Making the news – Carol Malia celebrates 20 years at BBC Look North

SHE’s been presenting BBC Look North for an incredible 20 years this month but Carol Malia still feels privileged to be welcomed into homes across North-East and Cumbria to deliver the region’s evening news.

Whether you are switching on after work to catch up on the day’s events or you’re settling down for a night in front of the tv, her warm voice and genuine manner have proved a winning combination for the broadcaster in a fickle world of ever-changing media technology.

While online services and social media reach out to audiences 24/7 on their mobile and laptop devices, a date with Carol at 6.30pm four evenings a week offers the human contact we are now too often starved of in our hunger for the latest information.

“The whole world of journalism is changing but the BBC is working hard to keep pace and we have had to examine our role in that,” she explains. “At Look North we have a high audience appreciation and they are very vocal in their feedback. I love it when people describe me as “Our Carol”. I think it’s important that they feel like they know you, there has to be that personal connection. You want to engage with viewers so they can see your eyes and read your expressions – you cannot emote but there has to be a connection. Since I’ve had kids I think reading stories about children gets to me and I think that comes across. I think there’s a massive interest in regional news at the moment as so much is happening and our figures reflect that. We are all journalists, not just presenters and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Her love and understanding of the news stems back to her enjoyment of reading and writing as a child and when an English teacher suggested a career as a journalist, the seed was planted aged 14.

After A Levels she followed a well trodden path for aspiring North-East newspaper reporters and studied journalism at Darlington College of Technology before landing her first job on the Hartlepool Mail. “It’s where I cut my teeth and I had an absolute ball there,” remembers Carol who worked her way up to chief reporter and acting news editor. She may no longer write for a living but she’s still fascinated by handwriting – her party trick is describing people’s personalities based on the loops their letters make and the way they dot their ‘i’s’ and cross their ’t’s’.

Carol then moved from print journalism into radio at BBC Cumbria where she put down her pen, picked up a microphone and learnt how to record stories via audio technology while also developing her newsreading skills. From there she moved to Border Television in Carlisle and Tyne Tees before landing the coveted BBC Look North (North-East and Cumbria) evening anchor role which she feels privileged to have held for an incredible 20 years.

Although the programme looks seamless, hours of painstaking preparation go into making just 30 minutes of news. Starting her shift at 11am, Carol and Look North’s producer talk through the tentative running order before watching the lunchtime bulletin to see how stories are developing and what they want to focus on in more depth.

As well as speaking to reporters, Carol does a lot of research so she is fully briefed on the issues of the day and the background of any studio guests. An editorial meeting at 3pm involves the on-air presenters as well as those behind the scenes including sound recorders, graphics, the director and producer.

Time is then spent working in collaboration with the team on the images and headlines to go on the live picture-fed screen behind Carol when she’s presenting as well as the introductions to each story she will read out. At 5.30pm she’s in the make-up (or ‘face renovations’ as she calls it) before heading to the studio 20 minutes later ready for her first live link.

“There has only ever been one broadcast I can recall in my 20-year Look North career when every technical hitch that could have gone wrong did but, once the experience was over, I actually enjoyed it. I like the adrenalin rush of live television and when I feel totally on top of all the stories, the only time I really get nervous is when I don’t feel totally prepared.”

The mum-of-two lives in Northumberland with her young family and when she’s not working loves to be outdoors, this month marks the start of the open swimming season and she’s looking forward to donning her wetsuit and balaclava again. “It’s a bit of me time, the repetition is calming and there’s nothing to think about other than my breathing – I think it’s good for the soul,” she says.

As a firm fixture in our living rooms for two decades, Carol is enjoying her job more than ever. “I was at an awards ceremony with BBC Breakfast Business presenter, Steph McGovern from Middlesbrough who said “I grew up watching you”, which made me feel very flattered if a little bit ancient,” she laughs. “I still have to pinch myself that I am here after 20 years, it was and still is my dream job.
“The only other BBC presenting job I would like to try is reading the shipping forecast I think it’s because I’m a Cullercoats girl and I have wonderful memories of us buying a crate of fish on Fridays so I especially love it when they say “Tyne Dogger Bank”.”

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