So, yesterday was my thirty-tooth birthday and didn’t at all go to plan.
On paper, the diary (( well actually, not on paper at all, but electronically )) my diary said I was free most of the day. In my head I knew that I simply had to get to grips with the leafleting backlog. But all that was thrown out of the water by a phonecall on Monday that changed the course of the day.
A local reporter at the BBC had found the speech I didn’t give to Pride as a result of a google alert, and having scanned through the 3,000 or so words, characterised the speech as being mainly about the gay blood ban. Would I be prepared to talk about that on the radio?
I would indeed. So we had a good few minutes in preparatory talks over the phone on Monday afternoon. Am I allowed to say “sperm donor” and “men who have sex with men” on the radio at 8am? Apparently I can!
Then the producer gets wind of the plans and phones back. This is important, she says, so can we put it in the “more prominent” slot of 0708? Urk. I agree, but with misgivings. I’m not at all good at getting up in the mornings, full stop, let alone significantly before 6, which is what will be necessary to ablute and get into the studio in enough time before going on air to be sure I’m not out of breath.
So, I jot a few thoughts down in preparation, and set my alarm for 5.15, and get a very early night. For me, that meant being in bed by about 11pm.
At midnight, after an hour fretting that I hadn’t in fact set my alarm, I got up and checked it, only to find a nice flurry of good-luck messages on my phone.
I barely slept a wink all night. I certainly remember seeing the clock after 4am, and lots of turning, and turning pillows, and dislodging cats.
At 5.15, I got up, showered, drank a litre of coffee, drove to the studio, thumbed through the day’s papers in the newsroom and had friendly chats with studio staff. I eventually got on air and was asked essentially the same question repeatedly. YOu can hear the interview here for a few more days at this link – my bit is about 1h 7min into the programme.
I staggered out of the radio studio by about 0720 and thought I would spook my council colleagues out by turning up at the office before breakfast, so I went in there, dealt with emails, tried to progress my casework, greeted the staff as they came in and then left for my 1030 meeting, via a bacon cob emporium and Argos. The new office doesn’t yet have any clocks in it; worse, neither do any of the computers. So I needed an alarm clock to sit on my desk at work.
The council’s daily media monitoring email comes in at some point, and they have characterised my interview as “Cllr Alex Foster encourages gay men to give blood.” Erk. No, I don’t. Stick to the rules, people, if you’re gay, don’t give blood until or unless the rules change to say you can. That sentence should have been “Cllr Alex Foster encourages the blood service to change the rules to allow gay men to give blood.”
While I was wandering around the city centre, my phone went, and it was a reporter from East Midlands Today. Would I be prepared to rehearse some of the same arguments from the radio that morning on telly that evening?
I’ve never actually made it as far as the local news before, although I’ve been on BBC Radio Nottingham about five times now in the seven years I’ve held public office.
So naturally, I leapt at the chance.
A few hours later, still dressed in my radio clothes and with my usual scant effort at grooming, I’m meeting a camera crew at the Council House, where they get me to a series of daft things, like walk across the room and point at the map, wander around Market Square, and walk up and down in deep conversation with a journalist. (although what he’s actually saying is “be careful, the audience can lipread”)
We do 5-6 different setups – in my office, at my desk, pointing at the map; in the square, by the fountains (can’t use that – too many naked children) walking on the street; and then over the blood donation HQ, which today wasn’t open to the public. In the hour or so I was with the journalist, cameraman and (I think) work experience guy who teaches media studies, we managed 5-10 minutes of actual interview.
Lots of off camera chatting with the journalist, too, including, at one point, me asking if each story on East Mids Today takes this long to put together. His response is that each of the packages on the programme take around a day of staff time to put together. There’s a big team of journos and camera crews around the counties trying to find stuff to talk about – and ultimately, if you aggregate all the different local news programmes in the country together, more people are watching local news than any other news programme.
Hours later, I settled down at home to watch the programme they put together including my interview. My bit is trailed from the outset as “gay rights campaigner” – and when, later, P gets in and watches the clip on the internet, his immediate reaction is “Oh, that’s nice – they got a gay rights campaigner to comment as well as you!”
Ultimately, I’m pretty happy with the piece that went out. I get barely a minute of screen time, and as far as I know, everything that I say and that the reporter says, is factually accurate.
They didn’t make me look stupid, which I suppose is the main thing. They easily could have done, with the footage they took from me. For every article like mine that they film footage for, there must be 10 different ways of presenting the information they get. You could go back through the archive of unused footage and make dozens of different news bulletins every day.
Unfortunately, East Midlands Today seems to one of only a handful of programmes made by the BBC that are not on the iPlayer, so no weeklong linkie for this.
Lessons out of all this? It’s bizarre that after all this time, it’s now that the BBC are interested in this story. The gay blood ban has been in place for decades. Even I’ve spoken about it before, and they weren’t interested in it then. I dread to think what their post bag has been like in response to this issue. And ultimately, I got on telly because a google alert showed a journalist what I’d written in a blog post.
Social media FTW.