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Monday, 12 October 2009

Overnight in the BBC studio on the Pakistani Army HQ Attack

As soon as the rescue attempt began Saturday night GMT, I went into the BBC News Studio to cover unfolding events. The overnight anchor was Alistair Yates, and the editor in charge was Peter Simmonds, who is one of the nicest editors I have ever met. (The sensitive, highly intelligent ones stand out and can be counted on the fingers of one hand.)

Peter made sure that I had a computer to go to inbetween the live studio appearances and spent some time making sure that I was properly logged in and able to access the information I needed for updates. He reminded me about the BBC Newsfeed ENPS system that I had been trained to use.

On the hour, with the BBC leading on the Pakistan attacks and rescue mission as the top story, I gave updates and analysis after we had an overview of events from Pakistan.

Peter was solicitious and concerned that I was comfortable at all times during the all-night session and took me for a cup of tea into the fresh air for a chat and a break from the newsroom. In addition, it was Peter who saw me into my seat and off set each time, a duty normally delegated to someone else. All members of the team greeted me as they passed my desk, making sure that I was OK and ready for the next hourly appearance.

My rigorous BBC training has inoculated me with the need to always say something new and fresh, so as the story unfolded I was able to add more information and background to give colour to quite a complex situation. The porous Afpak border, changing militant strategies, drone attacks, all factor into this situation. Covering the story continuously for so many hours meant that I could take ownership of the material and I felt that everyone was working well together; anchor, editors, and me.

Newsrooms are busy places, with people hard focused on their computers, often working. It is rare for editors and senior staff to take time out to look after folk, especially over many hours, and Peter Simmonds's care made the whole experience so much more pleasant than the already pleasant experience of covering a breaking news story.

Overnight, and with major events, the BBC News Channel and BBC World merge, providing the biggest television audience in the world. This experience reminded me of the best elements of being part of a BBC team and why, on occasions like this, the Corporation has no parallel.

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