By Paul Kennedy
Good journalists love good stories. They get excited by them. When it comes to news, size really does matter. The bigger, the better.
In a career that started for me in the May of 1990, I have been fortunate enough to have reported on some of the biggest stories in the world.
But most are tinged with sadness.
Like the tragic story of James Bulger, a toddler murdered by two 10-year-old boys in Liverpool in 1993. A story I covered extensively both at the time of the senseless killing and in the years that followed.
Or the aftermath of the 7/7 London bombings when in the summer of 2005 I spent a week in Leeds, England, researching the terrorists responsible for the atrocities for the biggest national newspaper in Britain.
I’ve also written countless stories about the Hillsborough football tragedy and was on the scene in Warrington, England, within an hour of two IRA bombings that killed two children.
From a journalistic perspective these were good stories to cover, yet at the same time particularly harrowing.
Professionally speaking, it is not a reporters’ job to get upset, their job is to accurately report what is happening, but it’s tough not to be affected.
While working for Việt Nam News back in February 2019, I was proud to be part of the team covering what was at the time, the biggest story in the world.
Thankfully there was no death or destruction.
For me the excitement began months before when rumours surfaced that the summit between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the United States of America might be held in Việt Nam.
I wanted to be part of it.
After confirmation it would not only be held in Việt Nam, but in Hà Nội, I was buzzing. I felt like I did all those years ago when my name first appeared in a newspaper alongside a story I had written.
The thrill reminded me how lucky I was to be doing a job I love.
Việt Nam News reporters report the live broadcast of US President Donald Trump's press conference on February 28. VNS Photo
But unlike stories in the past, covering this summit was a whole different ball game.
News reporting has changed, evolved into something far different than it was when as a fresh faced and very naïve Paul Kennedy walked into the offices of a free weekly newspaper in Liverpool to start his career three decades ago.
Today it’s all about the now. Reporting is instant and the way people get their news, far different from just picking up a copy of a newspaper on their way to work.
In the past it was pretty simple. Go to the scene, interview people, take notes, write a story and go home, via a pub.
Nowadays covering such an international event takes planning, commitment, effort, and most of all, teamwork. And that’s exactly what I witnessed covering the summit alongside my colleagues at Việt Nam News.
In the days leading up to the actual meeting itself between Chairman Kim Jung Un and President Donald Trump we had produced a number of videos and stories for our print edition about what to expect from the summit and the effect it would have on Việt Nam.
These ranged from interviews with political analysts and business leaders to videoing a child getting his hair cut in the style of Chairman Kim.
But the real work was about to start.
At 6am on the Monday morning we had a team at the hotel in Hà Nội waiting for the arrival of the DPRK delegation, with other colleagues covering the event from inside the specialist media centre alongside thousands of journalists and film crews from around the world.
In the days that followed, and late into the nights, we monitored news reports, Twitter feeds and Facebook pages looking for announcements, revelations and tit-bits to feed our live blog.
Staff whose job may have been something entirely different within the walls of Viet Nam News wanted to be involved.
We had photographers and reporters literally hanging out of office windows looking for the perfect shot of presidential motorcades passing by below.
Colleagues were constantly approaching me throughout the day telling me snippets of news they thought might help better our product and Facebook was awash with likes, comments and shares as everyone in the office helped spread the work we were doing.
I was lucky enough to be part of the team that worked on our front page which was published on Thursday, February 28 after the first head to head meeting between the two political heavyweights.
It was a front page, in my opinion, that didn’t need lots of stories, didn’t need lots of words but instead just let the photograph do the talking with a simple, yet memorable, headline.
I was surprised to say the least at the reaction that followed.
Newspaper reporters from all over the world tweeted images of our page one and it was held aloft by television journalists broadcasting from Hà Nội.
CNN reporter shows the front page of Việt Nam News in a CNN's morning news programme. Screenshot photo
It was when the CNN reporter did just that and displayed our hard work to morning news viewers in America, I realised all that hard work had paid off.
In the office, colleagues whose shifts were due to start at 4pm instead arrived at work at the crack of dawn because they wanted to be part of something special, something historic.
From the outside looking in, Việt Nam News was a hive of organised activity as those tasked with covering different angles of the stories worked tirelessly and professionally.
The Trump press conference wasn’t covered by a single journalist, but a team who all knew exactly what was required of them to make sure our coverage was online within minutes of Trump stepping down from the podium.
When news filtered through of a press conference at midnight organised by the DPRK we were there, pushing the newspaper print time back into the early hours of the next morning to make sure the paper carried the news.
Our coverage was praised in all quarters both inside and out the newsroom.
On a personal note I received credit for the front page headline, but I have a confession to make. I didn’t write it. Like any good headline writer, I pinched it from someone else.
It was John Lennon who wrote GIVE PEACE A CHANCE, not me.
Big stories don’t come around that often and when they do, newsrooms need talented, dedicated and hardworking staff to make sure they get it right, and that’s exactly what happened at Việt Nam News. We got it right, and it felt good. VNS