The art of turning television into magic: Bill Neely in Haiti


This report by Bill Neely showing the incredible rescue of Janette Samfour from the ruins of Port-au-Prince in January 2010 won the ITV News international editor a news coverage BAFTA in the same year.

Referring to the "art of the news package" BBC political editor Nick Robinson recently described Bill Neely as one of "the great artists" who could "turn television into magic and use words and pictures like few other people do".

To illustrate his point, Robinson chose Bill Neely‘s reporting of the rescue of Janette Samfour six days after the 12 January earthquake in Haiti, adding that: 

It’s easy to say that anybody who stumbles across somebody whose survived an earthquake could tell that story. Don’t you believe it. It reminds me of that old gag about footballers, the more I practice, the luckier I get. Bill Neely’s either bloody lucky because he still keeps coming across these amazing dramas, or he’s bloody good, and I know which one I think.

That capacity to see that one story as a statement of the wider thing and to stick with it.  Remember, he’s there for three hours, the temptation for the reporter would be to think ‘OK, that’s quite good, let’s get another sequence, then let’s do a piece to camera, then let’s do an ariel shot’.  But to come across this human drama and say let’s stick with it, the amount of guts that takes, with the newsroom saying, is this going to make a piece? What happens if she’d died? Would that make a piece? Or if they got her out in the dark? But he had that instinct to stick with it, stick with it, tell the story. 

Find out more about Bill Neely and his career – and pick up some advice on the craft of television journalism – at our Reflections event on 29 June. You can book here.