Thursday, 22 December 2016

Your Bonus Questions Are....



It's an amazing experience being on an iconic show like the BBC's University Challenge. I was honoured to be asked, but also terrified I'd look like a complete ignoramus. Luckily my team-mates were awesome - a biological science expert, an acoustics and engineering professor, and a broadcaster who turned out to be a walking encyclopaedia. 

Arriving at the studios in Salford, we were put in the green room with other competitors. They were filming four matches that day, and we were all under strict orders not to reveal the results before they were broadcast. There were a few familiar faces there: indeed the captain of the team we were due to play was a former colleague of mine, whom I'd worked with at ITV News. Small world.

The atmosphere is all very jolly with just a tiny undercurrent of rivalry. After all, this was a Christmas special. It was supposed to be fun, not cut-throat. Taking our seats on the set was a surreal experience. We all got to pose with unflappable host Jeremy Paxman in front of an enthusiastic audience. We practised using our buzzers, and I made sure our mascot, Ollie Bear, was front and centre. All very relaxed. Then the cameras started rolling.

As the opposing team introduced themselves, my Kent colleagues and I exchanged uneasy glances. Sussex were fielding a top journalist, a comedienne, a major academic and a QC. Between them, they had some serious brainpower.

But we needn't have worried. 

My team mates turned out to have a wealth of knowledge, everything from fossils to computer systems to Belgian musicians to war poets. (For my part, and rather less intellectually, I managed to supply answers on Batman, Hollywood actors, and the Two Ronnies).

Yes, we got one or two wrong. I will forever kick myself over failing to recognise the breastbone of a turkey. But we nailed it. And I don't mind revealing we got one of the highest scores ever on Christmas University Challenge.

So I leave you with good wishes and good cheer, and wish you all a very happy Christmas. May 2017 be a fantastic year for all.


Thursday, 17 November 2016

Winners and Losers



The US presidential election has been a long journey. And on November 9th, I had to explain to my daughter how a man labelled as racist, misogynistic and politically inexperienced got to be the leader of the free world.

In the interests of balance, I also had to explain why so many people disliked and distrusted his opponent too. My daughter was bewildered as to how these two ended up as America's choice for the next president. Join the club, love.

But it's (hopefully) taught us two things.

1) The polls aren't always right. Remember Brexit.

2) There is a huge swathe of people out there who feel disenfranchised, forgotten, ignored, and badly done by. They believe the current Administration has failed them and they've made their voices known. They want change. The trouble is, some communities (Muslim, LGBT, Hispanic) fear the change may be for the worse.

Trump has promised to be a president for ALL people. For those of us watching from the outside, we can only hope that's true.


*



Christmas is just weeks away. Anyone with OCD like myself will already have written their lists and started their shopping. My husband is more laid back, which usually means he has a last minute scramble to buy presents. We always have a battle over when the tree goes up. My daughter starts clamouring for it come mid-November. My husband would be happy to leave it till Christmas Eve. So we compromise - sometime around December 10th, the Ghosh household will be bedecked with bows of holly. 

If you're looking for a unique present this year which will do some good and has more meaning, do check out the Alternative Gift Shop at Build Africa. This is the charity I'm a patron of, and the gifts are really cool. You can buy much-needed items for villages in Africa and donate them in someone's name. That person will get a beautiful postcard recognising their contribution and telling them what it means. Just 5.00GBP buys soap for a child;  17.00GBP buys honey bees for an African farmer; and if you can stretch to 70.00GBP, you get to help educate a girl! And that really is an amazing gift.

Picture: www.build-africa.org


Visit the website at http://buildafricashop.org/collections/alternative-gifts and make a difference this Christmas. Now, unashamed plug over, time to get back to scrutinising another long-running election contest with hilarious competitors. Yes, X-Factor, I'm talking about you. 


Thursday, 3 November 2016

Starter For Ten



It's been a while since my last blog. Apologies - it's a combination of being too busy and, when I do have time, too lazy. But here I am again, and it's been a weird month of ups and downs.

The Ups - several publishers have now read my manuscript, encouraged by my hard-working agent Piers, and all of them have enjoyed it. Just to fill you in, I've written a YA supernatural novel about an Indian teenage girl who discovers her mother belongs to an ancient demon-slaying organisation. The story has its roots in Hindu mythology, which was a big part of my childhood.

One publisher wrote "I thought the concept for this one was brilliant and I'm always keen to bring a broader range of cultural influences to the list". Another wrote "Shiulie is clearly a gifted writer with such a natural YA voice that flows wonderfully and pulled me into the story immediately".

The Downs - the first publisher already had several YA authors on their books and didn't require any more. The second decided they wanted a contemporary story, not a paranormal one. My agent got a 'thanks but no thanks' in each case.
I confess I'm only able to tell you this after spending some time wallowing in self pity. Rejection is hard to take, especially when you've spent the best part of a year honing what you think is a great adventure, only to be told no-one wants to publish it. But now I look at their comments and I realise my style of writing isn't the problem, in fact the publishers like that a lot. They just want a different story. So I can either quit - or start again. Back to the drawing board.

An interesting email in my inbox this week. "I am the assistant producer of the television series 'University Challenge'...... Would you be interested in taking part in the Christmas special?" For those who don't know, University Challenge is a formidable BBC quiz show where teams from universities compete to answer questions like "in cytogenetics, what term describes the entire chromosomal complement of a cell which may be observed during mitotic metaphase?"  (Feel free to have a stab at the answer in the comments section below!)  

At first I thought it might be a hoax. But on closer investigation it turned out to be true - I was being asked to be on a panel of four representing the University of Kent. Now, my first inclination was to refuse. This quiz is hard - I mean, really, really tough. It's a sure-fire way of revealing just how desperately ignorant I am of anything not involving Middle East politics.

Jeremy Paxman, University Challenge host
But then I thought, what the hell. Looking like an idiot on national telly can't possibly feel worse than having your precious manuscript turned down by publishers. So I said yes.

Filming is in a couple of weeks. I am yet to speak to my fellow team mates, and I have no idea how to prepare, other than trying to memorise all the key dates in British history over the past 200 years.

But maybe I'll get lucky - maybe quiz master Jeremy Paxman will ask me all about about the Arab Spring. I'll let you know how it goes in my next update.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Coups and Gaffes





Interesting times at TRTWorld. The Turkish Radio and Television company is based in Ankara and Istanbul but in its wisdom has hired me to launch its London operation. This is now duly underway - if you have any interest in seeing what an English-speaking Turkish channel looks and sounds like, check out trtworld,com/live - it can only be watched online as it currently only broadcasts in Turkey.

Except it very nearly ended altogether a few weeks ago, when army rebels launched a coup attempt in Turkey. Armed men swarmed into the TRT headquarters in Ankara, held up my colleagues at gun-point and forced a fellow anchor to read a statement on air claiming they had taken control of the country.

As I said, interesting times.

Of course we now know the coup failed, and Turkish president Reccep Tayyipp Erdogan is busily and thoroughly cleansing every part of Turkey of those connected to the coup plotters. But as the situation unfolded, it was very unsettling to know my colleagues were going through this experience. Thankfully no-one was hurt.


Do you know who this man is? No, neither did I until recently. This is the Libertarian party's US presidential nominee, Gary Johnson. A man who made headlines with an astonishing gaffe during a live TV interview in which he asked the question "What is Aleppo?"

The MSNBC anchor gaped in disbelief and stuttered "You're kidding!" to which the hapless Mr Johnson replied, "No."

Needless to say, this quickly started trending on social media worldwide as #WhatIsAleppo, and Johnson is now doing some fancy footwork to limit the damage. Meanwhile his media advisor is off somewhere having a breakdown.

Johnson broke one of the cardinal rules of media training - something my company Aero Productions Ltd teaches to company directors and anyone else who has to deal with the media. And that is: Always Be Prepared. 

When you're asked to do an interview, you will almost certainly not be given the questions in advance. As a journalist, I know how much reporters hate doing that. But it's fine to ask what ground the interview will cover. And even if you're caught on the hop, a good media trainer will coach you on how to answer unexpected questions. Even better, you'll be taught how to deal with subjects you're genuinely unsure about. With practice, you'll be able to flip a question to your advantage, and look cool and polished while you do it.

My rates are very reasonable Mr Johnson, and I do like Washington at this time of year!


Sunday, 19 June 2016

Paws for Thought

Hong Kong vet administers stem cell treatment

A busy couple of weeks. First, I was sent off to Hong Kong for ITN to film a piece about a new stem cell trial on dogs with osteoathritis. It never ceases to amaze me how expats living in hot and humid countries always seem to have big hairy pets. Still, it was sad to see them limping around because of their degenerating joints (the pets, not the expats), so it was good to do a report on pioneering company VetCell Therapeutics Asia, which sees stem cell therapy as the solution. 

My cameraman Mark (pictured above) filmed Swiss Mountain dog Roxie being injected directly into her hip joints. We'll know around September if stem cell therapy can cause cartilage and tissue to re-grow. It's already proved useful in human treatments, so fingers crossed it has the same effect on poor old Roxie.

I've also been asked to help Turkish broadcaster TRT World set up their London studio. Their news bulletins are not yet live from London, and when they are, they'll only be seen in Turkey. But it's an interesting project, and the new studio in Oxford Circus looks fab, as you can see below. TRT hopes to broadcast bulletins from there in a couple of weeks.


But by far the saddest job of this week was covering the murder of MP Jo Cox for ITV News. Jo was shot and stabbed outside her constituency surgery in West Yorkshire. It's a shocking story, and has inevitably led to a lot of debate about the motives of the killer, whether it was linked to the EU referendum (Jo was campaigning for the Remain camp) and how her death will affect the vote. But at the heart of it all is a tragic story of a vivacious, hard-working young mum who was cruelly taken from her friends and family.

I was at a memorial event held for Jo in Batley, part of her constituency. It was humbling to see how many lives she'd touched and how loved she was by everyone there, whatever their politics or religion. Again and again, people described her as caring, kind, compassionate, committed. I found myself thinking that if any of us could leave half the mark she did at the end of our lives, we should count ourselves lucky. 

And on that sombre note, I will just say Happy Father's Day to all you dads out there. May you never run out of socks and ties. 


Sunday, 22 May 2016

Back To The Future



Reporting from Washington DC circa 2005 ITV News

Almost ten years since I left the ITV Newsroom, I walked back in. It's always slightly disorientating when you return to a place where you spent so many formative years, like going back to school.You marvel at how much has stayed the same, as well as how much has changed. 

A lot of the people I knew are still there, which is lovely. So many familiar, friendly faces, it felt like coming home. And within hours, I was doing a report for News At Ten with very few pictures and an overworked producer. So that's the same then. 

The technology has changed though. Reporters are now expected to be able to edit their own pieces - in other words, to physically cut pictures and sound, weaving in special effects and graphics where necessary. I try not to be a Luddite. No-one wants to end up like their grannies, for whom the TV remote control is still the height of technology.  So I'm happy to embrace new skills and learn how to operate Avid and Newscutter. But fair warning, ITV News bosses - I am very, very slow. Also my OCD kicks in, making it impossible for me to stop tinkering until I'm completely happy with an edit. There is a very real risk I will miss a deadline if left to my own devices. (Unless my punctuality OCD cancels out my perfectionism OCD. Let's not put it to the test.)

Speaking of technology, I gave a talk to Journalism graduates last week. They were studying at Teesside University, which was kind enough to give me an Honorary Degree several years ago. I am always keen to encourage the future guardians of truth, justice, and a free press so I attended their Journalism Awards evening and talked about how vastly the industry had changed. When I started out as a reporter back in 1990, I had a notepad and a pen. If I was really lucky, I had a pen that worked. Social media? That was everyone gathered round the telly on a Saturday night. 

The students I met in Middlesbrough are light years from that. They all seem to have YouTube channels or websites or a gazillion followers. They all blog and vlog and tweet. I came away feeling both impressed and exhausted by their energy.

 I wouldn't normally post a photo without asking everyone's permission, but since they've all already tweeted about it I suppose there's no problem. The future of journalism is in safe hands. If any of you has offspring keen to get into this mad business, I do recommend the media and journalism courses at Teesside University. 

By the way, if anyone under 20 is reading this, could you please enlighten me about Snapchat? I totally get Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc but the point of that yellow ghost thingy which is erased after a few seconds is lost on me. I have the uncomfortable feeling I sound like my mum. 
   

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Head In The Clouds


Meet our Skyjib X4. Looks like something out of a sci-fi film, doesn't it? This is my new business partner - along with my husband, Simon. To be fair, the one is rarely seen without the other. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em, I say. So together we are now running a fabulous aerial filming company called Aero Productions Ltd. If you pop along to our website Aeroproductions.co.uk  you will see the kind of films we make.

I say 'we' but it's actually my husband who does the flying. While I was working in the desert all those months sans famille he was busy qualifying as a drone pilot with full accreditation from the Civil Aviation Authority. It all sounded like far too much fun for him to be having on his own, so I am now a co-Director of his company. Poor man.

Running a small business has really opened my eyes to the challenges for entrepreneurs in this country. The tax system for one. According to a Sunday Times investigation, six out of ten of Britain's biggest companies paid zero corporation tax in 2014. We'd barely registered at Companies House when we started getting stern warnings about about corporation tax through our door! Still, I'm sure it won't be a problem when we've made our first million.

So, what do Aero Productions do? We make amazing films using the best technology. We can offer aerial footage, inspiring photography and anything you require from short web videos to full-blown high-quality professional films to stun your competitors into submission. We also do media training, from handling friendly interviews to controlling the fall-out from an unfortunate incident. 

On top of all that, I'm also freelancing as a reporter. Viewers in the UK should start to see me popping up on ITV News every now and then. Got to keep my hand in. Reporters are only as good as their last story. It will be good to work with my former colleagues again: correspondents like Juliet Bremner, Paul Davies, Chris Choi. Anchors like Mark Austin and Mary Nightingale. Sorry to name-drop but I'm very happy to be back among them.

And last but not least, I am still honing my YA novel. It is now in the final stages of drafting. My agent, the fantastic London-based Sheil Land Associates, has said it is very nearly ready to be sent out to potential publishers. It just needs one more tweak. It's been like having a baby really. Lots of preparation and nervous waiting. To continue the analogy, I'm still in labour but hopefully the end game is in sight. 

So, company director, freelance reporter, nearly-author. Hmm. I may be rather busy in the forseeable....!