BBC World News Presenter Lewis Vaughan Jones has faced many challenges in his on-air career but none as great as the one he encountered earlier this year.
When Lewis Vaughan Jones walked out of hospital on a cold March morning earlier this year he was in a state of shock. The numbing news that his career as an international broadcaster might be at an end reverberated through his mind.
Just weeks earlier he had developed a cold. A nasty bug. A sore throat and a cough. Barely enough to merit a visit to the GP.
But he had trouble hearing anything with his left ear so he booked an appointment.
Soon afterwards specialist doctors found his left eardrum was no longer functioning and the nerve, which takes sound to his brain, had stopped working. The damage was permanent. He would never regain hearing in that ear.
Apart from losing the power of speech, nothing could have been more devastating to someone who had spent years building a career in broadcast news. A presenter’s ability to hear is vital. If it is impaired, so too are all the crucial instructions from producers, directors and technicians. Correspondents and expert contributors lose their conduit for the observation and analysis of the world in which we live.
“I was utterly terrified. I was 37 and I thought I might never be able to work again,” he said.
Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss – to give the condition its full name – strikes at random, at any age. Critically, it is accompanied by Tinnitus. Lewis arrived home and lay on the bed, his head throbbing with distorted noise.
“I thought I would rip my own head off. I thought I would never be able to live every day with this noise,” he added.
Yet, the hearing aid with which he was soon fitted went some way toward cancelling out the incessant ringing and he returned to work. By this summer he became the first 24-hour news presenter in the UK to broadcast with a hearing aid.
As we sat in the White Swan in Twickenham, he spoke of the adjustments of the initial two months which he described – with some understatement – as quite a battle. He says he is back on air thanks to the BBC who rose to the challenge and looked at solutions not problems.
This does not surprise me at all. Talented broadcasters like Lewis Vaughan Jones don’t turn up every day. When they do you fight to keep them.
“The BBC were comforting and encouraging,” he told me. He singled out Head of News at BBC World News, Liz Corbin, for special praise but said that all the technical staff worked incredibly hard to solve problems with which they had never been confronted before.
“This has made me love the job even more. I love the job twice as much because I realised how close I was to never being able to do it again.”
The other pillar of support was his wife Hannah, a News Presenter at CNN, and the community where they live in Twickenham. Their families are in Cardiff and the West Country respectively so their close friends on their stretch of the Thames have been invaluable.
“We are incredibly lucky. Our community in the eight streets around us is now full of lifelong friends. It is a huge privilege to live here.
“I have always lived by the coast or by the river in London and now in Twickenham. It gives a sense of peace and calm. It means we can come out of the frenetic world of international news in Central London and be here. There is a real feeling of restorative happiness.
“Just because you live in London doesn’t mean you don’t have that desire to connect and belong. Local news helps that. It anchors you to a place and a community. It shouldn’t be underestimated because it is also hugely important to a sense of democracy.
“Hyperlocal, local and regional news are a balancing tool to heavily polarised coverage. It is dangerous to have all your news on just a national level – you need to know what is going on in your community and the world in general. I think this makes people happier – they can have a real sense of identity and joy.”
There is no question that Lewis Vaughan Jones is a broadcast journalist to his core, despite starting work in Public Affairs at the Welsh Assembly after a gaining a degree at Keble College, Oxford where he studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE). He has an acute ability to bring balance to his assessment of unfolding news events and he sees the how the connections in all news from local to national and international coverage give context to the events which shape our world.
“I love 24-hour news. I love being able to react as a journalist. You have to be able to ask the right questions in the moment. What I do is respond to world events as they happen. This opportunity wasn’t around years ago.”
If anything, he swims against the tide of the News Anchor as a performer. He sees the role as one of curation. Someone who can deliver emphasis and tone – a platform for civility in an era where opinion rules the airwaves in an atmosphere inhospitable to democracy.
Lewis Vaughan Jones may need a complicated mechanical device to help his hearing but no such assistance is required when it comes to his comprehension – which is the real asset for those delivering our news.