TV time is a special thing. It's really unlike any other kind of time. To TV people, the time 6:01:30 makes perfect sense. Unfortunately, people who aren't in TV don't know how to keep TV time.
Today's stressor was trying to line up people for a story on the San Francisco Pride Committee (which organizes the LGBT parade and other weekend events) excluding the military from this year's edition. This is relatively controversial given homosexual members of the military can now serve openly. So, essentially, the military accepts gays, but San Francisco's premiere gay event doesn't accept certain gays. That's the background.
One key interview was with the state representatives of the National Guard, who are sorely disappointed they were banned from the event. But, because Murphy seems to always have a hand in setting up a TV story, all the PR folks for the National Guard were on a training mission in San Luis Obispo today - way far away.
Eventually, I was able to get one gay member of the California State Military Reserve (a support group to the National Guard) on the phone and he agreed to talk to me. I thought I was clear in saying we needed to conduct the interview around 3-3:30pm at the latest, because the story aired at 6pm. After not hearing from him for about an hour, I asked for confirmation via text and he promised he'd be ready "around 4, maybe a little earlier." To regular folks, that's close enough.
I also was reminded today that one of the basic tenets of journalism is to tell both sides of the story; it's only fair. The other side of this story is obviously the SF Pride folks, the ones who made the decision to ban the military. My phone calls, emails and repeated visits to the office proved fruitless and, in the end, I was not able to include their response in my story. This is deflating and disheartening. I can't help but feel as though I didn't give the viewers what they needed to decide for themselves whether the ban was a good idea. To a lesser extent, I also feel the Pride people deserved the chance to defend themselves from the military criticism. However, reporters cannot force people to talk, and there comes a point when all that's left to say is "we tried, but they never got back to us."
- Clearly communicate to your interview subjects what you want and when you want it. TV time and the corresponding deadlines are not understood by lay people. Seconds make a difference to us, not to them.
- Always make a herculean effort to get both sides of the story. Don't take the easy way out and call someone for reaction just before the show starts and then say "they never got back to us." If we want to maintain (revive) a reputation as journalists with integrity, we must give people a fair shot to have their say. But sometimes, no matter how genuine the effort, the reporter just cannot get the other side.