Lessons in TV journalism have come thick and fast over the last two weeks.

Lesson one: don’t be precious about your work. Last week, in light of more topical countryside news, our initial plans to cover water pollution were shelved. “Try working in news,” said Joan, my co-researcher. “You put in all that work only to find out your story’s been cut at the last minute because someone died.”

No time is wasted in this business though – that work was great practice for me in how to start pulling together the pieces of a story, and the research will be filed away for a future Countryfile investigation. In the meantime…

Lesson two: move fast. We had a hunch that the badger cull would start on Monday (in fact, it did), and we had to put together a film that shed new light on the topic without going over old ground. We decided to focus on the possible TB vaccine for cattle – something that a lot of people have been mooting as a solution to the problem. But where is it?

Our quick change of direction meant that we had half the normal time to prepare our research, plan a schedule, organise contributors, write a script, and sort out transport and accommodation. There was quite literally no time to lose. I talked to TB and veterinary scientists up and down the country for two days, while Joan handled DEFRA and the NFU. Kieron, our director, worked on a script in between calls to research labs. At this point, I learned that…

Lesson three: every bit helps. That lovely little segment you see on Countryfile is just the glittering tip of an iceberg of research and preparation, and every paper read, or phone call made, or bit of archive logged, is important – even if it’s just because it allows you to say “yes, that’s true”, or “no, this isn’t worth following up.” I’m proud to say that Countryfile doesn’t duck away from complicated or challenging issues (this one is a good example of both). To make sure we’re covering it in a responsible and balanced way, a lot of research goes into making what we say accurate, unbiased, and scientifically sound. And after all that…

Lesson four: nothing is quite as awesome as seeing all that work crystallize into a nine minute film that looks good, and says what we wanted to say. We spent a day and a half zipping around the south of England interviewing contributors with the legendary John Craven (“They keep asking me to do ‘Strictly’”, he confided, “but they’ve given up trying to get me into the jungle…”), followed by a day in the editing suite. And the result is a great piece that I think answers some important question about the divisive issue of TB in the British Countryside.

Want to tune in? BBC 1, 7pm, Sunday 1st September. Look out for the wellies 🙂


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