politicians are wriggling to get advantage or cling on to power (you decide). The most exciting election campaign of modern times has been followed by the most exciting night of election drama of modern times.

Nowhere was the drama greater than here in Northern Ireland where I was working on election night – the other election, often ignored by those ‘across the water’. First casualty, Northern Ireland’s First Minister Peter Robinson whose 31-year stint as MP for East Belfast ended in stunning defeat by a woman of the centre – Naomi Long of the Alliance Party. Robinson has had an annus horibbulis having to face television investigations announcing his wife’s affair and, after that, his own land dealings came under scrutiny. Last night was his nadir. He rushed to the count at Newtonards Leisure Centre, spoke briefly to the local media and was then ushered out. Now he has gone to ground to lick his wounds and fend off predators.

The Robinson moment was magic telly: milked by the local outputs, but less so by the networks. They wanted more of Lady Sylvia Hermon, who defected from the Unionists when they joined with the UK Conservatives. The Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) were seen off in what should have been their heartland North Antrim by Ian Paisley Jnr – brands are as important in politics as anywhere else. He and father – who preceded him in the seat for 40 years – showed their contempt for the TUV by singing the national anthem before his victory speech. Worse for ‘moderate’ Unionism, Sir Reg Empey lost out in South Antrim to the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). The planned Tory beachhead in Northern Ireland became a washout. It was a media confection.

The BBC Northern Ireland Election programme ran for seven-plus hours using all the 18 counts at eight locations as their prime material. Down-the-line interviews galore at the outside broadcasts based on deep local knowledge. The local commercial station – Ulster Television – did not even make it to the starting line. No election news between 10:30pm and 09.30am. That did not go unnoted by fellow hacks.

The BBC’s ‘Dimbleby programme’ had a magnificent set on its side and some pretty special Jeremy Vine virtual reality graphics too – my favourites being the Downing Street staircase or the House of Commons with real faces smiling and nodding. Modern Television journalism is about entertainment and keeping it simple. Nowhere more so than in the use of electronic graphics. All of that plus live reporting from many of the big beasts of telly journalism. It’s fascinating to see how many of them still used the basic journalistic skills, like Kirsty Wark doorstepping/walking besides and interviewing Nick Clegg on the hoof on the way to his count.

It’s difficult from inside my bubble to know how the drama played out in the nations. It certainly kept us rapt in this television control room. You could not have written the script. But the 2010 General Election story has not yet reached its final chapter. Plenty more drama to come…

Read John Mair’s report from the BBC’s TV ‘hub’ in Belfast on the build-up to election night.

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#ge2010 poll: Who were the best tweeters, journalists and bloggers?

Forget about the politicians and their wives, which journalist has done it for you during the general election? In this completely unofficial set of polls, let us know whose coverage you’ve enjoyed the most. If you’ve got notable mentions to add, drop us a line [judith at journalism.co.uk], tweet [@journalismnews] or comment below. Nominations were compiled using our readers’ suggestions – but add your own to the poll too!

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#ge2010: How to follow election day online

May 6th, 2010 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Online Journalism

As live events go, election night has to be one of the biggest opportunities for journalists and news organisations to get tweeting, liveblogging, mapping and more. Here’s our guide to the best online coverage of election day and plans for tonight’s results, as we look at what journalists’ can learn for future live events and how readers (and voters) are being kept informed:

Produced in associated with Channel 4 and the New Statesman, Guardian.co.uk’s election coverage features a map plotting voter turnout. It’s reliant on people tweeting when they’ve voted with the first half of their postcode and the #ukvote hashtag, but gives a good real-time picture of where the votes are coming in from.

The goal of the experiment is to inspire more people to vote and to help get a sense of turnout during the course of the day and across the country. Channel 4 News is also trying to gauge turnout using a poll as part of its election day liveblog, which dominates its homepage today.

The Guardian has also changed the layout of its homepage to incorporate more election coverage – particularly like the way it highlights the latest updates from its election day liveblog as part of the top stories box.

Ahead of tonight’s results the Telegraph has a handy guide to when constituencies will be declaring and which party is targeting which seats.

The BBC has its live page up and ready for tonight and is promising to use all its multimedia resources to boost its online coverage, with a liveblog of the results for those following online and on mobile and streams of the best radio and TV footage from the BBC via the website. Particularly nice is the slideshow of how to vote – the practicalities not which party to vote for and the option to download an election night party pack.

As part of extensive election night coverage online, Sky News has a handy, hour-by-hour guide of what happens on election day and has Facebook chat around the election added to its liveblog, so users can post status updates from the Sky site.

The Financial Times is hosting an election special on its Westminster blog for election day; while the Times’ group blog Election ’10 is worth a mention for today’s blow-by-blow coverage and its offering of analysis, news and commentary throughout the election campaigns, balancing live and need-to-know with deeper commentary.

The Liverpool Daily Post has an excellent election section and its election map that will show the results for its local seats as they come in is a great feature. This set-up is being used by other Trinity Mirror titles too, including the Birmingham Post and Mail titles, which have also adopted the group blog Party Central for local politicians set up by the Liverpool Post & Echo:

The hyperlocal election:

We’ve written about the opportunities for hyperlocal, independent news sites in covering the general election and its seems tonight will be no exception. Expect liveblogs – Sunderland blog SR2 Blog is hoping to be one of the first sites to report a results, while Blog Preston has recruited student bloggers for the task; and live tweeting – new site for Manchester Inside the M60 will be tweeting the results live and posting them to the site as soon as they come in. Let us know if you’re planning something special for tonight or trying out some live reporting for the first time in the comments below.

Non-news sites:

Tweetminster gives an unrivalled view of tweeting going on during election day, filtering tweets from politicians and prospective parliamentary candidates, as well as mapping voter turnout by tweet and trending topics.

Facebook has set up a live vote count showing how many Facebook users have said they’ve voted, as well as pulling in news updates from external sites and polling users on its Democracy UK page.


And finally, if just for fun, a picture of how tweeters are aligned by party from @jaygooby.

If you’re a journalist, blogger or just an interested party let us know how you’re reporting and following election night as it happens.

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#ge2010: Inside the biggest night in broadcasting

May 6th, 2010 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Broadcasting, Events

It’s quiet now. You can hear a pin drop. In twelve hours’ time it will be organised chaos. I am at the BBC TV ‘hub’ in Belfast getting ready for the biggest night not just of politicians’ lives but broadcasters’ too. Tonight is general election result night and we’ll be live on BBC One and Two for hours on end bringing predictions, results and analysis to British people and many further afield.

In my bit of the hub, I handle all the material going ‘across the water’ from here to the David Dimbleby programme in Television Centre London. BBC Northern Ireland is at all of the eighteen counts at eight counting centres throughout the province, bringing breaking results, analysis, and interviews with the movers and shakers. I will be constantly offering material to the central hub in London, which they will accept, reject or just plain ignore. At busy periods they could probably fill four TV channels with election results coming in.

This is the BBC at its journalistic and technical best. Hundreds of hacks working on getting the results, processing them and analysing the team in London. Nothing can go wrong on the night. Little is left to chance. Rehearsals have been taking place for the better part of the last week. All systems tested, none found wanting-so far. From my desk I can talk to sixteen different locations/units to see what’s happening.

In front of me will be sitting the BBC Northern Ireland hub producer. They’re going out live too from 10.00pm until the last result here, probably around six hours later. We’ll share their fruits with the rest of the nations when we can. To my left will be the RTE hub producer from Southern Ireland. They’re going big on this election with a Belfast and a London Studio and a big outside broadcast to boot.

This is my eighth British general election with the BBC and it still gets the adrenalin going after 30 years.

After it’s over – tomorrow afternoon by best reckoning – it is time for the post mortem and the analysis of what went right what went wrong. To that end, I’ll be producing an event for the Media Society next Tuesday at the University of Westminster entitled Who Won the TV Election? (more details at www.themediasociety.com or below).

Enjoy tonight’s coverage on TV, and come along next tuesday to praise or blame the great men and women who put on this quinquennial spectacle. Rocket science it may not be, but at times it isn’t far off.

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