ABOUT a year ago I walked into the newsroom which was home to where The National, The Herald, The Evening Times and the soon to close Sunday Herald were made for the first time.

I had come to meet editor-in-chief Donald Martin and discuss the possibility of making an observational documentary about the papers. A few short weeks later my colleague Laura Kingwell and I had become part of the furniture, although that was never a given at that first meeting.

I began filming before we properly pitched to the BBC – the news that the Sunday Herald was to close and be replaced by two new Sunday titles provided an unexpected momentum. I knew it meant the film would have a beginning if we ever got the green light, so it was agreed we could film the process of making those first Sunday editions in the hope that we would get the go ahead and return.

Starting to film in the newsroom was daunting to say the least. Everyone we film nowadays is media literate to a degree, more than they may once have been, but now I was observing the trained observers. Just because their bosses had decided I could film them at work, didn’t mean a room full of cynical journalists would play ball.

In that first hour or so I genuinely had a feeling I might have made a mistake, and that this was group of people whose trust I may never fully gain.

I’ve filmed in countless different environments over the years – hospitals, prisons, schools, even sexual health clinics and trust is the absolute key factor in making any good observational documentary.

The early stages in making an observational documentary are crucial. At this point in the process my brain is in overdrive. The main questions are – can I pull this off, and if I do what exactly could it be and, most importantly, would it be genuinely insightful for others watch?

The key factor is that the access is genuine, that we’re going to be allowed to tell the story of this room, and these people’s professional lives as they really are. I knew I couldn’t possibly sell it to the BBC otherwise. It’s also absolutely crucial at this point to make sure you don’t forget first impressions. What you as an outsider find most interesting right at the start, is what an audience will find interesting too.

That Saturday as the first Sundays prepared to go to press was amazing to me. The editors were enormously generous, and in turn most of the staff were too. The editor of this publication – Richard Walker – was generous and open with me from the off. Watching him devising and finalising a front page is a sight to behold. His swearing is also the best swearing, as viewers will see.

As deadlines loomed, people focused, the banter got sharper, the jargon and expletives flowed and ultimately, it happened ... they forgot to care that I was there.

There was real camaraderie within the teams, and the pride and care that went into the end products on both sides of the room – on the brand new Sunday National and Herald on Sunday – was palpable. I knew this was a place I wanted to return to, and more importantly that we would be welcomed by enough of the key team members to make it interesting, and be genuine. That’s what I told BBC commissioners on the Monday morning, and we got the green light.

THE intention was always that we would stay for six months and follow the journalists as the Brexit story unfolded, and of course we would also discuss the future of newspapers. We knew that what was happening in this newsroom was, in microcosm, what was happening in newsrooms across the world.

When I embarked on the series I knew that sales had shrunk at papers throughout the world, but I genuinely had no idea of the detail of what they were up against.

In 10 years newspaper sales in the UK have halved and advertising revenues have shrunk by two thirds. Donald Martin told us in an interview at the end of 2018 that he’d had to cut £1.4 million out of his budget in a year, which had taken them right down to the bone, but he wasn’t expecting any more. By January that had changed, and he had been asked to cut around £400,000 more.

We observed as these cuts took their toll. People recounted that they loved their job constantly, that journalism was vital, but that facing continuous cuts was devastating. Seeing chairs empty, and not be replaced, but having to continue with the same volume of work is a really tall order. Knowing people will inevitably have to leave is hard in any workplace.

As chief reporter of The Herald David Leask says in the programme, without good journalism, democracy is at risk. We live in times where we need journalism more than ever. I still buy papers, though less than I once did.

After making these films I will subscribe to these papers and others as long as possible, because I want them to be there and I want them to keep delivering stories that matter.

The Papers, Wednesday, 9pm, BBC One. Part two next Wednesday