A fitting finale

The final day of my two-week return to TV seemed an appropriate sendoff; it epitomized the unpredictability of the job. Simply, three stories in one day.

Story 1: Follow up on the kid who took his boss's Maserati and crashed it into the public transit repair shop. 

The crashed Maserati photo as it appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle.

The crashed Maserati photo as it appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Specifically, we wanted to find the owner. Here’s how TV news sleuthing works: The police department wouldn’t give us the name of the owner because he’s a victim. The district attorney’s office didn’t have the name because the owner didn’t press charges about the car being stolen. All we had was the picture, which clearly shows the license plate. With that, we can get the owner’s information from the DMV. The owner had such a generic name it was pretty much useless. However, on a whim, I decided to do a Google search for name + Maserati, and a magazine article came up. Lo and behold, a guy by this name is a big-time CEO who, on his daily commute to work, drives a Maserati.

Hey, we’re getting somewhere.

Problem is, his company’s headquarters is in Maryland. But a search of the company’s website shows it’s got an office in San Francisco! Maybe, just maybe, this guy is so rich, he’s got a Maserati in every town where he’s got an office. In the end, I went to the office, and it turns out he wasn’t the guy. A lot of effort to end up at a dead end, but this is what it takes to ferret out a story.

Story 2: The NASCAR race is in two days and that means massive traffic jams around the track, which is just north of San Francisco at the gateway to wine country. On this story I was paired with a videographer and our job was to remind people to avoid the area around the track and include this detail – 85% of the people who drive past the track on race day, aren’t even going to the race, they’re headed farther north for wine tasting. If they went another way, they could avoid two-hour delays.

Denny Hamlin heading from the garage to the track at Sonoma Raceway.

Denny Hamlin heading from the garage to the track at Sonoma Raceway.

This story went as planned and we even got to enjoy the roar and rumble of the NASCAR cars. But at 4:30pm, a half an hour before our scheduled live shot at the track, we were told to hurry up and feed in the traffic story, and head to . . . 

Story 3: A fire had broken out near Interstate 680, forcing the California Highway Patrol to close the roadway. Moreover, there were houses burning, and with the drought, there was a chance this could get big. Truth is, there’s a chance every fire could get big. So, we leave the raceway at 4:59pm heading toward the fire for a 6pm live shot at the top of the show.

Story 1 - San Francisco; Story 2 - Sonoma Raceway; Story 3 - Fairfield fire.

Story 1 - San Francisco; Story 2 - Sonoma Raceway; Story 3 - Fairfield fire.

Here’s where the logistics of TV news gets complicated and where more than a little luck is necessary. To be successful for a 6pm live shot, we needed to find a location to set up the truck where the fire would be in the background, where we could leave the truck for the live shot without getting kicked out by the firefighters, where we could shoot video and conduct interviews with witnesses. OK, so we've now dealt with the location. Then there’s the time constraints: travel time, shooting video time, interview time, editing time, feeding the video back to the station time, live shot set up time, all before 6pm when the show starts.

Here’s what we saw on the way in:






On Google maps, I zoomed in to the area where the fire was and figured out the back way in avoiding the freeway, which was closed. I was basically guessing by looking at a map on an iPad. But this is where experience and luck comes into play. Get this part wrong, and we could waste precious minutes trying to find a location that fulfilled all the criteria listed above. Get it right, and we get on at the top of the show with all the elements.

We guessed right, found a safe parking space with a good vantage point, and hopped out of the truck and began shooting.

iPhone photo of CalFire helicopter water drop. By the way, it's up to the reporter to get out of the way or be doused.

iPhone photo of CalFire helicopter water drop. By the way, it's up to the reporter to get out of the way or be doused.

My photographer (I was working with one today) ran straight to the fire and got great pictures. The fire won’t keep burning forever, hopefully, so there’s a certain hurriedness to covering these events. Wait too long and there won’t be any video to shoot.

Meanwhile, I dedicated a few minutes to social media, shooting video and photos that the station and others could re-Tweet. I think we were the first ones to get video from the ground of the fire (various stations had already broadcast helicopter video). It’s at events such as these that a reporter or TV station develops a reputation for being first. Once you get that reputation, viewers and followers will come back to you the next time something happens. It’s like CNN – not a lot of people watch daily, but when a war breaks out, that’s where people go. Nonetheless, I was a little worried, as I shot my video and photos for social media, that I wasn’t dedicating time gathering information for my live shot. It was a choice – one or the other, not both.

In the end, we did the job. Live report at 6pm, with video; live report again at 6:30 with video and a live interview, plus live camera shots throughout the show. An exhausting day but one that reminded me of the power of TV. It’s the only medium that can take you to the scene and show you what’s going on right now, live. Newspapers and radio can’t do that. That’s why TV stations push so hard to get on the air at breaking news events. It’s the only way to distinguish ourselves.


  1. Once again, it’s important for aspiring TV reporters to figure out whether they can handle the unpredictability of this job. “Yes I love it” or “No, I hate it” are both acceptable answers. Only one means you have a career in TV news.
  2. Logistics plays an important, if not well-recognized, role in successful TV news stories. Figuring out where to go and how to get there are skills one develops over time. There’s nothing the folks back at the station can do to help you, really. You’re out in the field making the final calls based on what you see on the scene. A wrong turn can mean a 30-minute delay that jeopardizes or crashes a live shot. The right turn can mean you beat the competition.
  3. Covering breaking news means getting the video and interviews and information you can right now. The event doesn’t go on forever and dallying can cost you.
  4. Social media can be an important tool in establishing your reputation as a go-to source for news – breaking news, exclusive news, interesting news, whatever. Using it expands your reach to a broader audience. However, there’s a delicate balance because time dedicated to social media is time not spent on getting your story ready for the TV broadcast. Reporters have to learn to do more while trying to do it all well.


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.


  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.

Playing it safe in Oakland

The beauty of local television news is every day is a new day. No matter what happened the day before, it’s a clean slate tomorrow. After yesterday’s success, today was bound to be a little more difficult.

While reviewing the Oakland City Council agendas online, I found the Public Safety Committee had this item on its agenda for next week:

Subject: Banning Automated Purchasing Machines

From: Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney

Recommendation: Adopt An Ordinance Of The City Of Oakland, California, Amending Title 8 Of The Oakland Municipal Code To Add Chapter 8.21 Prohibiting Automated Purchasing Machines Which Buy Back Personal Electronic Devices Or Electronic Equipment

Reviewing agendas often leads to nothing, they’re so boring. But sometimes, there are nuggets that make for interesting stories. After all, what government decides, we all have to abide. This one piqued my interest, more than anything else, because I didn’t know anything about it. After a little research, I discovered other cities had banned these machines, which allow you to turn in your old cell phone for cash, kind of like an ATM. The city doesn’t want these machines set up in Oakland because it thinks making it easy to exchange phones for cash will be an incentive for people to steal more phones. Already the number of cell phone robberies in Oakland has doubled to nearly 3,400 since 2009, when there were only 1,600.

So what do I need for this story? Cell phone video, video of the machines and interviews with the council member, police and someone from the company that makes the machines. Pretty simple.

The council member’s office agreed to an interview, but not until the afternoon. The station found tons of file video of cell phones and the machines. But the video was at the station in San Francisco and I was in Oakland, which mean I wasn’t in control. The more people involved in producing a story, the longer it takes. But in this case, I was willing to rely on the file video, because I really had no choice.

The Oakland Police Department Public Information Officer didn’t call me back until 5:37pm! This was after calls to her at 11am. Surely the folks there know how TV works, right? “The story’s running at 6pm tonight.” It’s amazing how often people whom you expect to understand the rhythm of local TV news – TV time – just don’t. In the end, I couldn’t include the police.

And the machine manufacturer is in San Diego, so it only offered a phone interview, ugh – phone interviews bring television stories to a dead halt. So I just asked them to email me answers to questions.

So by 3:00pm, all I have is one interview with the council member; I have to make a call. The story airs at 6pm. And my call is, “that’s it.” This is going to be one of those uninspired one-interview stories (just the council member’s aide) and a bunch of broll. It’s time to head back to San Francisco to get the file video and edit the package.

Again, because there are lots of professionals in the newsroom, the file was ready and the graphics and editors were standing by to fill in the holes in my story super fast.

Compared to yesterday, this story didn’t have the day-of video, compelling interviews and creative standup one would hope for, but, tomorrow’s another day.

Even though I worked as an MMJ, I wasn’t by myself today. Evan accompanied me. He’s a former Oakland Police Officer who now works as an armed guard. Our station, and many others it the Bay Area, now require reporters to cover Oakland with someone with a gun. We’re not allowed to go alone. Why?

I must say I never felt threatened during our day. So it was strange to have Evan sit with me in my car as I researched my story online and made phone calls. He accompanied me to Oakland City Hall where I conducted my interview, and he was vigilant, checking on not only me, but looking out the windows to keep watch on my car parked nearby.

Working a story with Security Guard Evan Frazier in Oakland, CA.

Working a story with Security Guard Evan Frazier in Oakland, CA.

I guess this is part of being a television reporter today; MMJs, because they’re alone, are even more susceptible to having their equipment taken. 


  1. No matter how well you plan, you still have to depend on the public to make your story a reality. Sometimes those people get it, sometimes they don’t. Regardless, you have to make deadline, so that means your stories may meet your standards or not. The good thing is once today’s chapter has been written, we get to write another one tomorrow.
  2. The public doesn’t fear the media or hold it in such high regard as it used to. I can remember going on assignments where people cowered, whispering, “Oh, that’s the TV station.” Nowadays, especially in cities like Oakland, but also in San Francisco, the bad guys treat us like any other potential victim in possession of expensive equipment. TV crews, and especially MMJs, must be on the lookout for threats to their safety and never trade health for a story.


One-stop shopping

When your assignment destination is Sausalito, it’s going to be a good day. The folks who live there are a little tired of all the tourist buses rumbling through town, so they decided to put some restrictions on where the buses could go.

A pretty simple story – get video of the buses and sound bites with the upset neighbors.

Everything went according to plan and the story turned out pretty well – no hiccups. Still, there were a few things I remembered about being an MMJ and shooting, writing and editing my own story.

This was an ideal MMJ story -  one-stop, Sausalito. Sure there were various locations within the town, but it wasn’t the more difficult assignment of going from San Francisco to Berkeley to San Jose, which I’ve done.

Another thing that swung in my favor today was the producer’s decision to “break out” other aspects to the story, rather than asking me to include them. Sausalito isn’t the only locale getting fed up with the tourists – San Francisco is also thinking about limiting buses around Alamo Square where the Painted Ladies are, and soon might even restrict who can go down crooked Lombard Street. Had the producer asked me to include those elements in my story, I would have had to

  • go shoot the video in those places, and then break the rule of only going to two places max for an MMJ story or
  • ask the station to include file video of those places in my story, which would have meant I would no longer have complete control over how my story went. The more people who are involved in producing and editing a story, the longer it takes. Because I could do it myself, I knew how much time I had and what the final product would look like.

So my video of the buses was pretty good and so were the interviews, but I needed something for a standup. Hopping on and off a bus wasn’t really an option because they’re moving and to shoot it myself would have taken a lot of setup and time. But as I was shooting video of downtown Sausalito, I saw something that sparked an idea for a standup. I believe this is one of the advantages of being an MMJ – by looking through the viewfinder, one can come up with ideas and lines to include in a story that don’t jump out if one is just working as a reporter. 

In this case, this is what I saw:

Downtown Sausalito, CA

Downtown Sausalito, CA

Check out the story to see how the standup turned out.


  1. MMJs really need to have a tight, tight focus on their stories. It’s a big help when producers can have the anchors tell other parts of the story, leaving a single, simple core element for the MMJ. Mike Sugerman’s rule still rules: MMJs should go to a maximum of two places to shoot video.
  2. MMJs can have an advantage over a separate photographer/reporter team, because the MMJ thinks as both. Sometimes looking through the viewfinder leads to an idea that wouldn’t have arisen otherwise.

Use all the resources at your disposal

Today’s story was on the effect of San Francisco proposing to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Particularly at restaurants, any increase in labor costs can be a big burden.

This was one of those ideal days, where the sun shines, there’s no traffic and all the people you call agree to an interview right away. In no time, I lined up the head of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association and a restaurant owner to explain how this increase would be bad for business. In fact, the restaurant owner said he was going to have to cut staff and replace employees with iPads customers could use to order their food.

Now the only thing remaining was get some video of the tablets in use. Hmmmm. The restaurant owner didn’t have them yet; the restaurant association lady’s suggestion didn’t pan out. Who do I know who might have a clue? My wife! She worked in the restaurant industry when we lived in San Francisco, and even though she was now all the way across the country, her recommendation came through. She led me to a San Francisco company that creates this specific kind of software. The lesson: rely on anyone you know as a source for leads – you never know when an idea from far away is even better than a close one.

Another resource that’s becoming more commonly used is the smart phone. Several of the long-time photographers I’m working with say the iPhone can take great still photos and video and they use them frequently as second and third cameras for their stories. You can drive a car over an iPhone for a story about potholes; you can walk over an iPhone for a cool cutaway shot with your interview subject. In today’s story, the iPhone allowed me to shoot a standup giving the viewer the perspective of the restaurant tablet (It’s a little difficult to explain, but you’ll get it if you watch the story).

Another reason today went well – all my interviews were within a five-block area in downtown San Francisco. This cut down my driving time, which gave me more reporting time. That time allowed for a creative standup as well as a video tease I Tweeted and posted to Facebook.

My final lesson for the day was to appreciate the professionals you work with. If you build relationships with the folks who shoot and edit and produce and assign stories, you can rely upon them to help you out in a pinch. My story was late getting to the server, and the super-experienced editor in charge of making sure my story was in the right place at the right time took the time to make me look good. She tweaked and adjusted and exported with the sole goal of making the story shine. It didn’t have to be this way. Prima donna reporters who think colleagues are their servants don’t always get a helping hand when they need it most. Just remember, on camera doesn’t mean on top; others in the newsroom have important jobs, too. When you need them the most, they can be lifesavers.



  1. Leave no stone unturned when you’re trying to track down sources and leads. Someone who’s not even in the same time zone can open doors you never thought of.
  2. New technologies, such as smart phones, can be useful tools to help tell a compelling story. They’re not replacements for professional video cameras, but they can augment traditional storytelling equipment.
  3. When you can economize on the time you spend driving, shooting and editing, use what’s left over to promote your story and make it different.
  4. Respect your colleagues and build bridges. You may be a self-sufficient reporter who can shoot and edit with aplomb. But there will come a time – you can count on it – when you need help. That’s not the time to try to make friends. Do it ahead of time, so in the moment of crisis, your co-workers are more than willing to save you.

There's no time like TV time

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."


  1. 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.
  2. 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.

"If you didn't get it, you didn't get it."

Today’s original story was on Texas Governor Rick Perry’s comparison of homosexuality to alcoholism; a comment he made at a forum in San Francisco. Rather than just cover reaction to the quote, which would be decidedly obvious and not all that enlightening, the plan was to go further – to explore the business and financial consequences of the statement. That was a germane angle, because the whole point of Perry’s visit was to highlight what he thought were the advantages of doing business in Texas as opposed to California.

So I called several public relations experts to get their analysis of Perry’s mistake. Only one called back, and he was in Santa Clara, a full hour south of San Francisco. After waiting about 30 minutes, I decided it would be better to take the time to drive there and back for a sure interview, rather than continue to wait for a closer interview that might not come.

These are the logistical decisions reporters have to make all day long, every day. Interestingly, they don’t really have much to do with journalism, they’re more about the mechanics of getting the job done on time, which, however, does allow your journalism to make it on the air.

Once in Santa Clara, the interview went well, right up until the pile driver kicked in at the construction project across the street. I let the subject finish answering the question we were on, but then decided to move inside. Continuing might have worked, but not worth the risk. It’s sometimes uncomfortable to ask interview subjects to stop or move or start over, but that always beats the alternative, which is poor audio or video. Tempting as it is to believe, video and audio never miraculously improve when you get back to the station. Either you get it right in the field, or you don’t.

After all that, my story changed and I instead covered the decision by the electric carmaker Tesla to share its battery patents. This required driving even farther south to Los Gatos for an interview and then east to Fremont for a live shot in front of the Tesla factory.

I found myself getting back into the groove of enjoying the challenge of making deadline, rather than dreading it and wondering if I’d make it. I think there’s a certain endurance one builds up to dealing with the deadline stress, and after nearly a week, I’m getting into stress shape. Beginning reporters should take comfort in knowing it does get easier.


  1. Try to enlighten the viewers by telling them something they don’t know. The obvious story is often easier, but not necessarily better.
  2. When it comes to interviews, certain and far beats maybe and close. These are decisions reporters learn to make with experience, but having something for sure gives you something to build your day around.
  3. Reporters must make sure their video and audio is good as it’s being recorded in the field, no matter how embarrassing or uncomfortable it is to ask a subject for a do over. “If you didn’t get it, you didn’t get it.”

Know your audience

 One lesson re-learned today is “remember who your audience is.” So often in journalism, we write about things we know well, without recognizing our audience may not be as familiar with the subject of the story.

My assignment was to cover the guy who hacked TweetDeck, owned by Twitter, based in San Francisco. What’s hacking? Who knows what TweetDeck is? While many avid Twitter users know it, lots of people don’t. That means covering the story with a broader view. In this case, my focus was more about how security on the internet is tenuous at best rather than getting into the coding vulnerability that allowed the hacker to penetrate TweetDeck.

I was also reminded of how to overcome a common obstacle: What do I say in my standup? One of the best strategies is to turn one of the good sound bites of the interview into the standup. An added benefit is you can use the first part of the interview to lead in to the standup, which adds variety. In this story, the standup was a re-worded description the internet security expert gave me.


  1. Know your audience. Don’t forget the people watching the local newscast after Jerry Springer aren’t the same as the people watching the local newscast after the network news.
  2. A standup is a key part of the story that helps the viewers know who’s telling the story. Paraphrasing a good sound bite is good way to come up with an idea for a standup.



Goin' solo

Today was my first try working as a solo MMJ. One of my KPIX colleagues, Mike Sugerman, recommends MMJs only go to two places for a story because time is so limited. When MMJs are driving, shooting video and editing, they’re not reporting, so the day goes by quickly.

Today’s story idea was ideal for MMJ work following Mike’s theory; it was the debate in the small town of Belvedere over increasing the police force from four officers to five. My video and interviews were all within the town, which sits just north of San Francisco across the Golden Gate Bridge. To get:

  1. A resident who wants to increase the force to increase the safety;
  2. A member of the police department to explain why not increasing the force doesn’t put residents in danger;
  3. Video of police cars and nice houses (this is a really ritzy place).

So that was the plan, and MMJs should always establish a plan so they know where they’re going. Executing the plan is another matter. Before leaving the station, I made several calls, but had to leave messages. So I hopped in the car, hoping to track someone down. After a 40-minute drive, I ended up knocking on doors, to no avail. Now the pressure started to increase, as the minutes ticked away, with no one to interview.

In the end, my messages were heard and I got the interviews I needed. Still, the stress of the unknown is something everyone in TV, and especially MMJs, needs to expect, deal with and truly thrive upon.

As I shot the story as an MMJ, I recalled some of the positives of being in total control of the story. When MMJs think of lines they want to include in their voice tracks, they’re able to shoot them right away – cutaways, broll, standups, whatever. And sometimes, the line comes to you as you're looking through the viewfinder.

Writing the story has proven to be the most difficult part of jumping back into the TV business after two years away. The thoughts don’t flow as easily as they do when one writes stories every day for weeks, months, years on end. The solution is to get back to basics and focus on what beginning reporters should turn to: What’s new? What’s different? What’s the latest? What surprised or impressed you? Those are all basic questions whose answers can help a writer reaching for a way to organize a story.

What does come back quickly is the technology. If you’ve gotten the shooting and non-linear editing down once, you can do it again. Yes, it is like riding a bike.


  1. Uncertainty is stressful and also to be expected. There’s no changing that.
  2. You can’t go wrong by focusing on what’s new, what’s different, what’s surprising. These are elementary principles that stand no matter which market you’re in.
  3. Get good at the technology. The better you are at pushing the buttons, the better your journalism will be because you’ll have more time to focus on storytelling.





"Show me, don't tell me."

On my first day back on the air I got to work with a photographer, and good thing, too. The assignment was to drive an hour north from San Francisco to Sonoma County to track down a teenager accused of using stolen credit cards to rent a sports car for $13,000 and a luxury home for $28,000.

With a photographer driving, I was able to make calls to the swindled rental car company and to the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office. Both calls helped me build a solid understanding of the background to the story and also allowed me to set up an on-camera interview with the sheriff’s investigator. Had I been working as an MMJ on my own, none of those calls would have been made ahead of time, and the interviews might have been missed.

While the elements to the story were intriguing – a high-rolling teenager who deputies say faked his way into some pretty nice stuff – there was a problem: hardly any video. The basic elements were interviews with the authorities and still photos of the car. No houses, no credit cards, no arrest, no court appearance.

In the end, we fleshed out the package with a little Ferris Buehler movie video (kid bluffs his way into driving a killer car) and broll at the suspect’s neighborhood. But the lesson I was reminded of is a key element to working in local TV news: you must have video to cover everything you say. In other words: “show me, don’t’ tell me.”

I found writing the story a little trying as many of the lines I wanted to use didn’t work because there was no video. Video is the beauty of TV that often allows you to be really creative, but it's also limiting. Without video you just cannot say certain things.


  1. “Show me, don’t tell me” is an inviolable tenet of TV reporting. No video? Figure out another way to say it or leave it for the live shot or leave it out.
  2. Use drive time to your advantage when you’re with a photographer by fleshing out potential leads. As a solo MMJ, you don’t have that luxury.

Getting started early


The idea was to spend four days practicing with the camera and editing software to get up to speed for a Monday, June 9th start date. But sitting in the morning meeting today, I re-discovered one of the tenets of local television news: be prepared for anything. 

Instead of get up to speed, it was get out the door to track down a story.

In the end this story fell through, but I was reminded of how simple the formula is for making TV; it really isn’t rocket science. The way you make TV is to find people and talk to them. Finding people isn’t always easy. Sometimes they come to you served on a platter in the form of a press conference, but other times you have to hunt for them, using the internet and guile and persistence.

In this case I tried to track down someone who had recently moved from Hawaii to the Bay Area, but whose moving company had “lost” some of her possessions. Someone new to the area is a little difficult to track, because there’s no current address or phone number. But still, there are options, none of which are all that complicated:

1.    Go to the police department to get the missing/stolen property report. First clerk: “call the media line.” Wait two hours, go back, and the second clerk was much more helpful. She searched the report database, but still, no luck.

2.    Call a bunch of Hawaii-to-mainland moving companies, both in the Bay Area and Honolulu. This didn’t turn up much, but I did learn it can take anywhere from two to five weeks to move from Hawaii to California, and it’s best to put all your stuff in a single container – don’t share it with another mover. That’s how stuff gets “lost.”

3.    See if any of her relatives live in the Bay Area. Here the station assignment desk had some luck with internet and database searches – two siblings, with phone numbers and addresses. No answers on the phones. No answer at a knock on the brother’s apartment door.

On to the sister’s house – no answer to a knock on the door, but there was a car in the neighbor’s driveway. This guy turned out to be really friendly, and told me my potential interview had moved away. Darn. BUT (and there’s often a “but” if you keep asking), the current occupants were good friends with the people who’d moved out and he’d be happy to pass along my phone number.

Because there was still time in the day, back to the first house, and this time someone answered, but not the guy I was looking for – he’d moved away, too.

After about 6 hours of driving and calling and internet searching and cajoling and knocking the doors of people I didn’t know – nothing. But that’s the way you do it – and, so often, it works.


1.    Embrace the unpredictability of TV news. That’s the way it is, so roll with it. Don’t try to organize it or limit it or change it. You can’t. Decide you enjoy it.

2.    Don’t give up. Finding elements to your story is just a matter of effort; a little more difficult than searching for the next coffee shop on Google maps or asking the person next to you on the bus where’s a good place to eat, but not a whole lot different.

KPIX redux

I'm headed back to San Francisco tomorrow for a two-week stint as a reporter at KPIX, the CBS station where I worked for nearly 10 years. It's been two years since the last time I was there, out on the streets reporting, shooting editing and telling stories. This is where I'll tell you about what's happening - the interesting people, the demanding deadlines and the technological juggling act that is being a multi-media journalist. I hope to show you a few of the stories here, too. #backinthesaddle