One of the strange things about broadcast journalism is in order to tell our stories to the public we must do the opposite of what the public does. For example, when a truck carrying toxic chemicals overturns on the freeway, we tell everyone to stay clear and avoid the area, as we drive as fast as we can to get a close look at the truck. Or, while we report on people enjoying holiday barbecues and days off from work, we leave our families and head into work. Yes, the news happens on holidays, including the Fourth of July.
Keep in mind, even though a holiday is just another workday for us, it does not mean your sources are on the same page. I proposed doing a story on how the Fremont Police Department had been using social media to warn the people who live there that the city was on pace to break a record for the highest number of car burglaries. People were getting stuff stolen out of their cars left and right. I thought this would be a good holiday story because getting my three key elements would be pretty easy:
So what (what difference does it make): viewers would want to know if there are things they could do to safeguard laptops or phones or other valuables.
Real people (the people living the story): ideally someone whose car had been burgled. But at the least, someone who lives in Fremont who could react to the news the burglaries are becoming more and more common. Plus it was a holiday, so regular folks would be out and about.
Show me, don’t tell me (video): perhaps the police would have photos or video of a car that had been broken in to. At the least, I might be able to find cars that had valuables inside ready for the taking.
With that plan, I figured it would be a straightforward day - all those elements seemed reasonably easy to gather. What I hadn’t counted on is how many people were enjoying the holiday and not working, including the people whose job it is to inform the public about what’s going on. The Fremont Police Department website lists four people as public information officers (PIOs). Of all the people I emailed and called, one got back to me, and said no one would be available – too busy with the city’s Fourth of July parade. I get that the police department’s first priority is public safety, not dealing with the media. But some people actually are paid to deal with the media and, moreover, today’s story was indeed about public safety. But the public information officer stuck to her guns about no one being available to inform the public on this day. For what it’s worth, I asked if we could do the story the next day, July 5th – never heard back.
With that story a no go, I moved on to a series of fires in San Jose. The assignment desk sent three crews to cover the scene. Two videographers set up on hilltops nearby and shot helicopters dropping water and long-distance views of firefighters battling the flames. It was my job to try to get close.
Sheriff’s deputies at the bottom of the road that led to the structures that burned would not allow me to drive up because firefighters hate – HATE – it when vehicles drive over their hoses. But, they also were well-versed with the California law (see section (d)) that allows reporters to approach fires on foot. It’s up to the reporter to decide what’s safe and what’s not.
I parked and pulled out my equipment and trudged up and down the hill several times, trying to get video and interviews with victims and firefighters. It was about 80 degrees (the temperature, not the hill’s incline). The first time up, I felt pretty good – the successive times, I got pretty winded and sweaty. Which just goes to show, this job can be physically taxing. It pays to be in shape. Using your downtime to go to the gym is a good idea.
The news never stops, even on holidays. Be prepared to work them.
Not everyone gets Takeaway #1, even the people who are supposedly experts at dealing with the media.
Get in shape.