How to storm awards? Inside the UK’s gold standard TV Journalism Awards. Winners take it all.
“Yep, I’ve only just seen it”. Imagine the scene. A film being transmitted down the line from the US to the UK headquarters of ITV News’ studio. It’s an exclusive, and the team in the US know it’s good. Soon they will find out how good.
In the meantime, no one in London has seen the film, and ITV’s news reader Julie Etchingham is minutes away from going on air. Anxious? That would be the half of it.
“That’s how close to the wire that evening was”, says Etchingham speaking to the television journalism community gathered for their annual TV awards.
By the end of the evening Storming the Capitol, was officially a tour de force, a hurricane of TV journalism, taking award after award. It was a night that belonged to its correspondent Robert Moore, Camera man Mark Davey, producer Sophie Alexander, senior execs and the ITV family. The BBC, unusually, was not to be seen in ITV’s shadow.
You imagine they’ll be inquests back at the BBC which is currently being drained of major talent, such as Jon Sopel, Emily Maitlis et al. But there’s good news too. ITV’s news supremo Deborah Turness joins the BBC soon as CEO.
I’m at the highly respected UK’s @RTS_media TV Journalism Awards 2022 at the Grosvenor Hotel, Hyde park. “How does it feel to be back in person?”, a journalist records me. I presume it’s for the RTS film.
“Great!” I say. I’ve been privileged to be a juror for some years. Over Christmas you’ll find me biting my nails, writing scrupulous notes scrutinising videos. Then it’s time to deliver critiques alongside several others at the jury meeting in order to find a winner.
This is a gathering of exemplar journalists across many generations and what emerges from these awards sets standards, I tell the RTS journalist.
it envelops camera operators who over the years have developed de facto into cinematographers, and reporters whose cadence and scripting of words resembles poetry. Watch last year’s television journalist of the year Clive Myrie reporting from The Royal London in the bowels of COVID-19 infection.
Today will be no different. In fact, as a juror and echoed by many other judges, picking a clear victor is a task akin to a parent choosing a favourite child from triplets.
Storming the Capitol carried with it the sense of knowing. Once in a while you’ll see a film, such as Michael Buerk’s Ethiopia, and know it will sear itself into the long term memory.
From the moment of Storming the Capitol’s broadcast in January 2021, it joined the ranks of broadcasts in a category of their own.
It helped too that on the day, ITV News’ crew would be the only team to enter with rioters. Was it luck, some journalists asked. There’s a better back story to the one that I can provide here, but a calculated risk turned out right. Sometimes you make your own luck. In literature written later by Moore, he would say:
Everyone was talking about the protesters and no-one was listening to the protesters. At noon on January 6, I was on the Ellipse, an area on the National Mall to the south of the White House, interviewing Trump loyalists. It was crystal clear there would be an attack of some kind on the Capitol within hours, although whether it would be successful or not was impossible to know
Remarkably, US networks had opted for fixed position reporting, the kind popularised by CNN and studio punditry. Hence at the very moment and event when it really mattered, Moore says the networks “sacrificed” the core of journalism which is news gathering.
Knowing this as a judge didn’t make Moore’s film a shoe-in, anymore than seeing the BBC’s Yemen (a finalist) coverage the first time and feeling emotionally overwrought. No! The competition was fierce. Chatham House rule and decorum prevents me from divulging what we discuss, but the selection process is no easy task and why should it be.
Revisiting Storming the Capitol and hearing more about its making provides some lessons concerning rapid turn over news production. The story was shot to edit, which means the filming was executed so they’d be minimal edits which would eat up production time.
Instead camera man Mark Davey orchestrated a series of roving images, as if it were a ‘live broadcast’. There are shots which provide a bird’s eye view drawing on memories of David Maysles famous tracking shot of Kennedy walking inside a throng of people in Primary (1960). Ah! That would explain it, when I see Davey on stage. He’s at least 6.3.
And for holding his nerve, ITV News presenter Tom Bradby speaking to a newspaper a month after the event said Davey “learnt how to handle a riot back in Belfast in the old days”.
Moore delivered a limited number of off the cuff pieces to camera (stand ups) to contextualise and give a sense of the urgency. A former colleague, ex BBC, on a table nearby asked the question, “How might that film have been different if it was the BBC?”. It was perhaps an unfair question as there are countless talented BBC journalists, but the thought that a risk assessment would have prevented journalists from the Capitol had a whiff of Mmmm about it.
Another stand out for me at the awards was Noel Phillips, a young reporter for GMB often placed inside turbulent and nuanced international reporting assignments. And lest it need saying he’s a black man, rare in the broadcast journalism fraternity. Wishing him well.
Krishnan Guru-Murthy appears to have slain what he referred to as his bridesmaid image of nearly winning. This time he did. Recognised as one of the most formidable journalists of his generation up against politicians, several of his non-political interviews have also become iconic such as the following:
kathryn samson from @ScotlandTonight clinched Nations and Presenter of the Year memorialising the art of performance journalism by waving a twenty pound note in front of the PM. Her speech praising female journalists she admired equally drew wide admiration from the audience.
“How long has it been?” said one of the BBC’s legendary editors. “Well, 1991 when I was a researcher on Newsnight”, I said. Jim Gray was then one of the programme editors, and then from 1997–2001 I joined @Channel4News and Gray was News Editor.
And what about that! said Morwen, a BBC Exec, who months earlier managed to work her magic so the BBC’s Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen would address Cardiff Students from Kabul. I bump into Prof Kurt Barling. We discuss contributing to the British Library’s book Breaking the News: 500 years of News in Britain, and then Pat Young, who recently has been appointed chair of council at his alma mater Cardiff University. Then to one of my table hosts where I discover the indomitable Jean Rouch who pioneered Cinema Verite, used to work for her father — a famous filmmaker.
This, and the awards are what makes the RTS gathering so memorable.
Thanks to Jo and the team.
Dr David Dunkley Gyimah is a senior lecturer at Cardiff University. He’s one of the advisors and authors for the British Library’s 500 years of News opening in April 2022. He’s been a journalist since 1990 working for BBC, Channel 4 News and ABC News. He specialises in International affairs, cinema journalism ( his speciality) and Tech. More on him here