As you may have heard through other social media outlets, gentle reader, I was recently on BBC News talking about the election of Pope Francis as the new head of the Catholic Church. I had held off blogging about this until now because the video was only uploaded to YouTube yesterday, and you can see the results here. However I also wanted to connect this blog post with SQPN’s giving campaign, since without the experience of having been a regular panelist on the “Catholic Weekend” show on that network for the past year, I doubt very much I would have been ready for this rather unique opportunity. Moreover, I want to encourage you to consider donating to SQPN as I do, to support their many terrific programs.
A week ago I received an email from someone claiming to be at the BBC in London, which arrived via the email address for this blog. Curiously, the message began, “Dear Christopher,” which of course is not my name. It then went on to invite me, as a Catholic blogger, to appear on a BBC discussion panel about the new pope. I wrote back inquiring as to whether this was some sort of joke, and also pointing out that my name was not in fact Christopher.
The response came that in fact they had been looking for a British blogger, and somehow had ended up contacting me, which is rather odd because when they sent me the link to the blog they were trying to get in touch with, the site had been taken down. There must have been some link to one of my posts, or some such thing, for The Beeb to end up at my online door. After explaining that I was not the party in question, but that I was indeed a Catholic and a blogger, as well as a weekly podcast guest, the young lady at the BBC commented that I would be even better for this program than the person she had been trying to locate.
After a lengthy pre-interview conversation via Skype, it was arranged that I should be at the BBC’s studios here in Washington the following morning by 10:30 am. Fortunately by pure chance I had already made arrangements that evening to have dinner with an old friend and his wife – who just so happens to be from Buenos Aires. It allowed me the chance to talk to two people with a more secular outlook on the world about their perceptions and thoughts regarding Pope Francis. It was not a practice run, but something more like airing ideas that allowed me to come down to some key talking points later.
I arrived earlier than I needed to at the BBC, and sat around for a bit waiting for things to happen. I had been in a television studio once before in high school, to tape a local commercial about not drinking and driving during prom season – which in my case was not a problem since I did not go to my prom anyway. However this of course was the newsroom-television studio of the legendary British Broadcasting Corporation, the largest news-gathering organization in the world, and that is somewhat quite different to anticipate. For here, you are not so much thinking about whether you are going to embarrass your parents, but whether you are going to embarrass your country or your Church, before billions of people who watch the BBC all over the world.
Now there is nothing particularly glamorous about the newsroom of the BBC in Washington when you actually get to see it in person, which I imagine is rather what other international news organizations’ newsrooms are like as well. There is a strange mixture of people in shirts and ties mingling about with people who look as though they have slept in a mechanic’s jumpsuit for a week. There are tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment hanging about everywhere, big lines of duct tape running every which way all over the carpets, and people running in and out doing whatever it is they are doing. It reminded me more of a doctor’s waiting room than the theatre.
Indeed, when they took me back to the camera room where I would be shooting, with its animated backdrop of the White House, the space felt eerily reminiscent of going to have x-rays taken. I was hooked up with a microphone and earpiece, and told where to look, and where to sit. Then a British voice came on in my ear from London telling me what to do, and that periodic whisper in my ear became my lifeline for the next hour or so.
Everyone was very kind and tried to put me at ease, though of course because I was in a remote studio rather than on set in London, at the time it was difficult to know for certain whether I was coming across well or not. In our normal conversations with other people we have not only their voices, but also their facial expressions, gestures, and so on to tell us whether we are getting through to them, making them upset, or what have you. When you are simply listening to disembodied voices, as I was, it is a bit more difficult to know whether you are doing it right.
And yet ironically enough, it was at this precise moment where my past year of experience on SQPN’s “Catholic Weekend” show came in tremendously useful. Originally we recorded the show via Skype, just using voices, which of course makes sense since a podcast is more like a radio show than a television program. As a result, one became more and more accustomed to listening for those audio cues and breaks to step in or to step back. It is a skill which I still have to master, but which I am certainly getting better at with time.
Thus, even though I could not see anyone I was talking to on the BBC, I very quickly fell into the same pattern I would have recording an episode of “Catholic Weekend” – albeit not in my jammies with a cup of coffee, sifting through the technical train wreckage and laughing at bad puns before we go on the air. Nevertheless it turned out to be wonderful training for this, which meant that whatever I may have looked like, I felt very relaxed on camera. It is difficult to describe but once the lights go on, YOU go on, as well. Concerns about whether you will do well or not simply evaporate and you just do what you are there to do.
The reader – or rather, viewer – can judge for himself whether he thinks I did well or not, but I will say that my “handler” at the BBC emailed me when I returned to the office and told me I did great and that they would love to have me on again if I were willing. It remains to be seen whether I will do so, since it is unlikely they will cover a topic of such interest to me personally again any time soon. However I do want to say how grateful I am to them for giving me this opportunity not only to speak about my Faith and about our new Holy Father Pope Francis, but also to Father Roderick, Captain Jeff, and everyone at SQPN, for without the past year of experience in podcasting I would probably not have done nearly as decent a job as I (arguably) did.
The author looking somewhat smug in his Churchill dot necktie.