An evening ‘Looking East’ with Susie Fowler-Watt

BBC sign in Norwich, Creative Commons

By Genevieve, Trinity Hall undergraduate

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Having a passion for words, sharing stories, and creativity, journalism is always something that has appealed to me from an early age – whether it be through written or spoken word. I had always longed to write stories or poems, and later articles or reviews. Thanks to the opportunities during my second year at university, the possibility of presenting these through TV and film became a potential future career: one that would allow me to share stories and to pass on my passion for words. Keen to see how I could put these practises of writing, planning and presenting into a
potential career, I sought some experience in TV and was lucky enough to speak to the Trinity Hall Alumni Office who quickly offered me advice. Not only did they give me websites and possible internship opportunities to seek out but they also put me in contact with a member of our very own College alumni community – Susie Fowler-Watt, journalist at the BBC Look East Studios at
Norwich! Just as the Alumni Office at Trinity Hall had lived up to the ‘friendly’ name of our College in their immediate offering of advice and contacts, so was Susie friendly, willing and eager to help me. It was only a couple of days later that we spoke on the phone and she invited me up to shadow her at the studios in Norwich! I couldn’t quite believe my luck!

Located in the heart of the centre, at the Forum, in Norwich, BBC Look East Studios form a vast open-plan area on the second floor of the glass-walled building that looks out over the market and streets below. Susie meets me in the reception and takes me straight up to the huge main room. Desks are formed in little clusters from one end of the office to the next, interdependent, with each existing as a unit yet all collaboratively working as an interwoven whole. At one end Susie showed me the ‘Features’ section, then the ‘Radio’ department, next the ‘Online’ area and finally the ‘TV and News’ department. Although different mediums, each functioning in different ways and with different focuses, all worked under the same big BBC umbrella, borrowing and exchanging materials, stories and documents with each other. Susie described how they all worked together to offer the up-to-date news to the rest of the world, whether this be heard over the radio, seen on TV or on a smart-phone, or read about via social media. The interlinking of all of these different medias enthralled me and encouraged me to draw my own links as to how I could pursue my own career across various mediums, employing several skills and developing new interests.

After showing me around the office, I was introduced to many members of her news team – meeting the producer, specialist editors, film crew, presenters and reporters. I had never known so many roles existed, and not thought about how many people it took to make a single news broadcast! The half an hour show – 6.30pm BBC1 Look East – consisted of a weather reporter, a sports presenter, two show presenters: Susie and Stewart White, as well as other individual presenters who had filmed and pre-edited ‘packages’ to air on the show. And that’s not to mention the behind-the-scenes workers: editors, producers, technicians, camera crew, production assistants, broadcast assistant… I never knew that there was someone sitting in the gallery counting down the seconds for each timed section of the programme; or someone in control of switching through the different screens to show different cameras, or move to pre-recorded and edited packages at the allotted intervals… it was incredible to watch!

As well as meeting everyone, I was privileged to watch the live broadcasting of BBC Look East. We went down to the film studios at 5.45pm, for Susie to get changed and ‘made-up’, ready for her live presenting alongside Stewart. At 6pm we filmed the first instalment: ‘and coming up next in the news at 6.30pm…’ – for this, the technical team let me press the button to put us live on air! I felt so honoured! Then at 6.15pm, the same again, a short snippet showing viewers what to expect on the 6.30pm news.

But in the middle of this, at 6.05pm, only 25 minutes before the live programme, breaking news hit: Alex Neil, manager of Norwich football team had been sacked! All the sports packages were dismissed, the newsroom above me went wild in a flurry of people and paper, rushing around to find evidence, find materials, find news clips to air in time for the live show…satellites were sent out to gather more data and information…interviews came in to be screened…the entire production plan for that evening’s show went ‘out of the window’ as the producer came down to give new orders and instructions that kept changing with new evidence coming in even during the live show at 6.30pm!

With copies of both the initial and adapted production plans in hand, I avidly compared what was going on to what had been pre-organised. Even as the live programme was being filmed and broadcast, things were changing as news items had to be ‘scrapped’, order entirely rearranged, packages dismissed and forgotten about…People rushed in and out with new updates, the counting changed from moment to moment to adapt to a renewed script and yet still keep to the strict time-frame of the programme – down to the very second!

Wow! It was an incredible atmosphere! It was both tense and calm, exciting and under-control at the same time. I absolutely loved the environment of rush and spontaneous adaptation that, to the innocent TV viewer, would go amiss and unnoticed! I had anticipated some of the planning and preparation that Susie had opened my eyes to in the initial introductions, meetings and tours around the newsroom with its members, but for all of this to be thrown upside-down in a moment’s breaking news and things to be rearranged on the spot – it was amazing! What an experience to witness and be a part of it all!

An evening of learning, of news, and of unforeseen drama: my experience at the BBC Look East Studios with Susie is one that I will remember and continue to tell people about for a long while yet. It
is also one that has enabled me to learn more about what I really want to do, the career path that I really want to pursue and the areas of possibility that are available for me as an avid
story-teller, writer and presenter. This experience has opened my eyes in more ways than one and has enabled me to seek further opportunities and experiences in the world of media, presenting, creative industry, writing and journalism, where I hope to find a successful future! Thank you to Susie and to everyone in the Alumni Office, especially James, for making this happen for me!

Photo by Elliot Brown
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