Some of the most moving radio or tv I’ve witnessed recently has been on BBC Radio 4’s PM programme on Mondays at 5.30 where the production team have taken the decision to throw away the usual running order and regularly interview a man being treated for cancer. A man who has been diagnosed with stage 4 advanced adenocarcinoma.
The guy in question has been a bit of a hero of mine for some time.
I say ‘ a bit of a hero’ because normally I reserve my hero-worship for Everton footballers or the occasional writer or musician, but he’s a BBC journalist who makes everything sound SO understandable, whatever the complexity of the subject.
Steve Hewlett is a journalist by profession. A former editor of the flagship BBC current affairs programme Panorama and who for the past few years has been presenter of The Media Show on Radio 4, so beloved of media luvvies like me.
Unlike most editors and producers he is also an excellent presenter. His knowledge of his subject shines through every syllable.
His apparent throwaway style belies a razor-sharp mind that cuts through to THE REALITY without the ego-centric bullying or bluster that certain other presenters have made their stock-in-trade.
He’s also been writing a diary for the Guardian – in effect a written version of the live radio feature which has been so compelling.
If you haven’t already done so I would urge you to listen to PM on most Mondays, depending on Steve’s availability, around 5.30, or later via iPlayer.
It may well enrich your life in a personal and professional way….(now there’s a bold claim that he would probably cringe at, but tough, I’m sticking with it).
Steve brings his objective journalistic nous to a hugely difficult and emotional area in a way I haven’t heard before. Others have talked about their cancer on tv and radio but few with the impact of his contributions to PM.
(Steve is not a mate of mine by the way, in fact I’ve only briefly met him once, honest).
Throw away the running order
However the main purpose of this blog is not just to sing his praises, it’s to acknowledge the PM production team who took the decision to Throw Away the Running Order for 20+ minutes once a week.
So instead of the usual 3-4 minute interviews and reports you get an extended Eddie Mair interview with Steve about the BIG BATTLE he’s facing, and quite of few of the everyday ones as well. A few weeks ago he came in with his two sons who were also interviewed. It was very moving and if listener-response is anything to go by, really useful to lots of people going through similar issues.
As a former radio producer and editor myself, I remember encouraging producers to occasionally Throw Away the Running Order but they rarely did…probably for good reason most of the time but sometimes due to a lack of confidence in their own abilities.
You see it’s relatively easy for editors and creative leads in any industry to encourage people down the chain to BE MORE CREATIVE and but good editors and managers must be prepared to facilitate such thinking by occasionally freeing up time and space for good ideas to thrive.
It’s probably more difficult now than ever given the scarcity of resources and lack of thinking time as reporters and producers scramble frantically on the mousewheel of deadlines.
An old boss of mine used to say ‘Seek forgiveness rather than permission’ when faced with certain creative decisions. I don’t recall him defining what those situations actually are but it’s a good principle to take through your professional life as long as it’s applied sparingly ; that, I think, was his point and, obviously, it’s where your skills and the skills of your team, come in.
This willingness to THROW AWAY THE RUNNING ORDER and/or SEEK FORGIVENESS RATHER THAN PERMISSION is one that should be imbued in all media professionals – particularly young journalists, marketers and PR people, who spend so much of their time on the conveyor belt processing information they seldom get the chance to sit back and engage their creativity and come up something as simple and powerful as the PM team did.
I wonder at how many of the numerous journalism courses in the UK the students are encouraged to lift their heads above parapets and take time out from the daily grind and do this?
It’s pretty important.
As the PM team and Steve Hewlett have proved.