Breaking News - An Interview With Richard Chambers
In a year where we’ve all been glued to the news, the team at Virgin Media Television have been working overtime to keep the country up to date. One of those leading the charge is Richard Chambers, which made him the perfect man to ask about what it’s been like covering the story of a lifetime.
You’ll find the interview in the latest issue of PLAY Magazine — along with loads of other top-notch interviews, including with our cover star Zac Efron! — but read on right here to find out how an extraordinary 2020 has played out for a man who’s followed every major moment along the way...
It’s been a pretty wild year...
Just the other night I was on Twitter, my calendar reminding me of what had happened on the 27th of each month; it was seven months since this all started, when the first case arrived in Ireland. When you take it back, there was a General Election shortly before that – and as a journalist, you think an election is the busiest a year is going to be. COVID has blown that out of the water. It’s been hugely intense all the way through, and unlike anything any of us have ever worked on before, for so many different reasons.
You’ve been in the business for a decade; could anything prepare you for what it’s been like?
Wow, now I feel old! The answer is no. There’ve been huge stories to cover before; I remember going over to Rome to cover the election of a new Pope, going to cover Brexit as it was happening, and a huge amount of emergencies, storms, crime scenes, and everything else. They’re all intense in their own ways, but it’s the relentlessness of this story that blows your mind sometimes. There’s no off-time with it – it’s almost all you can think about.
So it doesn’t stop once the last bulletin has aired?
As soon as you’re finished work, perhaps a 10-hour day, it’s time to contact doctors and nurses to share their stories. Our team has always looked at it as a really human thing; how it’s affecting people, whether those who’ve had it and are coming home, or people working in hospitals, or in isolation, or who can’t see their families. Everybody’s been contacting people with on-the-ground experience of what’s happening, and a lot of us get people approaching us with stories, and DMing us with information. I think people see us as more relatable, that we’re ordinary people out there relaying the facts.
How important has technology been?
It’s made it a lot easier; for example, being able to get onto Anthony O’Connor, the consultant running the COVID ward in Tallaght Hospital, and send questions on WhatsApp. Otherwise, you just wouldn’t have access to the real stories of what’s happened on the front line. Anthony told me about the day he arrived to work to see a line of taxis outside. He was wondering what was going on, given that we were still in full lockdown. It turns out the first of his patients were starting to be discharged. He talked about the emotions that brought up, and I just thought ‘This is amazing, powerful stuff, that we could never get access to before.’
It also puts a human face to what’s going on…
That’s something you have to focus in on. When Tony Holohan or Ronan Glynn give a conference with the latest update, people ask, ‘Well, what are the figures today?’. But these are individual people, with families around them. Every case brings a huge amount of stress and worry, and there’s a huge amount of people who’ve sadly died. These are human tragedies, and they’re happening on a daily basis; to try to relay that with respect and decorum, that’s been the key. It’s the biggest emergency we’ll face, potentially, in our lifetime.
And on top of everything, your own way of working must have been affected?
Our editors were really good at this from the start, setting out the parameters. Usually, when you’re a TV journalist, you buddy up with a cameraperson; you’ll travel in the same car, you’ll grab someone to interview, you’re bumping into people, and it’s all very hectic. Now, everybody travels individually. We’re using extended boom poles for interviews, and using Skype or WhatsApp to get videos from people. It’s been difficult to get our heads around, but it’s something that I think we’ve done really well.
You’re extremely active on Twitter; how important is that for journalism these days?
I think it’s massive. There’s a quickness to it, with breaking news, but there’s also a great way of telling stories; stringing threads together, nice explainers, even emojis are really good for breaking down complex ideas. When you think of the amount of change we’ve seen in our lives this year, it’s overwhelming. To be able to break it down, and dot it out with bullet points, easily understandable and easy to get through, is really helpful.
When there was a chance to switch off, how did you do it?
Myself and my housemates had a really great setup; cooking together, having a Mexican night and that sort of stuff. We had a bit of a film club going on the weekends, watching a lot of cult films. I was trying to count the amount of films we’ve gone through, and I think we’ve watched them all! One of my housemates is Zara King, also of VMTV news, and we’ve been getting great use of Phoenix Park because we’re living beside it. It’s been about doing really basic things. Going to see my girlfriend in West Cork has been really replenishing. Even the banana bread craze, back near the start, that was really important! Anything to bring any sort of normality, that’s what you appreciate the most.
Does that mean you’re looking forward to covering some boring stories in the future?
Y’know the way Instagram does that thing of what you were doing however many years ago? I look back at things like reporting on the queues when Krispy Kreme first opened in Blanchardstown, and everyone losing their minds about it, and think ‘Wow, those were simpler times!’ But for as long as this is going to be a story, we’ve got a duty to do a good job on it.
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