Shadowing A Sky News Presenter

Sky News Tonight's Sarah Hewson

Sky News Tonight’s Sarah Hewson

Hannah Gray (@HanChan24) blogs about her day at Sky’s Westminster studio shadowing Sarah Hewson, news presenter for Sky News Tonight…

I met Sarah Hewson at an event I was invited to after featuring in a short video about my previous work experience at Sky. She was extremely warm and friendly and she chatted to me for a while about how she’d gotten to where she was today. A day or two later I emailed her to see if I could spend a day shadowing her to get a better idea of what her job entailed and she said it would be no problem (told you she was nice) and we set a date.

I arrived at the studio just before 11am and met the Sky News Tonight team. The show doesn’t start until 7pm but there is a lot of preparation to be done and so some of the producers arrive at 9am to get started. Both presenters (Adam Boulton and Sarah) arrive after lunch. First, I was given computer login details and was shown how to find Sky’s daily news agenda.

Sky’s Westminster studio shares a building with BBC and ITV News near the Houses of Parliament. The Sky News studio here is much smaller than the headquarters in West London, but for me that was nice as I could quickly find out where to make a cup of tea! In the meeting rooms there are pictures of the news presenters with President Obama, David Cameron, Ed Miliband and other world leaders from past and present – so I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t intimidated!

The bold blue, red and white Sky News branding is everywhere and areas of the newsroom itself around the studio are used for filming too,  so there are always lights and cameras everywhere ready for action. I was recognising reporters every few minutes but there wasn’t long to stand around being impressed –  the team had a show to put together and I wanted to be helpful.

Two of the producers had the responsibility of finding guests and contributors for that evening’s show. The third producer was working on scripts and a graphic element which would explore the top story in more detail. The rest of the team were based at the Sky News HQ in West London, so we met with them via Skype to discuss which stories would be covered and which guests we should aim to find.

I helped with the challenge of finding guests but to be honest I struggled to get hold of any expert who was available that same evening. It’s more difficult than finding a guest for a radio interview as, obviously, there is the visual aspect! They have to be able to get to Westminster and come into the studio, or we have to arrange to have a camera crew to go and visit them – unlike radio, where you can just ask them to pick up their phone from wherever they are. When I worked in the news team at Heart FM, guests could call in from their living room if they wanted to – they needed to be heard not seen!

High on the agenda was a story on the Home Office’s drug report which claimed that tough laws on drugs weren’t having the desired effect – and we were tasked with finding two people with opposing views who could come in to the studio to debate the issue on-air. Eventually two people with contrasting views on the subject agreed to take part.

Another element of the show required an expert on drugs laws and their usage to provide their authoritative view on the matter. One of the team managed to confirm the guest at 5.30pm, an hour before they had to come in for a rehearsal – so things can really be quite last-minute. This guest, Kirsty Douse, who is head of Legal Services at Release, took a close look at the statistics which were presented on air via a large touchscreen and explained what they meant. I also helped the producer with the appearance of these stats and felt pretty proud of myself when my suggestions were taken on board.

One of my favourite parts of the day happened at 3pm when Sarah had a pre-recorded interview with the US ambassador to the United Nations, Sarah Power. I got to sit in the gallery with the technical team and producer, and was given the responsibility of taking the minutes (counting down for the presenter so they know how much time they have left).

I have studied the United Nations a lot in my degree and also have researched Ebola over my time in journalism and so it was brilliant to see a journalist have the opportunity to ask questions to an expert about this. Like all diplomats, Sarah Power was extremely polite and politically correct when Sarah Hewson asked direct questions. At one point she persisted with the same question, asking it in a variety of ways in order to get the information she wanted from the ambassador, who was being vague on the subject. Seeing a master at work was inspiring, and I definitely learnt a lot despite it being a relatively short interview.

When it got to 7pm and the show went live, I again sat in the gallery so I could hear the director’s communication with the team, see the autocue in operation and watch all the different monitors showing the studio and the incoming feeds. A story broke moments before the show began (about a fire in a Stafford fireworks factory) and both Adam and Sarah had to talk about it without having had time to do any research. I was so impressed with the way they make their job look so easy. There was a director talking in their ear, constantly giving them instructions, and they only had moments to read their script before they were live. That’s the excitement of breaking news, of course, but seeing it first-hand caused me to respect presenters even more.

It’ll take a lot of hard work before I could think about becoming a TV news presenter, but having the opportunity to see what it’s actually like has given me a clear vision of a job I would love to aim towards. There were lessons I had learned from interning in radio news that came in handy for this opportunity, but TV has a whole lot more to get your head around.

The day was fast-paced and you had to stay alert and be able to adapt to changes. Many things happened that viewers wouldn’t have been aware of. For example, a guest was late and missed his interview – but the presenters stayed cool, calm and collected and with the help of the team, they made sure the show always looked professional. I think it’s unlikely that anyone at home would suspect a problem had arisen at any point, because both Sarah Hewson and Adam Boulton are so fantastic at adapting and ad-libbing while live on air. This is a skill that probably only comes with a lot of practice so I will continue to apply for work placements and hope that one day soon I’ll get the opportunity to report a story of my own live on air. For now, the University radio station (URF) is an excellent place to be learning!

Have you had similar work experience that you would like to write about for us? Or have you already written a piece you think we should publish? Get in touch with us by email or drop us a line via Twitter, @JournoGrads

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