Monday promises to be a very busy day. We’ve just heard that south western China has been hit by a massive earthquake.
Our first news story has just made it on air. I bump into Xiao Ming, one of our output editors, on my way to my room to take part in a video link meeting with BBC director of news, Helen Boaden for her daily 20-minute catch-up with the senior editors of the news division. At the moment we have very little information, but Xiao Ming tells me this is going to be huge.
He has just spoken to some contacts in the region and looks concerned. I make it to my room just in time for the beginning of the meeting. I share what little information I have. Newsgathering tells us we only have one reporter in Beijing as all our China correspondents are in Thailand or Burma. Our breakfast programme The World Today manages to get a live interview with him. We’re on top of the story, but things don’t look good.
Newsgathering’s foreign editor Jon Williams is sending his correspondents back to Beijing. Hundreds of emails and texts from within China reach the user-generated content hub. People seem impressed with their government’s swift response.
This evening I am attending the Sony Radio Academy awards. This year, my department has been nominated for no less than eight awards. Totally unprecedented, so we’ve booked ourselves four tables hoping to win something, anything. I’m not terribly optimistic as the event is very domestic driven, and usually Radio Suffolk manages to beat us every time. I tell whoever will listen that it’s the nominations that count.
The Grosvenor is heaving. Owen Bennett-Jones, nominated for both speech broadcaster of the year and news journalist of the year, is in a grumpy mood. He hates these gatherings and pleaded to be allowed not to come. Not a chance. If I have to endure Paul Gambaccini, he will too.
First award to be announced: live event coverage. Our coverage of the Chinese Congress gets a bronze, and the curse of Radio Suffolk strikes again – they get a (well deserved) gold. I tell myself this is it. But no, incredibly, amazingly, the awards rain down on us. As Newshour editor Jamie Angus says, we’ve always known we were brilliant but sometimes it’s just nice that our peers agree.
The next day, the scale of the disaster in China is gradually becoming apparent, children are trapped under the rubble of their schools but the star is Premier Wen Jibao who’s rushed to the scene and with the help of a loudspeaker is encouraging people to wait for rescue to arrive. In Burma by contrast, the generals refuse to pick up the phone – the UN secretary general is frustrated no one wants to talk to him.
More emails from China – we talk to bloggers who think this is a defining moment for their country.
The death toll continues to rise – by Wednesday it’s 15,000 dead and counting. Newsgathering is doing a brilliant job for everyone. Paul Danahar, the Beijing bureau chief, whose reportage from Rangoon for TV, radio and online epitomised what humane journalism is about, is now directing operations in China. We still have a couple of reporters inside Burma. They tell us that the generals have banned all foreigners from the devastated area.
At the morning editorial meeting, our diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus tackles the thorny issue of the international community’s ‘responsibility to protect”. Does it have the right, indeed the duty, to intervene? What about forced delivery of aid? Someone asks about military intervention. Jonathan thinks this is extremely unlikely.
By contrast China-watchers tell us that there are signs of new openness in Beijing. Will it last?
On Thursday it’s Amazon day. We’ve been working on it for weeks. Big stories editor Steve Titherington is in charge. Everything has been very precisely planned. As part of the day, Prince Charles has been talking to James Naughtie. HRH makes a plea to save the rainforest – it gives us a newsline.
I hear that the Burmese generals have announced they’ve started reconstruction. I find this strangely unsettling. How surreal can this story get? Paul Danahar tells of the enormous contrast between the way China and Burma have dealt with their disasters on Friday. Five days into the China earthquake he says, there were too many trucks to count. In Burma, he counted two.
Just as we’re thinking where to take the story, I’m told we have an interview with Gordon Brown. The PM will talk to the World Service about Burma. We send Owen Bennett-Jones, who comes back with a newsline – Gordon Brown said a natural disaster had been turned into a man-made catastrophe because of the negligence of the Burmese generals.