There's no way to overstate the importance of time management in broadcast journalism. As my students know: "the best story you ever did never happened if you don't make deadline." So, a reporter's entire day is organized around that principle: make deadline. A bunch of decisions need to be made to ensure that happens:
- Where to go?
- How long to conduct the interview and shoot video?
- When to begin editing?
- And today, I had to decide whether to go to the station and edit or edit first and then go back to the station.
- Asked another way: ☛
Today's story was about the apparent surging popularity of the Democratic Socialist party in the United States, generally after Bernie Sanders earned more support than expected during the last presidential campaign, and specifically after an unknown candidate representing the party surprised and beat a well-established Democratic candidate in a New York primary. The socialist politics of the party is not all that out of the mainstream in the Bay Area, but still, the local element was that this party was bucking the establishment, and Nancy Pelosi, who represents the Bay Area in Congress, is the epitome of that establishment.
The three elements I tell my students they must include in each story are:
- So what (what difference does it make): if the Democratic Socialists can continue beating establishment Democratic candidates as they did in New York, could they possibly take down the most powerful Democrat of all - San Francisco's Nancy Pelosi?
- Real people (the people living the story): local Democratic Socialists - they've got a local chapter.
- Show me, don't tell me (video): any activity the group is doing, in this case, preparing posters for tomorrow's "Abolish ICE" rally.
So a pretty straightforward story. The more complicated decisions came at the end of the day. By 4 p.m., I had gathered my interview with the the local Democratic Socialists, got video of them preparing their posters, downloaded file video of the upset candidate and of Nancy Pelosi. Pretty much all I needed for a package. But, I was scheduled to go live in the 6 p.m. show from the set in San Francisco. All my interviews and video had been shot in Berkeley and Oakland and that's where I was. So with two hours to go to showtime, I had to decide: go back to San Francisco and edit the package there or edit the package in Oakland and then drive back to San Francisco for the on-set tag. In other words, I had to figure out how long it would take me to get back to San Francisco, and whether I'd have enough time to edit the story once I got back and still make deadline.
The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge is notorious for bad evening commute traffic. Plus it was a Friday night so lots of people would be heading into the city for entertainment, dining and partying. I decided it was a safer call to edit and then go. I made the right call. Here's what I encountered when I finally went home.
When I made the call to edit and then go, I informed the station of my plans. This is a key lesson for beginning reporters to understand. There are lots of people organizing an entire newscast back at the station. Your story isn't the only one in the show. Communicating what your plans are and, specifically, what you can and cannot do is essential for the success of the newscast. Most producers are flexible and can make changes if you give them time and are clear about what the changes should be. My email:
- My story has already been transmitted back to the station. They can look for it on the server.
- I alert them to what needs to be added at the station.
- I gave them something for the anchor to say if I didn't make it back in time.
- I included an estimate of my arrival.
In the end I made it back to San Francisco way too late to do my on-set tag. But it didn't matter. I had provided the station with what it needed to make the show happen. No reporter on the set wasn't that big a deal. No story would have been a big problem.
Because everything's so unpredictable in the television news business, I recommend doing some prep work every morning before heading into the station. Sometime's there's time to sit down and have lunch, most of the time there's not. But you never know which day that time will be available. So, packing your lunch to eat in the news vehicle is a good idea. You control whether you can eat lunch or not. It's not glamorous eating a sandwich and an apple every day in the news vehicle, but it beats going hungry.
One other note: I called a ton of political science professors today to see if they could comment for my story as experts. Usually, this is a bonus for academicians, because media coverage helps raise their profiles in the community and brings attention to the schools where they teach. But despite my offer to even go to their homes (they wouldn't have to come into the office for the interview) I didn't get anyone. Crickets. This is the text from the public relations person, who basically admits, finding a professor in the summer is pretty tough.
- Get good at time management. It can save you and the station.
- Communicate clearly what you can and cannot do.
- Pack your lunch.
- Don't count on college professors in the summer.