I WON a place on Uclan’s Infuze training programme by putting together a short film about a residents’ campaign to gate alleyways around the area where I live in South Manchester.

The brief was to tell a story without using the written word but with so many arresting images telling you practically everything you need to know about the whole issue – Neil talking to me from behind bars, old brick alleyways stretching off into the middle distance – it wasn’t quite as difficult as I imagined.

My biggest challenge was actually mastering the various bits of low-level technology I had to employ. Unlikely though it might seem, I’d never explored the video camera capability of my mobile phone. I am slightly ashamed to admit I didn’t even know I had a video editing package on my laptop. And though I was vaguely aware that short films can be uploaded to You Tube, I’d never even dreamed of doing it myself.

I was delighted to learn that my four-week work placement would be at North West Tonight, BBC Television’s local news programme covering Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Lancashire, Cheshire and bits of Cumbria and North Wales.

Suited and booted, I headed to New Broadcasting House on Oxford Road in Manchester to meet the programme’s News Editor, Jim Clarke ..

“How much is that bishop in the window?”

Much of my first week at NWT was spent trawling through the papers and shadowing reporters such as environment correspondent Colin Sykes as he VJed a story in Blackpool (which in effect meant carrying the legs for the camera), and Stuart Flinders as he covered the Bishop of Middleton praying in a shop window in city centre Manchester.

I also went into the gallery with assistant news editor Helen Wakefield for the evening programme – a pretty mindblowing experience all round – did some indepth research on a story which came out of Facebook, and began to feel my way around the ENPS system.

Nuns, counter-terrorism and a cardboard Hulk

My second week at NWT found me tracking down some Setanta-owned football footage and negotiating permission to use it on the programme, walking the dark, rain-soaked streets of Oldham looking for binge drinkers with reporter Stuart Flinders and a camera man (somehow, I ended up carrying the legs again) and visiting a nunnery in Preston with chief reporter and VJ Dave Guest.

I also shadowed Steve Rawlings as he filmed at the Velvet hotel for a package on tourism and researched deaths on duty for Manchester’s police forces from the early 19th century to the present day.

I was also able to see how the recent counter-terrorism operation in the north west developed from the call tipping off NWT’s news editor Jim Clarke about a large police convoy travelling at speed towards Clitheroe, through the confused period while the three separate arrest and search operations were ongoing in Liverpool, Manchester and Clitheroe, and finally onto the eventual release / deportation of the arrested men.

I contributed where I could, finding a counter-terrorism expert who had both the time and inclination to talk to the programme on a bank holiday.

Sports reporter Richard Askam also required me to source a cardboard cut-out of the Incredible Hulk. I failed – but I did find him a caricaturist. Never a dull moment.


Having convinced the the NWT team that I could tie my own shoelaces, journalistically, my penultimate week in the office found my involvement in the programme stepping up a gear. I was sent out with a camera operator to interview subjects and the results were cut into packages.

My first ever on-camera interview was in Stockport with a man who was the victim of a terrifying aggravated burglary, in anticipation of his assailants sentencing next month. Immediately afterwards, camera operator Mandy Ingham drove us over to the Royal Preston Hospital to talk to the head of a new Health Protection Agency microbiology lab.

Despite being a little fazed by the rather complicated scientific terminology – and frankly, terrified by the prospect of knocking over various bits of expensive equipment and the numerous jars and petri dishes containing Legionnaires disease, Hepatitis B, listeria etc surrounding us – we got enough material for the piece and even received a note from the hospital trust commending our efforts a few days later.

Standing in for an indisposed Jayne Barrett, I returned to Preston the next day, with Mandy once again, to interview Jim Carr, the chief executive of Preston City Council, about Blackburn Council’s opposition to the proposed £700million Tithebarn redevelopment of Preston city centre.

A couple of days later, I headed over to the headquaters of Bet Fred in Warrington to interview Everton legend Graeme Sharp at the club’s forthcoming clash with Manchester United. I know as much about Premiership football as I do microbiology, but once again we somehow managed to get some useable footage. I still seemed to be carrying the legs a lot though.

Old dog, not-so-new tricks

After the excitement of the last few days, my final week at NWT might appear to have been something of an anti-climax, but it was a reminder that many elements of journalism remain the same as ever, even in the brave new world of the cross platform, multi-media digital age.

I spent much of the week trying to track down a British soldier whose identity had been adopted by someone in Nigeria in order, it appeared, to scam two women who responded to ‘lonely hearts’ spam email. It involved a lot of trawling through various 401 scam-busting websites and calling various military personel forums.

In the aftermath of the counter-terrorism operation, as the story moved on from the so-called ‘bogus’ students to bogus colleges as a whole, I could be found approaching people who appeared to be students outside various educational establishments along Stockport Road in Longsight and Levenshulme and asking if they would agree to be interviewed on camera.

Despite pounding the pavements of South Manchester for most of a very hot day, absolutely no one was interested in talking to me. You win some, you lose some.

The next day, I talk to a lovely volunteer guide at Manchester Museum who is a part of Jayne Barrett’s Nine in 09 series. I could get used to doing this kind of stuff.

Later on, after I’ve got several boxes of chocolates in for the programme’s staff who’ve been so kind to me, and just when I’m thinking about saying my goodbyes and hitting the pub, I’m asked to go out on one more story, back up at the university.

It’s nice to go out on one last job with Mandy Ingham but we have to find a spot where we can broadcast to the dish atop New Broadcasting House for a live link with health correspondent Laura Yates. Time is moving on and we’re not in place.

We’ve been given the wrong address and I have to persuade the security guards to let us through the gates. Luckily, the charmed words ‘BBC’ work their magic once more, we eventually find the right place and get all the equipment working. Laura nails it and we head back to the studio.

Strangely, I appear to be carrying the legs again.

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