Bill Neely: masterclass in using words, pictures and sound for TV news

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The international editor for ITV News, Bill Neely delivered a fascinating masterclass in television journalism last night at the Frontline Club.

Part of a regular series of ‘Reflections’ events in association with the BBC College of Journalism, in which top journalists talk about their work and those who inspired them, the hour-and-half event was a mine of information and expert analysis on how to best make use of words, pictures and sound – and silence.

A must-watch for aspiring journalists and those who want to improve their game, the event includes insight into some of the key moments in TV journalism history since the 1980s, including the Bosnian war of 1992 to 1995. In the face of the atrocities carried out during that conflict, some journalists including the BBC correspondent Martin Bell and Ed Vulliamy decided that detachment was no longer possible and instead opted for the “journalism of attachment”, Neely explained.

He also analysed his colleague Penny Marshall’s use of words and pictures in a 1992 report from a Serb-run detention camp in Bosnia, which opens with Marshall saying ‘We were not prepared for what we saw there’. “Then for 18 seconds, she said nothing,” said Neely.

The report won the International News Award for 1992 at the Royal Television Society TV Journalism Awards but was caught up in a “storm” after Living Marxism magazine claimed that the video tapes were faked.

ITN successfully sued the magazine for libel but some people “still had not forgiven” BBC world affairs editor John Simpson’s decision to give evidence for the magazine, Neely said.

After showing one of his earlier reports from Newry while he was the BBC’s Northern Ireland correspondent, Neely examined the work of a number of journalists from ITV News, including Colin Baker and Paul Davis and the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen and Martin Bell.

Good journalists are able to use words to “grab a person by the lapels and never let them go,” said Neely,  who talked about the different approaches used by journalists, including Bell, who did not script his reports.

Drawing on a career that had seen him cover stories around the world from the fall of the Berlin wall to the Haiti earthquake and fighting in Libya, Neely also discussed the use of sound, pointing out the differences in the way  ITV News and the BBC reported from Dunblane massacre in March 1996.

Neely highlighted Baker’s report that showed school children leaving the primary school where 16 of their classmates and a teacher were shot dead. Ove the images, the former senior correspondent said: “Evil touched them, but just brushed past.”

During the report the sound of grieving parents could be heard from a building behind him but at no point did Baker draw attention to it, Neely said. “I think there are times when you just don’t need to,” he added.

The award-winning journalist, who picked up BAFTA’s three years in a row, contrasted different reporting styles from the BBC correspondent Kate Adie’s “icily detached” approach to the more conversational style of his colleague Tom Bradby, political editor of ITV News.

Neely talked the audience through step by step through his report from Haiti that won him his most recent BAFTA  last year. The report was shown in three parts and Neely highlighted different aspects of the package, which Ray pointed out broke with accepted wisdom of “using your best pictures first”.

Part two of the interview is here:

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