Airhead: The Imperfect Art of Making News

Front Cover
Penguin Books, Limited, 2019 - 352 pages

It's thirty seconds to air. The interviewee has walked off in a huff. The next guest hasn't arrived. There's a wall of riot police behind me. The cameraman only speaks Hungarian and has cut my head out of the shot but I don't know his word for 'wide angle'. Then comes the quiet. Utter silence in my head. We've just lost comms with the whole team back in London. I can choose to scream. Or to surrender to the moment.

Then, a hand is waved at me as a visual cue. And I start talking.

The things that are said on camera are only part of the story. Behind every interview there is a backstory. How it came about. How it ended. The compromises that were made. The regrets, the rows, the deeply inappropriate comedy. Making news is an essential but imperfect art. It rarely goes according to plan.

I never expected to find myself wandering around the Maharani of Jaipurs bedroom with Bill Clinton or invited to the Miss USA beauty pageant by its owner, Donald Trump. I never expected to be thrown into a provincial Cuban jail, or to be drinking red wine at Steve Bannon's kitchen table or spend three hours in a lift with Alan Partridge. I certainly didnt expect the Dalai Lama to tell me the story of his most memorable poo.

The beauty of television is its ability to simplify, but that's also its weakness: it can distill everything down to one snapshot, one soundbite. Then the news cycle moves on.

Airhead is my step back from the white noise. Before and after the camera started rolling, this is what really happened.

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About the author (2019)

Emily Maitlis presents the BBC Flagship nightly current affairs show Newsnight and specializes in election coverage in the UK and the USA.

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