James Harding’s arrival at the BBC as Director of News and Current Affairs, after a career in print journalism, has attracted much media attention, with many columnists asking how difficult it will be for him to adapt to broadcast news.
It is a switch of course which thousands of journalists have made, albeit on a humbler and more practical level than Mr Harding. But on any level, it is not easy.
In my case, the transition took place several decades ago, from the Middlesbrough Evening Gazette as a graduate trainee, to BBC South as a freelance reporter.
Geographically it was a big move, but culturally it was even bigger. Writing for a daily newspaper is one of the purest forms of journalism, the news travelling from reporter to printed page to reader with often only the slightest nudge from a sub-editor. The reporter’s unique take on the story is delivered fresh to the breakfast table. Or, in the case of the Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, fresh to the Teesside bus or bar.
Suddenly I found myself in a world where the news story depended not only on my understanding and interpretation, but on the technical demands of sound and picture. In the most basic terms, if you cannot be heard, there is no radio report. If there are no pictures, how do you tell the story on television?
Another significant difference was the fact that I was no longer operating on my own with just a pen and notebook for company. Now, for television, I had to be accompanied by a cameraman, a sound recordist and very often a lighting man. The job became not about gathering the facts, but about gathering together a disparate team of men more concerned with light levels and traffic noise than truth and accuracy.
When it all works, when it all comes together in a piece of broadcast journalism which has the story, the relevant interviews and the telling pictures, it is a joy. But as Mr Harding will discover, even at his stratospheric level of management, the journey from the birth of a story to the TV screen is a great deal more complex than a phone call from his reporters on the Times.