The editor of BBC Radio 4’s File on Four tells about his week.
The only certainty in my working week is that I’ll never be short of a dilemma or an impending crisis.
Today it’s not major anxiety — at least not yet. However, it will be a test of nerve as we wait to see whether two visas we need to make the last programme in this current series will arrive. We plan to highlight the latest twist in the crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan — which is now spilling over the border into neighbouring Chad. Our question is why governments in the West haven’t done more. File on 4 producer Andy Denwood and reporter Liz Carney have just invested two weeks of detailed research and preparation for a trip to the border region — an assignment that promises to be unpredictable and potentially dangerous. We’ve had to go ahead and book the plane tickets to make the trip and get back for transmission on 28 March. But we are relying on getting the visas in time from the Chadian embassy in Paris.
If our courier can’t pick them up today, then we’re in trouble as Andy and Liz are due to fly out early on Saturday morning.
Our own Government is proving equally indecisive. In next week’s File on 4 we’ll be raising questions about security at some of Britain’s smaller ports and airports and, for 10 days, we’ve been trying to persuade the Home Office to agree to an interview. The message so far is far from clear — they might make a minister available, but it will be Monday before we know.
For the rest of the afternoon I had hoped to catch up on some radio listening as I’m one of the judges in the Feature category in this year’s Sony Awards. However, a colleague has gone sick and I end up back in the editing room — casting an eye over the final version of one of the other programmes we make for Radio 4.
Yesterday’s edit was for a series called Seven Days. It’s a format we’ve pioneered for the network, in which Jenny Cuffe follows a week in the lives of people and organisations facing challenge or change. The series begins next week and the producer, Sally Chesworth, has been liaising closely with colleagues in Radio 4 to produce a series of trails for the first in the run. Until today that was due to be a report from Kenya, then it’s confirmed that the Pensions Ombudsman report will be published next Wednesday, and we will have to bring our pensions programme forward as a result. So it’s a scramble to get Jenny Cuffe back into a studio to record new trails. Luckily, there was a facility available — and the pensions trails are being broadcast by the afternoon.
The good news is the visas for Chad have arrived. Liz and Andy will be on the plane tomorrow.
There’s never a gentle introduction to a Monday morning.
By eight o’clock tomorrow night we have to have distilled four weeks of investigation into a 37-minute documentary.
This week’s reporter, Gerry Northam, and his producer, Ian Muir-Cochrane, have been working all weekend putting together a first draft. At the Monday morning "read-through" it’s the first time I get a chance to actually hear their material and to judge how well it hangs together. The editor’s role here is crucial. Programme teams have just devoted a month of their lives to their subject — so they understand everything perfectly. But will I? Inevitably, there are always changes to be made, and some weeks my entire Monday and Tuesday pass in a blur of legal and editorial conversations.
Thankfully, this isn’t one of them. Gerry and Ian have come up with a very coherent 45 minutes of material, which will need only minor changes. We still don’t know whether the Government will be interviewed.
Unusually for me on a Monday, I’m out of the office this afternoon — on a train to London for a meeting with my fellow Sony judges. I’d caught up on listening over the weekend and this morning had emailed my suggested winners.
The journey gives me two valuable hours to begin looking at the application forms from candidates who’ve been short-listed for job interviews on Wednesday and Thursday.
There are two jobs up for grabs in a newly created investigations unit, which will aim to help develop good ideas from people across BBC News.
I arrive in London by 3.30pm. The meeting goes well. It is remarkable how much common ground there is between us, and by six o’clock we have managed to agree on our top five.
I manage to make it back to Euston in time for the 7.05pm train, which has me back home by 9.30pm.
Wake up to the 7am news bulletin on Radio 4, in which Gerry Northam has done a piece flagging up tonight’s programme. That’s a good start to the day.
At 10am we have another run through of tonight’s programme. We’ve checked the script with our lawyer and, because the programme identifies potential security weaknesses, we’ve also taken advice from BBC Editorial Policy. There are no problems on either front. The Home Office has finally confirmed that no minister will be interviewed, but has issued a statement.
I then have a couple of hours to confer with my colleague Lynne Jones, who will be helping me to run the investigations unit and will be doing tomorrow’s job interviews with me.
Four o’clock — another call from the team in Chad — they are safe and things are going well.
It’s time now to go to studio. Most weeks we run slightly later than this and end up playing the programme live into Radio 4 at eight o’clock. But tonight we are in good shape and we are able to electronically transfer the completed version to London by 6.30pm. A welcome early night.
It’s the first day of the interviews. Lynne and I will be seeing 13 candidates today and tomorrow. The encouraging thing is that they are all hugely excited by the prospect of being involved with this new unit. It’s going to be a difficult selection process.