Oh, what a RUSHHHHHHHH!

That’s the feeling you get when you’re racing against deadline, trying your best to make it to a live shot, and then, with just a few minutes to spare, you have to calm down, bring your heart rate back to normal, and have it look as though this was the plan all along. That was my experience today.

The assignment: explore a civil grand jury report blaming, in large part, San Francisco’s mayor for all the debacles on the city’s waterfront over the past couple of years:

  • The America’s Cup race didn’t make as much money as planned;
  • A condo project was voted down by residents;
  • So was the original Golden State Warriors stadium project;
  • A refurbished cruise ship terminal won’t make as much money as expected.

File video of the events, excerpts of the report, interviews with the critics and the mayor – all pretty simple and obvious elements to the story.

The interviews went OK; as usual it took a few calls, but the right folks came through. I’ve noticed the station uses Skype to conduct interviews without much fuss, which is another example of technology changing the way TV reporting happens. In the old days, either the camera went to the person or you had to pay thousands of dollars for a satellite interview. No longer; Skype, with its noticeably lesser quality of both audio and video, is accepted. So one of my interviews was via Skype.

The mayor was out of town and his office directed us to another agency that provided an insipid statement thanking the grand jury for its “input.” Nothing addressing the criticism of the mayor. A major PR fail. Ignoring the story doesn’t mean it won’t air, it just means your side won’t be included.

 The Civil Grand Jury report photo I took with my iPhone.

The Civil Grand Jury report photo I took with my iPhone.

Another way advancing technology has changed the way we do TV: in the old days, getting excerpts of documents took a concerted team effort, with the photographer shooting the documents and the graphics team creating the desired images. Today, I just printed out the document, took photos of the parts I wanted with my iPhone and then imported the images into the editing software (Final Cut Pro). Once in Final Cut, it’s easy to add motion to the still images, making them look more professional and almost like video. Cool.

Once again, I was forced to use file video, which provoked that feeling of not being in control. It’s so much easier to shoot your own video and then edit it because you know what you’ve got. Using file video means having to review everything, and then writing around the video that isn’t there. Moreover, there are the extra steps of actually finding the video and downloading it from the server. Not a big pain, but certainly more time consuming than just shooting the video on the scene.

By far the best part of the day was the last 25 minutes. I left the station at 5:35pm for a 6pm live shot – the lead story. I wasn’t quite sure which was the fastest way to get to City Hall, in part because I haven’t been here in a while, but also because the traffic at rush hour can make some ways take much longer than usual. I, of course, picked the wrong way. The feeling of seeing the minutes tick by on your watch as the stoplights turn from red to green to red four times over without the car moving is at once maddening and exhilarating.

This is the adrenaline rush you either love or hate; the pressure that either makes or breaks your career in TV. If you can handle it - embrace it - then this is the job for you. If not, and that’s fine, then better to move on to something else.

As I drove up to City Hall with about three minutes to go before the beginning of the show, I found my photographer on the phone with the station trying to establish the live signal, adjusting the camera and setting up the lights – ALL AT THE SAME TIME! I pitched in, and said, “Let’s make it look as though we’ve been here all day.” As I advise my students, “the viewer doesn’t care.” Doesn’t care about the traffic, the technical problems, the interview who cancelled. Our job is to tell the best story we can in the most professional way possible, no matter what.

For all the crazy stress I was feeling at the time, I think the live shot came off OK. Even better, I was in my element.

Takeaways:

  1. Technology is simplifying the way TV reporting is done, especially for MMJs. An iPhone can become a second camera and a graphics machine. Reporters must master these tools or be left behind. It’s not rocket science.
  2. Racing against deadline, especially when it’s a live shot at the other end, is one of the most thrilling parts of being a TV reporter. Think long and hard about whether that’s enjoyable for you before embarking on a career in local TV news.