Television news may be all about pictures, but for Sky News’ Paul Bromley, the words matter too.
Bromley is Sky News’ Editor for On-Screen Information, the man responsible for ensuring the accuracy of all the information that viewers see on screen.
His job on election night, he says, is to ensure that “anyone turning on Sky News at any point in the [election show] will find out instantly the state of play. I have always worked on the basis that, if we have information in the building and we can share it, why wouldn’t you do so?”
“The information -the words and the numbers – is what I am concentrating on,” he explains.
To do that, he sits at the centre of a storm of facts and figures, declarations and statements, identifying, with the help of a team of producers, the newslines that will appear across the bottom of Sky’s election night coverage.
“I often compare it to being in a noisy pub and lots of people are talking, and you have to decide who you’re going to listen to at that point,” he says.
It is an exercise in trust as Bromley relies on Election Night Editor Nick Phipps and director Jon Bennett to focus on the video output. “There’s a huge amount of trust,” he says. “The good thing is, we’ve done it before – and fairly recently,” he jokes.
For Bromley, elections are an enduring fascination. “I have never watched a general election programme at home as a viewer,” he admits proudly.
After covering his first election as a student at Leeds University, he completed his journalism training, before moving to local papers and then covering national politics as Sky’s Political Correspondent. “For three consecutive general elections I was out on the road as a campaign correspondent with the leaders of each of the three main political parties,” he remembers. “Despite that I was never on the winning side.”
Yet, Bromley has “retained that level on interest that I had going right back to when I was a student journalist.”
Thanks to his years of experience, he will not be drawn into guessing games as to the outcome of the upcoming election. “I learned long ago never to make predictions,” he laughs.
Bromley recalls a campaign a number of years ago where the entire press team travelling with one of the party leaders organised a sweepstake about how many seats that party would win in the election. All the correspondents entered, Fleet Street’s finest minds and some of the biggest political brains joined in. The winner? A radio producer who had never worked in politics and was just helping out with logistics.
“Just because you are immersed in politics doesn’t mean you have a crystal ball or are able to work out what the result will be,” Bromley explains. “No two elections are the same.”
“Elections are like every single Shakespeare play put together. You get comedy, tragedy, history, rivalry, ambition, all together in one night,” he says. “There’s no script, so you don’t know when the curtain goes up, how the play is going to end.”
Thunderbirds creator Gerry Anderson said it best, Bromley believes, in his 1970s children’s show Stingray. “This big stentorian voice would say ‘ANYTHING COULD HAPPEN IN THE NEXT HALF HOUR’.”
The 2017 election is throwing up its own challenges. The aftereffects of the 2016 EU referendum are still being felt, and the impact that will have on voting behaviour is unknown and the rise of minor parties like the SNP and UKIP means that the traditional BBC-style Swingometer no longer tells the story.
Similarly the recent terror attacks across the country could impact the vote in unknown ways. “The London terror attack… has put much more of a focus on security and policing as a political issue,” he says, “but then, some people will have already voted through postal voting. It is difficult to tell.”
As the election looms, Bromley reflects that “There aren’t many jobs, and there aren’t many occasions in this job when you can come to work and you know that, by the time you leave at the end of your shift, the world will have changed fundamentally,” a view shared by ITV's Tom Bradby.
“Election are fun. They’re exciting,” he says. “There’s not a script, and that’s one of the advantages we have at Sky News… We are providing 24-hour news coverage. We’re doing that today. We did it yesterday. We’ll do it tomorrow.”