Finding Ada: Michelle Martin and her contribution #ald10

Finding Ada in Studio C21

[Bill, Finn, Gareth and Michelle at the Radisson after our SXSWi panel]

I’ve been working on Digital Planet, the BBC World Service technology show, for eight years. The programme was originally called ‘Go Digital’ and presented by Tracey Logan, who did a brilliant job of keeping me in check, ensuring that I made some sense and helping me make sense to the many listeners who don’t have English as their first language and who may be interested in technology but are not quite as obsessed with it as I am. 

Gareth Mitchell, who took over from Tracey some years ago, is equally adept at this occasionally difficult task, but neither he nor I could do anything without our producer, the person who plans the show, sets up the interviews, re-edits the packages to ensure they make sense and sits nervously on the other side of the glass in Studio C21 while we blather on.

Over the years we’ve had more producers than you can shake a microphone at, and they are as remarkably talented range of professionals as you could ever hope to find and a credit to the BBC Radio Science Unit that hosts them and makes the show.

But today, on Ada Lovelace day, I’d like to pay tribute to Michelle Martin, who produced the show for most of last year and will, we hope, be back in the hot seat soon after making documentaries for Radio 4 as well as doing lots of other things that the senior people at the BBC seem to think are more important than our little show. We’ve missed her.

Michelle’s contribution to the world of technology is enormous. She doesn’t code or design systems, but she has to wade through the press releases, announcements, event listings and constant stream of ideas and suggestions from me, Gareth and her other colleagues and decide what matters, what can work and what will be of interest to one of the most disparate audiences imaginable. 

That she does it so well, and remains so calm in the process, is a testament both to her sharp intelligence and great journalistic instincts, but also shows how deeply she thinks about the stories that come our way and how to ensure that we never lose sight of the people involved and affected in our desire to play with shiny stuff.

She is also quite mad, as we saw when she suggested to the organisers of South by South-West Interactive that we do a live edition of Digital Planet as a panel quiz, despite the fact that we’d never done the show in front of a live audience before, had never done a quiz format before, and had no idea who would agree to join the panel.  Then she went and commissioned a web-based app to let the audience answer the questions themselves.  And she didn’t even panic when the one panelist we all knew, and who we felt confident was up to the task of being both entertaining and interesting to our radio audience, pulled out at the last minute.

I salute Michelle for being one of my favourite women in tech, and for being the woman whose understanding of technology makes me a much better journalist and studio expert on a show that I love.

Here’s Digital Planet Live at SXSWi: http://sxsw.com/node/4643 

Here’s the programme website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/digitalp/

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