In at the deep end on days of drama

Rookie
TV producer Wale Azeez was covering London’s Olympic bid victory for
Channel 4 News when the 7 July bombings struck the capital

WHEN I LEFT Press Gazette as its broadcast editor nine months ago to pursue a career in TV, I hoped for new and different challenges.

While freelance producing at Channel 4 News, barely a month after
completing a post-graduate television journalism course, a challenge is
what I got.

Over two days I found myself working on two of the
most important stories of my generation – and they couldn’t have been
more different.

On 6 July I was producing part of our live coverage of London’s Olympic bid victory.

The
collective euphoria of the capital’s win against Paris spilled over
into Thursday’s newspapers and spontaneous early-morning conversations.

Then, at around 8.50am, it was cut short.

The
first “power surge” – taking out all lights and computers in the
newsroom – changed everything, setting in motion a story that we had
all known would occur, sooner or later.

For me, those remnants of
elation from the day before seemed to ebb away. I passed an
anxiouslooking Olympic gold medallist Tessa Sanderson in the lobby
waiting for the lift, after what would be ITN’s last interview
celebrating London’s achievement. It had been in the middle of her
interview on the ITV News Channel that confirmation of the explosions
came through.

I wasn’t due in until 9.30am that morning, to work
on the noon and 7pm bulletins. By chance I’d arrived at the train
station earlier than planned and had the time to walk from Liverpool
Street to the office near Chancery Lane.

As it emerged that the
explosions were bomb attacks, I volunteered my services as a DV
cameraman to go to the scenes. I had learnt to operate a camera over
the last year and had recently put my new skills to use working
freelance for Channel 4 News.

With all the cameras out (the one I
wanted was in Srebenica) I was detailed to edit together the first
pictures and eye witness accounts coming in. I transferred them to a
designated picture folder on the newsroom system, ready for the first
of many news flashes and full-blown bulletins that would go out
throughout the day.

The simplest of things suddenly took on a new
importance: using a well-chosen prefix for all of our material related
to the attacks, for example, so new pictures or updates from the
emergency services could be spotted the moment they hit the server.

Just
after our 11am news flash, I finally got through to my wife who,
knowing I’d come in from Liverpool Street Station that morning, was
more than a little worried.

Our PR manager kindly took on the job
of periodically trying to phone loved ones we hadn’t been able to
contact via mobile networks that creaked under the weight of calls
across the country.

In between monitoring the wires and updates
from the three hospitals after the noon programme, it became clear we
wouldn’t be going anywhere any time soon. Only reporters could leave
the building, which was on high security alert.

After our 2pm
news meeting, we were given the schedule for the next 18 hours, which
included flashes and extra bulletins throughout the night and early
next morning. There was talk of sharing rooms in a nearby hotel or with
colleagues who lived nearby.

I was charged with bidding for live
interviews with the emergency services and hospitals for an hourlong
special programme at 10.50pm. On behalf of a colleague, I included
calls to appear on tomorrow’s 7.45am show, and devised a graphic image
to illustrate the state of the London transport system in the morning.

I
was also asked to find people from the West End theatres to comment on
the fact that all their shows were cancelled. Of course there was no
one about, but you’ve got to try these things, haven’t you?

At
the same time, I kept an eye out for pictures of commuters walking
home, traffic chaos, empty streets or night time shots of the bomb
scenes – anything that would give us a snapshot of London and its
current mood.

Just past midnight we had a programme de-brief. Half
an hour later I was sharing a hotel room with our media manager, Keith
Cockerton, and doing my hardest to “come down”, so I could be up again
and in the newsroom for 5am.

By 6am on Friday I was trawling the
buses with reporter Lucy Manning and cameraman Bruce Shayler, gauging
the feeling among passengers having to travel into central London the
morning after.

Bruce and I then went off on our own to get vox
pops of commuters at Moorgate Station. I interviewed a New Yorker who
had been putting off cycling to work – until that day. He’d been in the
US on 11 September, and would definitely be biking it from now on, he
promised.

At that time of the morning, it looked like the story
was one of workers staying off the tubes and buses in the aftermath of
the bombing. An hour later in Chancery Lane it was a different story –
on the surface things were almost back to normal.

As the day
progressed, the feeling was that the police weren’t updating us very
quickly on casualties. This led to a situation where Australian Prime
Minister John Howard seemed more clued up about casualty numbers than
the British population.

At 1pm, with the noon programme done, I
was all packed and ready to go home to Brighton for the weekend. After
27 hours in the newsroom (with three hours sleep) I felt that was fair
enough.

Suddenly we received notice of a 3pm press conference
called by Mayor Ken Livingstone and Metropolitan police commissioner
Sir Ian Blair, at the QE II Centre in Westminster.

Once there, I
tried in vain to convince their press officers to let us have them live
on the programme that evening. Even the considerable charms of
presenter Jon Snow didn’t seem to sway them today. By 4.30pm my work, as they say, was done. Soon, that perennial question “Where were you when it happened?” will start doing the rounds.

I’ll
remember that even though it was sometimes frightening, sometimes
numbing, there’s probably nowhere else I’d rather have been.

Wale Azeez is a freelance journalist and TV news producer

Comments
No comments to display

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

five × 3 =

CLOSE
CLOSE