You return Charlie’s call with some amount of trepidation. When he picks up, his voice is muffled with background sound, and you have a feeling he’s at home in front of the television right now.
“Take a look at Twitter yet?” he asks, but doesn’t wait for your answer. “What happened up there, Ali? You’re too much an old hat at this to freeze up.
“It’s not that…”
He interrupts you. “You know as well as I do, maybe better, that what makes a good anchor is storytelling. You’re a good reporter, you’ve got the facts, you don’t need to prove that to me. Up there, watched on live television, you need to be a storyteller with a good story. People love you because you’re a storyteller. They can connect with what you’re saying. They see it in their mind’s eye. They’re right there with you, in the thick of what’s happening. Why the bloody hell else do you think I sent you back to Africa? It would have made more sense to let Giles cover it.”
You’re silent. Whatever impulse made you turn to the unadulterated facts is now slowly gutting your career.
As you drive home to your flat, you think of everything you have given up to be where you are today, and of how replaceable you all are, like moving parts in a relentless machine. It’s the double-edged nature of journalism, isn’t it, that a journalist who can’t impose bias and embellishment in just the right ways, who can’t narrativize the facts through personal experience and creativity, is no longer a journalist; but a journalist who can’t be trusted is not a journalist, either. It’s the proverbial rock-and-a-hard-place in any broadcast news institution, BBC London more so than others, and you will arrive home and sit in your dark flat for hours before you dare turn on your television and watch the replays, the critiques, pundits wondering why your silver tongue failed you, and then the last-ditch attempt for ratings, the livestream interview with Giles Hall, who graciously concedes that I think Ali got an eyeful when he was down here, maybe it hit a little too close to home.
You will pour yourself a glass of whiskey. And you will dream you had done it differently, while you wait for your tenure to end.