C5 News’ chief correspondent Tessa Chapman spotlights the challenge of capturing the everyday under Covid conditions
Five people, five stories, five interviews. Lee Marks, Beverley Chambers, “Leila”, Damian Mann and Jamal Walker-Bailey. They’re not well-known; they won’t ever be household names. Yet I remember talking to them more clearly than to anyone famous because we gave them a platform and heard them roar.
Sometimes it spills out. On other occasions you have to coax the memories and emotions. And then you learn about life as a recovering drug addict, or as the mother of a special-needs child during an isolated lockdown, or a domestic abuse survivor.
“We pride ourselves at 5 News on putting ordinary men and women at the heart of our reports, and we know our viewers expect it too”
The care home worker opens up about the toll taken by Covid, or the young person leaving care vents his fury at the system that took him away from his twin sister and hasn’t cared very much.
Connecting with people is what we do. We pride ourselves at 5 News on putting ordinary men and women at the heart of our reports, and we know our viewers expect it too. So getting close to people during a pandemic response that demands distance has been a huge challenge.
During the early days of lockdown in March, I retreated to the spare room and would attempt to interview people hit hard by Covid over Zoom. But I missed the cup of tea and chat beforehand, the chance to put a comforting hand on someone’s shoulder. The interviewees needed to see me listen and be able to trust that I was hearing their story.
Soon we were back on the road and navigating a new way of working; socially-distanced from our camera operators and filming inventively.
We donned PPE, built arm muscles using mics on poles, interviewed in gardens and parks, through windows and over hedges. It’s not always comfortable but you can’t beat looking someone straight in the eye, even if it is from two metres away.
Talking of distance, the pandemic has curbed our travel to an enormous extent. We’re a small team at 5 News, with no crews based abroad, and so correspondents and camera operators are well used to foreign sends at short notice. It feels perverse to have watched the Covid story develop across the world without being there to experience it.
Even when flying became a possibility again, with two young children at home, the quarantine requirement put paid to travel for me this year, but our political editor Andy Bell and correspondent Julian Druker did make it to the US for the extraordinary election campaign. They brought it to life for our viewers; a news event that needed to be witnessed.
The restrictions have made us sharper for sure; our news desk and planning producers are experts in tracking down footage and contributors from all over the world.
“I find out as much from grilling the taxi driver on the airport run as the interviewees who make it into the final edit”
We conduct interviews internationally over Skype and ask eyewitnesses to do their own filming for us but reporters will agree, it can never replace being, seeing, living in the heart of a story.
I often find out as much from grilling the taxi driver on the airport run or the newspaper seller I meet on the street as the interviewees who make it into the final edit. It is true that Zoom and the like have given us greater reach than ever before and when the vaccine is rolled out, this technology will remain a vital weapon in our armoury. But it doesn’t make up for the real deal.
Back here and domestic stories are the bread and butter for 5 News, and it would be remiss to write about our coverage without a nod to the ‘end item’ packages that have come into their own during lockdown.
I hold my hands up - they are not my forte - but I have supremely talented colleagues whose creative camera work, pithy scripts and clever interviews are frequently debriefed as the best part of the programme.
The characters we feature make our viewers smile and cry and everything in between. That’s what we aim to do; to make our programmes relatable to the people watching in their living rooms. And who knows, perhaps they will be the ones to feature next, and to make an impact.
- Tessa Chapman is chief correspondent for 5 News