It’s time for another round of returning to the old job at KPIX to see what’s new in the television news business. For all the stories about how San Francisco has problems on the street with homelessness and general filth, I was eager to see to what degree. Upon arrival, I found beautiful vistas at every turn.
But there were also reminders things might not be as nice as they seem:
As usual, I show up several days early, with plans to review the equipment and editing software to make sure I’m ready to go on my first reporting day. The last thing I want is to miss deadline because I’ve forgotten how something works. Long-time videographer and friend Chris Mistrot set me up like a king with all the stuff I’d need to succeed.
You can always count on TV news being unpredictable. I showed up in the morning meeting on Friday, just to get a better feel for stories and the newscast flow, but instead ended up with an assignment: report on the record low unemployment rates, live at 6 p.m. Lesson remembered: flexibility is essential in this job. If you’re looking for predictability and consistency, this is not the place for you. Everyone in a television newsroom must adapt and be ready to change plans on a dime.
So how to tell my first story, three days before I’d planned to tell any story? I resorted to the three elements I encourage my students to consider:
So what (what difference does it make): Record low unemployment means a lot of things to different people. For employers, it’s harder to find employees. For employees, it means they’ve got choices. For people who usually have a hard time finding jobs, it presents opportunities.
Real people (the people living the story): This was easy. It’s obviously the employer and employee.
Show me, don’t tell me (video): I definitely needed shots of a business in operation, preferably with a boss and an employee who could talk about their experiences in this tight job market.
Next step: find these people. Who would know which companies were looking to hire? Driving around looking for help wanted signs was an option, but the least efficient one. The random, needle-in-a-haystack- search should be the last resort. Better to make contact by phone first, as you can go through many options quickly - keep calling until someone says yes. Reaching by phone is much faster than driving to each location. Still, I needed a way to formulate a list of businesses that would fit the story. Craigslist, of course. A quick search for companies looking to hire in the San Francisco Bay Area led me to Juice Shop in Corte Madera. I spoke with both the owner and an employee. They gave me the viewpoints I needed to tell the story.
But, I also needed an expert to put the numbers into context - we really were talking about unemployment rates so low they’d never been seen before. A long-time collaborator with KPIX agreed to an interview. And, I remembered him very well. I was headed into an interview with this same labor expert, Michael Bernick, in 2010, when Newhouse BDJ Professor Chris Tuohey called me to start the conversation about my coming to Syracuse University to teach. And here we were, nine years later, talking again about labor markets in the Bay Area.
Be flexible: TV news is always changing. In fact, in the morning meeting, the assistant news director’s reply to a producer’s worry there weren’t enough stories for later in the day was: “Wait 45 minutes. Something always happens.” This is true. But when something happens, such as people calling in sick and requiring you to start reporting three days before you’d planned, the answer you want to give is “yes.” This is what you signed up for. Go with the flow. And enjoy it. It’s never going to change.
Search and ye shall find (most of the time): It’s hard to find people who are experiencing the story you’re writing about, but that doesn’t mean they’re not out there. In this case, a search on craigslist came through. Be determined. It always makes the story better.
Enjoy the variety of the people you meet: Not every day is going to go well. Not everyone is going to want to talk to you. But many people will, and this job gives you the chance to reach out to a lot of them. Do it. Be open minded. Give it a shot. Interviewing again the person who I talked to nine years ago when I began a new journey in my life was a hoot.