Monday, October 25, 2010

Handling My First Breaking News Story

Tonight told me why I love radio presenting. There's nothing like it when you have to cover a breaking news story, especially when you know the main protagonists are listening. At 6.15 I thought I knew what we'd be covering tonight - pensions, Ed Miliband's first 30 days, and the banning of miniskirts (no, really). At 6.16 I went down to the studio to pre-record an interview on pensions with Baroness Hollis. When I came back up to the newsroom I was told that the Fire Brigades Union had called a strike on Bonfire night, November 5th. "You're having me on," I said. "They wouldn't". Shows how much I know.

So I had less than half an hour to prepare and get my head round what was happening. No time to write any script or even notes, just to decide with my excellent producer Carl how to handle it. And to think, an hour earlier we had been bemoaning the fact that there was bugger all news around and had been reduced to thinking about covering the fact that the mayor of an Italian town, Castellodemarre di Stabio, had decided to ban local women from wearing mini skirts. No doubt he'd quite approve of the burkha...

James Whale, who's on before me, was interviewing a union rep so we thought we'd go to the employers. When Carl rang them it seemed they had been caught on the hop. They hadn't heard of the FBU decision. I thought what I'd do in their position. Take legal advice. Let's get a lawyer on, I thought.

In the end, though, we decided to initially go combat. By which I mean, not get any guests on, just let's find out what Londoners thought. So we went straight to the phones. Some people, like me, couldn't understand why firefighters would put people's lives at risk by striking on the busiest day of the year from the fire brigade. Others defended their right to do it. I made my views perfectly clear but I hope in a way which even those who disagreed with me could respect. Some calls got quite firey (excuse the pun), but most were thoughtful. With one exception every firefighter who phoned in supported what their union was doing - slightly to my surprise. We decided to take it over the eight o'clock hour - normally we only do an hour on any one subject. But the calls kept on coming. We had a full switchboard from minute one, to the end of the show three hours later. I could compile a book from the number of tweets and texts we got.

Just before 9 Ian Leahair called. He's on the executive council of the FBU. I don't mind admitting, I gave him a bit of a grilling. It was a far more aggressive interview than you'll normally hear me give, because I felt I had to reflect the anger which people were clearly feeling. He gave as good as he got and in the end admitted that if someone died on Bonfire night as a result of there being a lack of fire cover he would have to examine his conscience.

While I was speaking to him I saw on my screen that Brian Coleman was phoning in too. You know you are doing something right when the two leading protagonists feel the need to call in and speak.

Brian Coleman is a man who polarises views. No one has a weak opinion about Brian. He's the ultimate marmite politician. He made it clear that no ground would be given. Indeed, when I put it to him that he was trying to do what Ronald Reagan did with the air traffic controllers, not only did he not deny it, he seemed to revel in the comparison. I pressed him several times on the fire cover which would be available on 5th November but he was unable to reassure me that the cover would be any better than it was on Saturday. I accused him of deploying the same bullying tactics the union were deploying, which he denied.

At the end I asked what he would do if firefighters refused to sign the new contracts and it became clear that he really does intend to follow through on the threats to sack any firefighters who doesn't sign the new contracts which will be issued on 26 November. "What then?" I said. "We will rebuild the fire service," he replied. Later in the programme we spoke to the Fire Minister Bob Neill too, who said he wouldn't be getting involved but then proceeded to give the FBU a right royal slagging off.

And then, after 3 hours it was all over. It was my first experience of real breaking news. Could I handle it? Could I go for three hours holding a real conversation with Londoners, interview with main parties, give my own views and still maintain a balanced programme? Well, it's not for me to say whether I achieved all that, but I enjoyed every minute of trying. And judging from the reaction on Twitter, so did many of the audience. I'm not listing these tweets to blow my own trumpet, but anyone who's been through presenting a programme like this will understand how important it is to gauge audience feedback. All I hope is that all those who phoned in thought they were given a fair crack of the whip.

@iaindale I love listening to @lbc973 when a breaking story is on :) very exciting!

Iain Dale handling the Fire brigade union
boss very effectively. Unlike the BBC, Iain actually lets the interviewee speak!

Iain Dale's coverage of the FBU bonfire story will get me listening to LBC in the evenings again.

@iaindale @lbc973 Excellent coverage tonight. You were just right with how you dealt with both the callers and and the management, Mps and union. The time flew. I hope you can now enjoy a rest.

@iaindale really do like the show & your way of presenting iain. way too relaxed for a hammer!!


Bill Quango MP said...

Good show. I thought I'd listen to a few minutes of it and ended up listening to the whole thing.

Tapestry said...

The Fire Service is losing its reputation and is going from a respected service to a despised one. It will make it all the easier to cut its benefits back in the future. This is what's called shooting self in foot.

John Galt said...

Excellent interview on LBC, Iain. This has inspired me to begin my own blog. None of us can afford to sit by as others make decisions. Each of us must become engaged or the Individual will continue to be trampled.

I know you've preached this for a long-time...I guess I am just a late-adopter! Keep up the good work.

JuliaM said...

"... and in the end admitted that if someone died on Bonfire night as a result of there being a lack of fire cover he would have to examine his conscience."

Shouldn't take him too long, should it?

Toby said...

if I wasn't deaf and could listen to radio you'd have another listener, when i could hear I got really fed up with 5 live and some of their 'discussions', biased and lowbrow.

I wonder how long it will be before you're taking calls on National issues on National radio

Born Today said...

Hi Iain

I'd love to listen to the episode; I'm sitting at home with a fever and really nothing to do.

But to do so requires name, address and credit card - which is a bit much for a podcast....

Dobson said...

Tapestry said exactly what I was going to say!

talwin said...

Bet Ed Miliband is thinking 'Thanks FBU. Thanks a bunch'.

Janner said...

As I understand it the dispute is about shift patterns

Not total hours worked

Not pay, basic or otherwise

Not working conditions

Seems to me this is a management issue - the employers wnat a more rational shift system, the employees don't for reasons that elude me

To prove their point the employees are now going to directly threaten the lives of their ultimate employers - London council tax payers

If I were them I would think very carefully about this

The Purpleline said...

It is time for the Government to let it be known that the Metropolitan police will arrest and the CPS will charge Union leaders, leading Firemen, and Management with corporate Manslaughter should a member of the public die on Bonfire Night as a result of striking Firemen in London.

Span Ows said...

Well done, wish I was there to hear it. Can you post a podcast please?

My opinion: I am sure most firefighters DO NOT agree with this action and especially the date. Aypical example of a poor union flexing it's muscles in the worst way...NONE of them will be worse off under the new contract but they feel they need to show they have power...

Unknown said...

Returning from my sister’s wedding, full of happy feelings and wedding cake…..last thing I wanted was to listen to any strife….but this caught me.

One of those occasions when live talk radio is so much better than TV.

You managed to fit in lots of opinions; it felt very balanced. Although I have sympathy with the firemen, not on 5th November. Agreed with the caller who drew comparisons to his bitter divorce. Once either side take these entrenched positions, it leads to turmoil for all concerned. Sadly, it would appear that both sides are convinced they are right. They seem unable to listen to, or believe each other. Get someone who both parties trust to negotiate
There was much outpouring of emotion on your show; peoples’ lives are at stake here. The tube strikes cause annoyance and inconvenience, but this is many levels above that.
I’m normally too busy to listen to a full 3 hours of the show, but I did tonight. If your show was a book, it was ‘unputdownable’
Well done !

Twig said...

Whatever the rights and wrongs of their case, this action will not win them public support.

It would have been better for them to pause a strike to cover the fifth of November.

Looks like an own goal.
They should review their PR arrangements.

ps. enjoyed the show as usual - you're a natural!

Daedalus said...

the reason they do not want to change the shift system is due to the fact they will not be able to do the second jobs the current shift system allows them to do. For some of them to change the shifts will probably mean they leave the fire service and continue with the second job. That really is the only reason.


Janner said...


Thanks - I suspected something like that

Anyone suppose that holding down two jobs might be a threat to their suitability for work in the fire service? Or do we assume they can sleep through the night watch?!

undivided said...

I cannot beleive people keep harping on about two jobs for firefighters.the fact is we live in a democratic society and as long as they are not breaking any laws so what.
perhaps the more important question is why they feel driven to take these measures

Mirtha Tidville said...

Gutted there wasnt any debate about the mini skirt...Bloody Fire Brigade..

bewick said...

Coleman is right I'm sorry to say. They should be sacked - both if they don't sign the contracts AND for the complete blackmail of striking on bonfire night.
Is Arthur Scargill advising the FBU or the clown who caused strikes in the motor industry (now almost totally foreign)Red Robbo?
My best guess is that firefighters will soon be out of a job (just like the coal-miners and the motor industry) as a result. The Fire Service will be privatised and new owners will be careful about whom they recruit. Well done FBU.

Janner said...


inability to keep two jobs?

protection of the public is incidental to their deliberations I susepct

Daedalus said...

I am most certainly not advocating people should only have one job. I know many people who have had two or more and the more the merrier for those who can do it. Except for someone in the emergency services; I would prefer them to be fully rested when they are on call.

Mikey said...

I think the most interesting bit in the 3 hours was when it emerged that the other fire brigades in the country had all accepted the new shifts, some like South Yorkshire only after each fire fighter had be bribed with £750, & the London fire brigade union had demanded £10,000 to change from 15 to 12 hour night shifts.