Monday, 26 January 2009

Last Week was Today

Last week marked Garlik's first appearance on the BBC's flagship Radio 4 programme, Today. It was a short piece (5 minutes 47 seconds to be exact) but I think it worked well.

After the broadcast I got an email from a contact wondering who our PR company is (Band & Brown if you are interested) and how we managed to end up on such a high profile news programme. So what goes in to putting together a 5 minute 47 second slot on a major news programme like Today? Well, about 6 months of effort as it happens.

In this case, Angus Stickler, the BBC investigative journalist who led the piece got into contact with me around the middle of 2008 to talk about the big issues in the world of personal information. We talk about some research I was doing into the way the UK Government handles personal data and we decided that this would for the focus for a piece.

I then issued about 25 Freedom of Information requests to major Government departments asking them a series of questions about how they handle information. I got a range of responses (from "here's the answer" to "why do you want to know?") and spent several months chasing up, arguing, negotiating with these departments to get a coherent set of replies.

So, about two months after we first got together Angus came back in to pre-record an interview with me. In the meantime he had found another independent expert from the British Computer Society, who also had a strong view on this issue and recorded an interview with her.

When he came in to record the interview with me, we got everything set up and he reviewed the list of departments that I had received replies from. However he decided that there were several key departments missing, so we had to cancel the interview and I went back out and issued another tranche of FoI requests bring the total to about 35 (subsequently grouped together to end up as 30 responses). This took another couple of months and we were now into December.

Angus came back in and spent a couple of hour recording the interview. He even had to record "background noise" around Garlik's office. I asked why they don't just use general background noise but apparently if on a BBC radio programme they say they are in an office and you hear keyboards tapping away and background office chatter, they have to be actual keyboards tapping in the actual office they have referred to!

Next step was to contact the Information Commissioners Office to see whether they would be willing to put up a spokesperson. They agreed and that needed to be scheduled, so a few weeks later off Angus went to Wilmslow, near Manchester, to record that interview.

Finally the package was all together and it was put into the hands of the Today Programme editors to decide when to run it and whether to try to get a Government Minister onto the programme to answer questions. After a week or so back and forth with the Cabinet Office about providing a Minister, Today finally decide to run the piece.

So we wake up early on Wednesday morning at 6am waiting to hear the piece go to air. 7am nothing. 8am nothing. 8.45am nothing. Finally the 9am news comes on and the item is not mentioned. After all that. Damn!

We get an email that evening saying "sorry about that, something came up but don't worry it will go out tomorrow". But this time I didn't bother getting up early. I got up at 7.30 and tuned in. As there was no mention of the story by about 8.30am I left the house and jumped on the bus to head off for a meeting up in London. Five minutes later I got a text from my wife say "Just heard you on the radio. Don't know what you were saying thought".

6 months. 30 plus Freedom of Information requests. About a hundred emails and phone calls. Several hours of interviews and editing. And I missed it !

Next time you hear someone on the radio, talking for a few minutes and then getting cut off by an agressive interviewer or the clock striking 9, spare a though for the effort that has gone into it behind the scenes.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There is a write up here: