A couple of weeks ago I was putting the finishing touches to my final edition of Le Nurb, the Brunel University student rag. It was about half six in the evening when suddenly my phone went off. My MA course buddy Chris had left campus about ten minutes ago and had seen a road accident right outside. Was I interested?
Fifteen minutes and one breathless cycle ride later I was on the spot. The story itself wasn’t a biggie – someone using a traffic-light controlled crossing had been hit by a car, apparently after walking out on a green light – but this was the first time that I was on the spot of a breaking news event.
There were a couple of ambulances present along with a police van. Traffic was blocking back in both directions, and two fully-loaded buses were sitting patiently in the queue as well. Campus security were watching as the ambulance crew stabilised the casualty, who they were easing out from under the car.
Yours truly then started making like a journalist and Investigating the Scene…
Step 1: park the bike. This went instantly awry as one of the security goons came and started carping on about that particular bike rack being “for staff only”. I’m sure lots of academic staff are at work at 7pm.
Step 2: go take photos. Armed with my little point’n’click digicam, I went forth. A second security goon instantly went into angry-shouty mode, telling me to bugger off and have some consideration for the poor sap under the car. Privately, I sympathised, but hey – a good story needs a good picture, right?
Step 3: take pictures of anything that isn’t the casualty on the stretcher so as not to raise further ire from the security goons. Hence I got pics of the ambulance, the buses, the police car, the watching crowd, the security goons themselves … anything but the actual scene.
Step 4: interview witnesses. Everyone I approached either said they weren’t willing to be quoted or were already witnesses for the police. I’ll be honest, I don’t know what the score is with interviewing police witnesses and prejudicing them, so I had to let the interviews slide.
Step 5: Get official quotes. I went to the campus security office and rang the bell. Security goon no.2 came to the window. There were no quotes to be had.
However, the Met Police press bureau were reasonably happy to provide a standard, if anodyne, quote, so I ended up sticking that in.
It’s quite different from making up answers to the formulaic NCTJ reporting exams. Dealing with irritated security personnel isn’t part of my MA course. Neither is convincing reluctant passers-by to give me an interview. And the NCTJ, in their wisdom, certainly don’t cover anything like these practical skills. Classroom-based theory is all good and well, but there’s nothing quite like exposing it to reality and seeing it go somewhat pear-shaped.
Ah well: you live and learn.