John Ryley - Executive editor, Sky News

20.10.05
You give up on sleep, working for Sky. It’s replaced by a stream of
consciousness on the daily 5am hurtle down the M40 from home, in
Witney, to London. Talk on the radio is all about the Conservative
leadership election today and David Cameron. By tonight Witney could
have a Prime Minister in the offing – David Cameron is the town’s MP.
In the car I try, and fail, to name the constituencies of British Prime
Ministers in reverse order… Sedgefield, Huntingdon, Finchley, Cardiff
South, Ormskirk, Bexley, Kincross, Bromley, Warwick, Epping. Get a
life, Ryley.

I ponder Sky’s big move. This is my third big
revamp: the first as a news trainee when Birt set the BBC’s Nine
O’clock News on a mission to explain; in 1992 when Trevor was asked to
sing solo on News at Ten. And finally, all 24 hours of Sky News. All
the revamps have demonstrated a golden rule of television production –
that graphic design is too important to be left only to graphic
designers.

This is a project of Everest proportions. New
programmes, new presenters, a space-age set, new graphics, new building
and around 400 tricky, bolshy people to move in one go. I tell myself
“failure is not an option”. My dawn dreaming is cut short by the ring
of the mobile: a former Prime Minster’s adviser-turned-investor, wants
to know how the Tory MPs votes will stack up. I tell him to get a
proper job. It’s press briefing day at Sky and what were once dubbed
Fleet Street’s finest media journalists will be looking around the new
studio.

21.10.05 Osterley, 11am. Chair three daily revamp
meetings to discuss the project’s progress. With three days to go, the
set looks smart, the presentation is spot on, but not all the
technology is working. People look wan and weary. For the past two
weeks we’ve been running two Sky News channels: one real, another for
rehearsals, and everyone has worked very hard indeed.

We now talk about “populating” rundowns and “floating” stories.

It’s a long way from bashing the keys on a typewriter.

Today
one of our ingest servers is down, which means we can’t record video,
which is risible. Worry turns to outrage among some producers when they
see that our “Breaking News” animation in the wall changes from white
text on a red background to red text on white. One of our veteran
executive producers looks on in disbelief: ‘It’s our trademark,’ he
growls.

24.10.05 Osterley, noon. A stellar start to a stellar set
thanks to a superb effort by the team. Lunchtime Live with Kay Burley,
one of our new programmes, is on air.

Already we’ve broadcast six
hours of clean, smooth television news – that’s the equivalent of more
than two weeks of the Ten O’clock News. Six hours earlier, Sky News
went on air at 05.59.40. On screen, Eamonn Holmes and Lorna Dunkley
personified warmth. Off screen, a team of boffins in grey suits
scuttled around the building looking for a TV monitor big enough to see
the precise moment we switched from a 4×3 to a 16×9 format. Smart guys.

Kay’s
programme is making news. She’s has both Tory contenders on air: David
Davies saying that, were he to be elected party leader, David Cameron
would be given the role of deputy leader, and Cameron himself, who
gives Davies’ offer a cool response. There’s a cool response too from
my son Finn. Over the years he’s developed a good grasp of television
news production vocabulary and knows his chromakeys from his virtual
reality. He thinks the new look “sucks”.

I catch up with the
executive producer of Live at Five, Julian March. His show, presented
by Jeremy Thompson, aims to cover more stories per hour than any other
programme on British TV. In keeping with its hi-tech approach, we’ve
introduced another TV first: a web log written by Jeremy and the team.
Within a few hours, more than 100 people had published their comments.
Jenny from Bury St Edmonds says: “Excellent! Fresh! Modern!”; Colin
from Glasgow: “The time should be in the top left-hand corner like it
was before.”

25.10.05 Osterley, 7pm. The Sky Report with Julie
Etchingham leads with the news that the cabinet has failed to agree a
plan to ban smoking in enclosed public places in England, a bitter row
has broken out within Cabinet over whether there should be exemptions
for clubs and pubs not serving food.

This afternoon no agreement
had been reached and our political correspondent Jon Craig spoke to
various special advisers and was told there were “a few details to be
ironed out”, political code for “no deal”. We were very surprised to
see first News 24 and then BBC Six O’clock News lead on “ministers
agree on smoking ban” when we could find no evidence of this. We
checked again and couldn’t find anything to support the BBC claim, so
we stuck to our story.

Sky News was first and right. The BBC was
wrong. This is followed by a report on the radical American preacher of
hate, Fred Phelps. This original piece of journalism was picked up by
websites in the US.

Wander back to our old newsroom armed with a still camera.

The
newswall stands like a giant tombstone waiting for some graffiti. The
gallery is full of the detritus of 150,000 hours of round-the-clock
broadcasting and inhabitation. The newsroom is empty and silent, soiled
by Sunday’s newspapers and even older food. The banks of monitors that
have crackled with live history – wars, revolutions and the story about
a horse that played football – are dark, defunct and dead. For some at
Sky, our move’s been a sad moment. I won’t forget the afternoon of 11th
September 2001, when the Twin Towers collapsed, arguably the biggest
story in the medium’s history.

26.10.05 Witney 11pm. Back home
after the celebration party at The Banqueting House in Whitehall.
Pollard was making the big speech, giving it some about our
determination to deliver original journalism. The words “big stories”
were on his lips when two large breasts and a taunt, tanned female
torso appear over his shoulders on the two enormous, but silent
monitors, pumping out Sky News. It turns out it’s a story about the
train robber Ronnie Biggs who has been told by the Home Secretary he’ll
stay in prison. Minutes earlier Pollard had bollocked his son for not
phoning in with the news of the commuter train derailment near
Liverpool. His son was on the train behind.

The party is graced
by loads of champagne, pinstripes and politicians. Geoff Hoon, leader
of the House of Commons looked very relaxed and cheerful – probably a
lot more cheerful for having got through Prime Minister’s Questions,
where he stood in for Tony Blair who was out of the country.

The
word is the ITV news channel is closing down or will be taken off
Freeview. A shame, we like competition. Ofcom was represented by Steve
Perkins and John Glover, both of whom kept their eyes on the screen in
case of any transgressions.

Once a regulator… On Sky, the torso
has been replaced by James Rubin on Sky’s World News Tonight, who’s
well into his stride after his exclusive interview with Tony Blair
earlier in the week.

Prince Charles’s Head of Communications,
Paddy Harverson, was schmoozed by Kay pushing for an interview with
Camilla. An entrepreneur was in deep chat with Sky’s Emma Crosby about
setting up a personal finance channel in the UK. And the showbiz gossip
man, Neil Sean, was there too looking over some grainy photographs with
a tabloid hack. Such is the stuff that revamps are made of.

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