RADIO: Dawn on a Funeral Day

My work experience with Global has introduced me to many new experiences. Including my first ever “media event” funeral.

The TV agony aunt Denise Robertson passed away on 31 March this year. As a Sunderland native her death was extremely significant to the people here, and there was no doubt that her funeral at Sunderland Minster would be well-attended by people wishing to pay their respects.

I’ve attended funerals before, yes, but never a celebrity’s and never as a member of the press. This was an entirely new experience. I was very conscious that this was a sensitive time, that people were grieving, and I took great pains to avoid being disrespectful. At the same time my job was to report on the funeral, to talk to people in mourning, and be part of a crowd of media professionals some of whom were… shall we say…desensitized to events like these.

We arrived at the Minster several hours before the funeral began. We were given our Accredited Media badges and briefed on how  the day would go. We were told where we could and could not go, were told in no uncertain terms to not take any photos of Denise’s This Morning colleagues while they were working (the show was broadcast from Sunderland Minster as a one-off tribute), and that we would not be allowed inside the minster during the service. According to her family’s wishes the service itself was entirely private with no recording allowed.

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So while it was a very sombre event, it was also a huge learning experience for me. I’d never been in a “media pen” before, I’d never joined a queue of people waiting to interview the same person, I’d never had to elbow my way to the front of a fence and try and video someone making a statement while other people’s microphones and camera lenses were waving into my shot.

In the end some of the video I shot made it onto the Heart North East twitter account.

I recorded some other video, and collected some vox pops from members of the public who had gathered to pay their respects. This was difficult – some of the people I spoke to were understandably very upset – but I did hear some wonderful stories from people whose lives had been touched by Denise. Some of the audio I recorded was used in the Heart Nightly News report put together by Martin Lindsay, including the sounds of the Minster’s bells tolling as Denise’s coffin was carried up the path.

Despite the tragedy of the situation it was an incredible opportunity to learn about live reporting and journalism, with some practical lessons that will serve me well in future.

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