16 January 2010

No swear zone

Anyone who's ever worked in a newsroom of any sort will know that it's a place for the ripest of language. I was already a fairly accomplished swearer by the time I started my first job at the tender age of 16 and 3/4, probably because even the mildest of curses in the parental home would be rewarded with a hefty backhander round the head - like smoking, I took it up to annoy them, although I was mostly careful not to utter such words in the presence of my parents because of the knowledge of what would happen if I did so. Swearing and smoking were kept for outside the familial environment before I left home.

And then I started work. I was thrust into a place where every other word was a "fuck" in one form or another and it became as commonplace for me to speak like my colleagues as it was to breathe. Every publication I have worked for since has been no different. Hacks swear like troopers. It's a fact of life.

With one notable exception - on air. Print hacks mostly don't have to worry about this but the day you first get asked to do a broadcast is the day you start panicking. I can't actually remember the first time I was asked to do a "phoner" but I do remember going into a cold sweat over the fear I might utter something bleepable over live radio.I scrawled a few notes for myself ahead of time on the main points I wanted to put across on air, then spent several hours repeating the mantra, "Don't swear. Don't swear" to myself until it was imprinted on my brain. Fear of speaking on live radio faded against the fear of swearing. Somehow I managed not to say anything even vaguely Anglo-Saxonish that first time and I felt immense relief at surviving the ordeal, my reputation as a reliable and articulate talking head intact.

Since then, I've done live radio many times as a guest "expert" of some sort. The fear of swearing never goes away - the last thing you want is the shame of hearing the presenter apologising on your behalf for the "shit" that just slipped effortlessly out. I've only once done TV, but that was a pre-record so I was more relaxed as I knew that if I slipped up it would be edited out seamlessly. Indeed, I was so relaxed that I managed not to swear without even thinking about it.

Now though, I find myself toiling for a major broadcaster. Rather unexpectedly, I discovered 10 days in that a certain slot on a certain show requires 2 or 3 of the newsroom hacks to drop in to the studio and go live on air for around 3 minutes to have a quick chat about some topical issue, the aim being to get listeners to phone in with their own stories. Thus it was only yesterday that I was given 5 minutes' notice to hike down the corridor and be a live talking head on the pressing issue of taking one's pet to work. Never mind the earthquake in Haiti - a quick chat about having your dog under your desk was apparently more urgent.

I didn't even have time to think about not swearing. By the time I'd pitched up at the studio and had a much-needed swig of full-strength Americano, I was already on air and opining on the joy of having my boy sprawled on my desk at home. It dawned on me several minutes later, as we filed out of the studio to head back to the newsroom, that I'd be doing a lot more of these over the next few months. It appears that most of my new colleagues are strangely reluctant to go on air, regardless of the topic du jour. I'm under no illusions as to why. But I'm there to learn new stuff so I feel I have to do it. It's only a matter of time before my mask slips and I say "fuck" on a live broadcast. It'll end in tears. Mine.

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