HANNAH Livingston is an assistant producer for Glasgow-based independent TV production company, Firecrest Films. She was a BBC News trainee where she worked on the original Jimmy Savile investigation for Newsnight. She joined Firecrest in May last year, working on films for Dispatches, Panorama and Channel 4 News.
She submitted this on Tuesday, April 9.
What exactly is it that you do?
It’s my job to find, develop and produce original news and current affairs stories for TV – stories you’ve never heard of before that can make it to ‘front pages’. These are usually stories that are difficult to tell and to uncover. People might be reluctant to talk, information deliberately obscured or hidden and there are often challenging legal problems.
In the wider scheme of things, I’m also trying to think of new ways to tell those stories so that they are interesting for viewers. It’s not a natural combination of skills, having to be, at one and the same time, a fact-driven journalist and also a visually creative thinker. It can be hard to strike the right balance.
What did your working day today or yesterday comprise?
First, I reviewed some notes I’d taken from a conversation I had with a charity on Friday and realised some of the data they had given me didn’t have sources. The report was embargoed so I had to ring the charity’s policy advisor to check where they’d got their figures from.
Nicole, Firecrest’s executive producer, and I hadn’t seen each other in a week as we’d been working in the different parts of the country. We went for a meeting over coffee to leave the two other people working on a Panorama programme in the office, in peace.
Nicole and I caught up on where we were with each project we’re developing. We had thought we might be able to expand a story we’re working on into a half-hour film but we both agreed expanding it felt unnatural, so we decided to keep it as a short, ten-minute investigation instead.
Nicole needed a factual briefing for a second story with detailed statistics so she could re-write a proposal. This is for a potential Channel 4 Dispatches film. And on a third story, an investigation for Channel 4 News, we’d gathered a big long list of names for corroboration purposes and we had to find numbers then ring those people that day.
When we got back to the office, I started pulling together the information for Nicole. This meant condensing details I’d gleaned from a number of off-the-record conversations, notes from interviews with academics, getting facts from unpublished research I’d been given and pulling apart a Parliament briefing paper. Then I rang up an union leader to arrange a meeting with him the next day.
Lunch came with the news that Margaret Thatcher had died.
For the rest of the afternoon I found and spoke to people who could corroborate the Channel 4 News story. Then, in the evening, I read a series of trade articles.
And then I wrote this.
How different or similar was it to your average working day?
In terms of days in the office, it was a fairly average day. I’m in the office three or four days a week and the types of story I look into can vary massively – from political scandal, to failing schools or shady corporate practices. I’ll usually spend around a month developing each individual story but we’ll have at least four on the go at any one time.
The dynamics of daily work completely change, however, when we’re in production. I quite often have to jump on a train at a couple of hours’ notice to anywhere in the country. I could be sent off to film with a reporter and cameraperson, or told to go out self-shooting, door-knocking or sent to interview people myself.
Gradually, more people become involved, with more people to satisfy: the commissioner, the lawyer, executives from the channel. The pressure gets ramped up, but that’s when you really get to test your mettle.
How different or similar is your average working day to when you started in post?
I started in daily news, which I find quite different to what I do now. There’s a lot that crosses over in terms of having the news judgement and ability to spot a story. But I find that documentaries are made in quite a different way: a lot more thought goes into how the half-hour will look and feel as an individual visual experience.
With daily news, I was fitting the stories of the day into specific slots. I needed enough news to fill a bulletin at a specific time, I followed things as they happened and newslines would present themselves. I did enjoy news, especially on days where something big happened. But there were a few times when I felt I was only scratching at the real story beneath. What I love about what I do now is that I’m given the time to look at the ‘big picture’.
How do you see the job evolving?
The job I do isn’t unique and has lasted for a very long time. I think it’ll still be here for a long time to come. The only things that could change are where the films get broadcast and the resources we use to get stories. But the core skills of generating stories, getting people to speak to you and making sure it all stacks up will always be the same.
What gives you most job satisfaction?
The biggest thrill is that moment when you find something completely new that has the potential to become big news. Nothing beats that feeling and it gives me a lot of job satisfaction because, at its best, journalism has the power to change things for the better.