Keep digging; you never know what you'll find

Today marks the end of my 2015 return to the newsroom and today's story was a fitting finale. An exclusive story that had pretty humble beginnings.

Last night, the nightside crew heard police scanner chatter about an arrest of a serial car burglar. Not all that interesting. But it happened around the corner from the station, so why not send a videographer to shoot it? Turns out, one of the generic arrest shots revealed the suspect had an Uber placard on his front windshield. Uber is the relatively new app that allows private drivers to work like taxis and pick people up and take them to their destinations. The company has had some bad press because of driver bad behavior. So a little digging into whether the Uber driver was also a car burglar could make for an interesting story.

Turns out, the car burglar was not an Uber driver; he had stolen the placard, too. Moreover, this was the first time the police had heard about a case like this. Apparently the guy would drive around slowly, pretending to be on the lookout for people needing a ride, when in fact what he was doing was scoping out cars he could break in to.

Now we've got a story!

So what began as "Just go shoot the cops arresting a serial car burglar" turned into an exclusive story about a brand new way for criminals to try to cover their tracks. The PR folks at Uber played ball and called me back in time to confirm the suspect was not part of their company. The San Francisco Police department played ball and confirmed this was the first they'd heard of such a ploy and would be on the lookout for it from now on.

While my initial assignment didn't have a lot of promise, the finished product (the lead story at 6pm) did have some heft and certainly told viewers something they didn't know.

Thinking back over the past two weeks, I'm reminded how dynamic the work of a TV reporter is. Varying schedules, levels of difficulty, pressure, story subjects, people to interview. It's hard, but interesting. A sample of the people I spoke to this week. Is there another job that would lead you to this variety?

For the story on expanding the ferry terminal in Sausalito.

For the story on expanding the ferry terminal in Sausalito.

For the story on tearing down I280 and re-routing Caltrain to build new housing.

For the story on tearing down I280 and re-routing Caltrain to build new housing.

For the story on the police officer who was memorialized 62 years after he died in the line of duty.

For the story on the police officer who was memorialized 62 years after he died in the line of duty.

For the story about the Norovirus outbreak on the cruise ship. She was a boarding passenger.

For the story about the Norovirus outbreak on the cruise ship. She was a boarding passenger.

For the story on Target moving in to a neighborhood full of mom-n-pop stores.

For the story on Target moving in to a neighborhood full of mom-n-pop stores.

 

Takeaways:

  1. Don't underestimate the value of doing a little digging. What may appear to be mundane could in fact be unique and interesting.
  2. Take time every now and then to think about what you're doing and how the challenges come with the benefit of an absence of boredom.

When they stop asking, we're done

Today's story was about a Norovirus outbreak on a cruise ship that had returned to San Francisco after a 15-day trip to Hawaii. The goals were pretty straightforward: get passengers and video of the ship.

5pm live shot with the cruise ship in the background.

5pm live shot with the cruise ship in the background.

Because the ship's capacity is about 2,500, there were thousands of people getting off the ship, and thousands waiting to get on, so no problem finding people to talk to. But it struck me, every time I spoke to people who were about to get on the ship, they pumped me for information. I identified myself as a local TV news reporter, and instantly, they assumed I knew everything about the virus, how many people got sick, how it was being cleaned up, what precautions the on-board crew was taking. Gratifyingly, I knew a lot of the answers.

It reminded me how the public assumes journalists are in the know. That's a good thing. The minute people walk past a TV news truck and don't bother asking, "What's going on?" we're done. I always tell young TV reporters and videographers, and even experienced ones, we should  welcome inquiries from the public. Engage the public, strike up conversations with passersby, show little kids all the buttons and monitors. We can't survive if people don't care what we know.

One of the passengers I spoke to told me she received an email from the cruise line warning her of a delayed departure, because the ship was being scrubbed to get rid of the virus. Rather than just note that for my story, I asked her if she could forward me the email. She hemmed and hawed a little about using up some of her phone's travel data plan, but finally did it. Beginning reporters sometimes worry they're being too forward or too intrusive by asking for personal things. But it never hurts to ask. The person you're talking to can always say "no." Better to try than to never know if you could have gathered an extra element for your story.

Newhouse students should know they're working with pretty much the same equipment we use in San Francisco. The cameras are a slightly different version of the Sony NX5U, the Adobe Premiere non-linear editing software is comparable to Edius. Even the remote server is recognizable to students: FileZilla. You're getting real-life training at Syracuse.

One of the great things about TV reporting is, no matter how well or how poorly you did that day, once the live shot's over, there's nothing you can do about it. It's OVER. You get a chance to unwind, ponder how you'd do it differently the next time and start thinking about the unpredictable adventure that awaits tomorrow.

Finished!

Finished!

Takeaways:

  1. Be nice to the public, AKA our customers. When they don't care what we do, we're toast.
  2. Ask. The worst that can happen is you get a "no."
  3. Don't beat yourself up at the end of the day. You can't do anything to change what's happened. Instead, learn from your mistakes and enjoy the fact your TV reporting job allows you to try again tomorrow.

The first 30 seconds....

Today's story was, for the third day in a row, about an intruder breaking into a home while the family was still there. Weird - three days in a row. This idea, admittedly, came from the newspaper. I wasn't all that optimistic when I received my assignment, because the father who fought with the intruder refused to give his name to the newspaper reporter. Moreover, assigning me to cover this story was pretty risky, because I had to drive from San Francisco all the way to Oakley. This meant, if the story didn't come through, if the dad wouldn't talk to me on camera, then I would have wasted an hour driving WAY to the east and would be a long way away from potential backup stories in San Francisco.

In the end the story did come through. I talked not only with the dad, but also with his 18-year-old son who actually beat the intruder with a piece of wood to make him let go of dad. Two really great interviews and a good story. But it didn't happen by chance. When I first knocked on the dad's door, he answered with a black eye and other bruises on his face, a result of the fight with the intruder. I had woken him up from a nap and he was also loopy from the pain medication. Not a good way to start asking someone if he wants to be on camera for Channel 5 TV. But I think what convinced him to do it was my professional appearance and demeanor.

Something beginning reporters don't often realize is they have about 30 seconds to establish a rapport with the people they hope to interview. Within that first 30 seconds, they must show they're smart, credible, serious, genuine and able to tell a story accurately. Remember, the people you want to talk to are sizing you up from the second they see you, even before you open your mouth. Therefore, how you dress makes a difference. How you carry yourself makes a difference. What you say and HOW you say it makes all the difference. My approach:

  • Be transparent. I hate it when people don't tell me who they are right off the bat, so that's the first thing I say: "Hi, I'm Simon Perez with Channel 5." Wear your station ID on a lanyard so everyone can see it.
  • Be polite, be direct and get to the point. "I'd like to talk to you about the intruder who broke in to your house last night."
  • Show empathy, but don't be too sappy. "This is the third day in a row I'm covering this kind of story. Isn't that crazy?"
  • Understand the public isn't on TV every day and may be a little nervous. Assuage this fear. "We can talk anywhere. I'd just like to chat about what happened. It's all on tape so if we mess up we can start over."

With that, the man agreed to talk to me a couple of hours later, after his son had returned from school. The interview went off without a hitch.

During the couple of hours I waited for the son to come home, I went to shoot some other video for the story. To get that video I had to park on a sidewalk.

This is something beginning reporters must get used to. "The Media" has some privileges when it comes to parking and setting up our equipment. But you must be a little pushy sometimes. I'd never do this with my personal vehicle. However, because the nearest place to park was about half a mile away, I chose this spot. After all, "I'll only be a minute." :)

Moreover, after I parked, I had to walk along the trail to get the video I needed. It was a haul, especially hauling the camera and the tripod. But that's part of the job. MMJs need to be in good physical shape. There's no one to carry the equipment for you, and you need all of it to make the video look good. There's no excuse for not taking the tripod with you. "It's too heavy" just doesn't cut it.

Here's how far I went. Notice the tree over my left shoulder.

Takeaways:

  1. You've got one chance to make a first impression. Blow it, and your chances for an interview go way down. Get it right, and people will tell you all kinds of things.
  2. Be a pushy parker.
  3. Get in shape. Prepare to sweat. Being an MMJ is strenuous.



Shoot first, ask questions later

Today's story took me to a sad scene. A 12-year-old boy was running across the street to catch the local light-rail train to school. He scampered into traffic, and as he was dodging cars, he fell into the path of the train. He died.

These stories are always difficult ones for journalists. No one I've met in 25 years of reporting likes to do them. No one. But we all know we have to. To make the best of it, I always tell myself:

"You can ask anyone, anything, one time, politely."

I repeat that in my head as I approach and knock on the doors of families who have lost loved ones. It gives me courage.

Today, my uncomfortable moment came when sobbing relatives of the boy laid flowers and lit incense at the scene of the tragedy. I looked through the camera's viewfinder and felt a pang of guilt, of self-consciousness as I recorded their grief. Was this the right thing to do? Would I want someone to do this to me? But I also remembered another cardinal rule of TV, which is to shoot first and decide later whether you want to use that piece of video. So many beginning reporters will let their discomfort prevent them from getting the shots they might need later. It really is OK, as long as you're not trespassing, to shoot everything. The ethical considerations come when you choose what to put on TV.

After the family had created its memorial, I went to the boy's middle school to see if the staff and teachers had anything to say. I figured, at the least, I might hear about how students were being reminded to be careful crossing the street. Instead, I found what TV reporters almost always find at schools - total DEFCON lockdown. "MEDIA APPROACHING! WARNING! WARNING! PREPARE THE OUTER PERIMETER!" Good grief. Schools have watched too many movies of TV reporters snatching fifth graders out of classrooms, stringing them up by their ankles and forcing them to talk. (No, I haven't seen that movie, either.) I don't know what it is about schools, but the reception is rarely even civil. I walked to the door and planned to specifically follow the rules as listed - "all visitors must report to the principal's office." Instead, a harried P.E. teacher cracked the door and immediately told me, "We have no comment." "To what?" I thought. I haven't even asked a question. I tried to get him to let me talk to the principal, but he refused to let me in. "Please get off the school property." Whatever. Eventually, someone came out to tell me to call the central administration number. As is usually the case, a missed opportunity to get the word out about how kids need to be safe taking public transit to school.

So after all that, I returned to the accident scene to prepare for a 5pm live shot, when I was told at 3pm to head from San Francisco to Antioch. Again, standard fare. A good reporter is always prepared to drop several hours of work for a new story the bosses think might be better. In this case, a cute four-year-old girl had told police where the burglar was hiding in her house.

This is a screen grab of the GPS route to Antioch. Notice the estimated arrival time. Show up on the scene 45 minutes before the 5pm live shot and figure it out. Stressful. A videographer was sent ahead of me and was able to shoot video and get interviews with the family and the girl.

Still, I found myself reminding myself, there's no real benefit to freaking out. The story is going to get done one way or another. The live shot will happen at the designated time, one way or another. Tomorrow will come around, one way or another. Staying calm and focusing on the task at hand makes you a better co-worker and a better reporter. You can exude stress or you can exude calm. Who would you rather work with? Don't waste the energy and mental capacity on things you can't control.

Cellphones are everywhere these days and can really help make a story come alive. No longer do professional TV crews have to be on the scene to capture an event as it's happening. The mom of the four year old used her phone to shoot the police officers hauling the intruder out of her house. That was a money shot I needed in my story. But, the file was so big, and I was in such a hurry, I didn't have time to wait for it to come through via email or text. So, I pulled out my cell phone and shot the video playing on her cell phone. Here's what it looked like:

By the way, ALWAYS shoot cell phone video horizontal, NEVER vertical.

After 10 days, I'm still struck by how much time I spend on the road. Getting to places is such a big part of TV reporting. Here are two views - one not so pleasant, one pleasant.

Highway 4 East during rush hour headed to 5pm live shot in Antioch.

Highway 4 East during rush hour headed to 5pm live shot in Antioch.

Headed home across the Bay Bridge into San Francisco.

Headed home across the Bay Bridge into San Francisco.

Takeaways:

  1. Shoot first, ask questions later.
  2. You can ask anyone, anything, one time, politely.
  3. Do your best on every story, and be prepared to throw it all away in favor of a different one, no matter how much work you've done.
  4. Keep your eye on the ball. Your goal is to be as successful as possible in the time you have, whether that's 8 hours 15 minutes, or just 15 minutes. Panicking doesn't make the clock run more slowly.
  5. Your cell phone is a legitimate news gathering tool, especially in a pinch. Almost always, in TV, some video is better than no video.
  6. Learn to love being in the car.

What Caddyshack can teach you about TV reporting

Today I followed up on a Sunday announcement that San Francisco's mayor was proposing a radical change to the way people get to and around the city. He wanted to tear down a major highway and re-route the commuter rail line. This story has all kinds of angles, but a TV story with "all kinds of angles" is pretty much useless. You must find a narrow focus that relays specific, comprehensible and, hopefully, useful and interesting points to the viewer. You only have about 90 seconds, after all. In this case, I narrowed it down to three:

  1. What are the traffic implications of tearing down the highway?
  2. How much would it cost to re-route the rail line?
  3. How valuable is the land that would be opened up by moving the train tracks and existing station?

Arriving at a narrow focus can be as simple as asking yourself, "What are viewers asking themselves?" Much like Chevy Chase advised "Be the ball, Danny" in Caddyshack, reporters must often try to "Be the viewer." You have to assume the mindset of the viewers and think of the questions they might have when they hear about something in the news.

A few other thoughts:

Sometimes, you have to think way, way ahead. We wanted to make an animated map for this story to give viewers a bird's eye view of the new train route. But making animated graphics is much more complicated than the standard graphics that list bullet points on a page. Animation requires the graphics department to get involved to do its magic. That means reporters, early on in the day, have to visualize what they want the map to look like and even what they want to be saying as the map appears in the story. This can be extraordinarily difficult if you haven't finished gathering all your information yet. "But I don't know where it turns north?" "But I don't know how much it costs?" All legitimate questions, but still, it's your job to help make the story look good. So the skilled reporter can come up with a line of script that is generic enough to be valid at 10:30am and also valid at 6pm when the story airs. You can fill in the details in other parts of the story when you've gathered them. The graphic needs to be done now (in the morning) so it'll look good later (showtime).

Go ahead, ask. As I lined up interviews, I got one of the premiere real estate developers in the city to answer his phone. He agreed to an interview and I offered to come to his office. He said: "I'm in the Russ Building." I had the following conversation with myself in about two seconds:

"Hmmm, I don't know where the Russ Building is. Should I know? Is the building so famous and prominent that if I say I don't know, the interview subject will think I don't know what I'm doing. I worked here for 10 years, how can I not know? That's a little pretentious to give the name of the building instead of the address. It's not like City Hall. Maybe I can ask someone later. Did he say Russ or Rust? Would that make a difference? Oh screw it, it's always better to be sure and risk being seen as ignorant than blow the whole interview because you can't find the office."

The Russ Building in downtown San Francisco. Interview on the 27th floor.

The Russ Building in downtown San Francisco. Interview on the 27th floor.

Really, all that happened in about two seconds, and then I said into the phone, "Can you tell me the address?" Beginning reporters often are afraid to ask questions they think are stupid and might harm their credibility. This fear is founded in some cases. Reporters should know the background of the stories they cover. If you're doing a story on shameless cheating in the NFL, asking, "Which team does Tom Brady play for?" does show your ignorance. But asking for directions, or how to spell a name or the specific charge being filed are all things that show a reporter cares about accuracy and is not careless.

 

Takeaways:

  1. Your story must be focused. Otherwise you'll try to include too much information in 90 seconds and the viewer won't get anything out of it. Three points made well trumps a dozen scrambled ideas jammed together. "Be the ball."
  2. Being a team player can mean leaving your comfort zone. Other members of the news team have their own jobs to do, and sometimes you have to put their needs before yours.
  3. Yes, there are stupid questions. Good reporters should know the answers to those. But there are also simple questions that aren't so obvious. Don't be afraid to ask them. "Where am I?" can make a big difference if you're standing on the dividing point between a city and a county.

Be flexible, be safe

Today's story was about a protest at San Francisco City Hall ...

Do you have any idea how many stories could start with that phrase? The protest mentality in the Bay Area is astounding. One might call it the essence of democracy; one might call it excessive bitching. Regardless, it often makes for news.

Today's story was about a protest at San Francisco City Hall lamenting the dearth of "affordable" housing in the city. The latest tech boom jacked up housing prices (to buy and to rent) as high as some of the pot heads who spend their days in the medical marijuana dispensaries. The protesters took over the grand rotunda of City Hall and chanted their grievances: "Ed Lee (the mayor), can't you see, we don't need no luxury!"

My assignment, received at about 10:30am was to do a live shot for the noon on the protest and then dig a little deeper into the issue for the 5pm and 6pm shows. Because the protest was to begin at noon, the idea was to go live right in the middle of it. In the old days, that meant dragging a loooooooooooong cable from the live truck, up the steps and inside City Hall. Today, that means checking out the LiveU and having the videographer wear it on his back (like a backpack) as he's shooting the live shot.

Me with KPIX 5 videographer Gregg Welk.   

Me with KPIX 5 videographer Gregg Welk.

 

The technological advances are pretty cool. What once took several people, tethered to a massive vehicle, can now be done with one or two people, totally free of any physical limitations (as long as they've got a cell signal). My videographer was long-time friend Gregg Welk, who had been at work on the morning show since 4am. This was his first time using this particular cell phone/live TV transmission unit. But because he's done this for about 20 years, he was ready, willing and capable of learning something new on the fly. That's definitely part of TV. If you want to only do it the way you've always done it, you're going to get left behind.

After completing the live shot at noon, I went to conduct an interview with "the other side" to get balance for the story. Protesters complain prices are too high; developers say they can't make money if everything's dirt cheap.

So I decided to do the live shot in the Mission District neighborhood, where many of the protestors say there's a big price problem. Upon arriving, I realized this may have been a mistake. The place I chose for the live shot was shady, to say the least. I didn't feel comfortable leaving the truck - not for my safety, but for fear the truck would be broken in to.

When it came time to do the live shot, more trepidation. I'm used to the TV camera being an idiot magnet. People do the stupidest things when a camera's around. Do you really want 50,000 to see you on TV grabbing your crotch and smiling? Really? But the videographer I was working with for the later shows kept an eye out and shouted out warnings to passersby that we weren't to be messed with.

The live shot went off without a hitch, but I was reminded how vulnerable TV reporting crews are during live shots. We really are focused on each other (reporter and videographer) and anyone could, if they wanted to, pounce. It seems the public is less intimidated by (or impressed with) TV news crews. Journalists need to be aware of this and take the right precautions. There's really no point is trying to do TV in a situation where the story is going to be derailed by a meathead who thinks it's funny to grab the microphone or flash gang signs in the background.

Just for fun:

Every time I see this sign, I post it on social media. I love it.

One of my favorite things about San Francisco.

One of my favorite things about San Francisco.

Takeaways:

  1. TV technology is changing faster than ever. The time it took to advance from film to videotape was decades. Now we advance from digital tape to digital files to non-linear editing to FTP to LiveU to Periscope in a matter of a few years. If you can't keep up you get left behind. A successful TV journalist is one who can - and is willing - to learn new technology.
  2. Be safe. Beginning reporters, especially, are often willing to push the envelope to get the story. They don't want the reputation of being the employee who complains and can't come through. But think about it. A live shot compromised by an unruly crowd doesn't do the viewer much good. Much less a crew beaten and bloodied, or worse.

 




Exclusive is the Holy Grail

Today's story was about weather. One of the tenets of local TV news is weather affects everyone - doesn't matter where you live, how much money you make, how many kids you have. It rains on everyone equally. Therefore, anytime there's unusual or extreme weather, TV stations kick into high (higher) gear.

Today we had a viewer email in a cell phone photo of a funnel cloud. FUNNEL CLOUD!!!!!!! Those aren't too common in the Bay Area. Moreover, this viewer is a fan of our morning meteorologist, Roberta Gonzales, so she emailed it only to us. Immediately the first thought in the minds of all the newsroom managers was Exclusive! We can do a story no one else can.

While it might seem trite, it's a well-founded strategy. Focus groups say the same thing about local TV news over and over again: "You guys are all the same. You tell the same stories. You have the same equipment. You even wear the same royal blue rain coats in bad weather." So any time a local TV station can tell a story that distinguishes it from the rest, it's going to happen.

Our interview subject was lively and engaging and the story turned out to be a fun one - not all that significant, but definitely a chance for us to tell a story no one else could.

A couple of other random thoughts:

The traffic is terrible in the Bay Area, worse than last year and worse than when I lived here in the 2000s. Because one is so often caught in traffic jams, the temptation to look at the cell phone is truly irresistible. It's impossible to look away. And it's also stupid and dangerous. Interestingly, because I can always get to places quickly in Syracuse, it doesn't seem to be as big of a problem - I can check email after I arrive to my destination. But because I'm stopped on the road so much in the Bay Area, the phone seems more tantalizing. MMJs have a gazillion things to do already, but trying to multi-task behind the wheel is a recipe for disaster. Get a hands-free earpiece and keep your eyes on the road.

Syracuse University's Newhouse Broadcast and Digital Journalism students should be proud of their new $18 million studios. The KPIX 5 studios in the fifth largest market in the country are larger, but that's about it. Same anchor desk, same green screen, same robotic cameras, the works. Click on the photos to advance the slideshow.

 

Takeaways:

  1. Weather rules local TV news. Get used to it. If you don't like standing in the rain, the sleet and the snow, then this isn't the job for you.
  2. Exclusive rules local TV news. Stations are desperate for ways to be different. News directors value reporters who pitch exclusive ideas.
  3. Personalities make a difference on TV. We got the exclusive story today because the viewer felt a real connection with our meteorologist.
  4. Put down the damn phone when you're driving. Get a hands-free device. It's just not worth it, no matter how pressured you feel to do just one more thing.
  5. Newhouse rocks.

You never know everything. And that's OK.

Today's story focused on the David vs. Goliath battle between the mom-n-pop stores San Francisco is known for and the Big Box chains that see Big $$ in the city. Target has been particularly successful at prying its way into the chain-wary City by the Bay.

What was different about today's story was Target was targeting a now-closed sporting goods store in the Russian Hill neighborhood, rather than trying to set up shop in an area already populated with big box stores. As you can imagine, the neighboring one-off business owners didn't like it.

So, a pretty straightforward list of elements to gather for this assignment:

  • statement from Target
  • complaints from the neighbors
  • video of existing Target stores in other parts of the city
  • sound bites from customers who say they do or don't like shopping at big box stores.

And the day did go according to plan, up until this part:

For all the benefits non-linear editing brings to TV journalism (faster, more creativity, easier duplication), there's still no way to describe the anguish of watching your computer not do what it's supposed to do on deadline. I tried to export my video story several times at 5:30pm, the requisite 30 minutes before showtime at 6pm. But it just wouldn't work. Fortunately, I was in San Francisco and could drive back to the station, but that still doesn't make up for the three fewer days I'll live stressing out about why the computer didn't work the way it was supposed to.

In the end, it was operator error, as I was exporting to the wrong place. (sad face emoji goes here)

This is the lesson of the day. Although I had never used the non-linear editing software KPIX now uses before I arrive last week, I studied hard for a few days and thought I had most of it down. The fact is you never know everything about anything. There's always more to learn. With that humble attitude, you can embrace the opportunities for intellectual growth this job offers.

On another note:

KPIX 5 Morning Meeting

KPIX 5 Morning Meeting

This is the way the day begins in every newsroom in the country. It's called The Morning Meeting. This is where reporters pitch their story ideas (in person or by phone) and producers and managers conceptualize the big picture of how the day's newscasts will play out and how resources will be assigned. Sit in on one of these and you'll learn putting on a TV newscast is a lot more than just: "Hey, let's start with Simon's story." Probably more interesting than the editorial decisions of which stories to cover are the logistical calls on who to send where with what equipment and when. Truly, it's a symphony of moving parts that culminates in a polished newscast - most of the time. I continue to be amazed at how, for all the technology, the ability to send signals 22,000 miles up to a satellite and receive them back on earth again, so much of TV news is: how do you get there and how fast can you drive there?

Takeaways:

  1. You can always learn more. When something goes wrong, don't miss the chance to figure out what went wrong and make sure it doesn't happen the next time. Moreover, embrace the opportunity to learn, and be happy your job isn't repetitive daily drivel like this.
  2. Local TV news is fun, if for nothing else, than the challenge to physically get people and equipment to the right place before deadline. Whether that challenge is met is usually determined by the decisions made in The Morning Meeting.

Experience and the little things

Today began with a presser (TV lingo for press conference) where the San Francisco Giants announced plans to turn a stadium parking lot into the city's newest neighborhood. Not much of a challenge, but still a chance to remember there are a few tricks of the trade that can help make the story work better, especially as an MMJ.

The scene was anything but glamorous:

About 20 minutes before the press conference begins.

About 20 minutes before the press conference begins.

Still this scene shows a couple of things beginning reporters can learn.

  1. Notice three tripods are already set up well ahead of time. These serve as placeholders, a way for videographers or MMJs to claim a good  spot before the crowds show up. Show up late and prepare to battle with the other tardy people for what's left.
  2. The man sitting at the left is the audio technician working for the Giants. He's set up a mult box (multiple outlet box) where about 30 reporters can plug in their cables to get audio. Although a wireless transmitter would work, a cable is much more secure when working with a mult box. Always have an audio cable with you, just in case. My tripod is farthest to the left, which meant the shortest distance to the mult box.

Because I showed  up early, I used some of the  extra time to post to social media. An MMJ's day is hectic and there never seems to be enough time, so when you have a moment, take advantage  of it.

 

During this interview, I heard an alarm tone in my ear. I turned around and saw in the viewfinder the battery was running out. What to do? Try to finish the interview? Just one more question? Nope, play it safe, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you feel. I asked her to stop so I could get another battery from the truck, which was nearby. Better to get the interview right while you can; it's not going  to get better back at the station.

The day went pretty typically from there. Running around town getting information and interviews and racing to put the package together for deadline before the live shot. Again, knowing the equipment and the systems really helps at crunch time.

Oh yeah, and as we were breaking down the live shot I got this text:

Of course the answer was yes. This is part of the job. People call in sick, get sent on assignment out of town. It doesn't happen every day, but a good MMJ is part of the team. Leaving for work at 8:30am and returning home at 12:30am the next day isn't easy, but it beats punching a time card at 9am and 5pm every single day.

Takeaways:

  1. Experience helps. Talk to the people who've been in your market a while (especially the videographers) and learn from them. Be nice to them. What they know will help you be more efficient and work more quickly.
  2. Know the equipment. Familiarity with your tools makes things faster.
  3. Be a team player. What goes around comes around. Being dependable and willing pays dividends later.

Here's the Giant's neighborhood story:

Here's the story about the vigil for the mother and daughter killed by a drunk driver that aired at 10pm and 11pm:

Just like Bo, the PIO knows

Today's story was about the Golden Gate Bridge District's plan to expand the ferry terminal in Sausalito. Tons of tourists like to bike across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco to Sausalito and then take the ferry back to the city. So many are doing this now, the people who live in Sausalito feel overrun. They don't want more bikes so they don't want a new, bigger ferry terminal that would make it easier for more bikes to come to the town.

Priya David Clemens, Golden Gate Bridge District spokesperson

Priya David Clemens, Golden Gate Bridge District spokesperson

Call number one - to the District spokesperson to get the background.

There's a reason why when journalists leave the business and go into public relations, they call it "going over to the dark side." Public information officers (PIOs) are paid to tell the story the people who pay them want told. Journalists should always keep that in mind when relying upon PIOs for information. In fact, one of the common criticisms of MMJs is they're so stressed for time, they rely on public relations too much and often don't get the full story.

Still, this does not mean journalists should avoid public relations folks as they execute their stories. The really good ones can make a reporter's day go more smoothly and efficiently. That was the case today, when I ran into a reporter I'd worked with 15 years ago, who had just recently "gone over to the dark side."

When I asked for an interview, she volunteered to meet me at the ferry terminal itself, saving a ton of time: shoot the video for the story and get the interview in the same place. She came prepared to talk about the controversy and not pretend it didn't exist. Sure, she took and told the side of the District, which is her job, but which I also needed for the story. Soon after the intervew, as she promised, she sent me information on how to find graphics and more background information on the story.

In the end, my day was made a lot easier by someone who knew the story and who knew what she was doing.

Takeaways:

  1. Don't ever forget journalism and public relations are not the same thing. Journalists work for the public, PR folks work for their bosses.
  2. Just because #1 is true doesn't mean journalists can't rely, in part, upon public relations professionals to get the story done. PIOs are often in the know and can provide timely information that helps make deadline. A good reporter will cultivate relationships with PR folks who are reliable.

If X then Y

Tonight's story had us covering the Filipino community's support for Manny Pacquiao in his "Fight of the Century" against Floyd Mayweather at a restaurant popular with Filipinos. Live at 6:30, 10 and 11.

No problem, until I realized the fight was supposed to begin at 9pm. A little math:

12 rounds x 3 minutes each + 1 minute between rounds = 48 minutes

If the fight goes the distance, it'll be over at 9:48pm, 12 minutes before the 10pm show begins. This called for a plan. This is what my videographer and I came up with:

  1. if the fight was over early, say a Round 2 knockout at 9:10pm, we'd have time to do post-fight interviews and still put a package together at 10pm.
  2. if the fight went longer, say a Round 6 knockout around 9:30pm, we'd have time to do one post-fight interview and do a live VOSOT at 10pm.
  3. if the fight went the distance, ending at 9:48pm, we would only have time to do a live interview at 10pm.

The fight did go the distance, so we employed Plan #3. Even though we were in the middle of a crowded restaurant full of disappointed Pacquiao fans we were sure of what we needed to do and confident we could get it done. All that's because we thought ahead of time, came up with a plan and stuck to it.

Takeaways:

  1. By definition, live TV is unpredictable and fluid. That's why it pays to have a plan, and more importantly, a backup plan. A little forethought goes a long way toward helping you see through the fog of deadline pressure.

So much stuff - and it's all necessary

I spent the first couple of days back at KPIX assembling equipment that I'll be using over the next two weeks as an MMJ. It struck me as I went from newsroom to ENG shop (equipment room) to business office that there is SO MUCH STUFF a reporter needs to do the job - and all of it's necessary. Sure, you might be able to get by without a lavalier microphone by using a stick mic, but when it comes right down to it, even the smallest piece of equipment that malfunctions or is missing can totally crash a day's worth of work.

For example, I spent a good hour trying to track down a charger for the camera batteries. The obvious stuff (camera, tripod, microphones) is easy to think of. But it's the little stuff that's just as necessary to pull off the job.

Here's rundown of what I collected, to ensure I, as a one-man band, could produce TV stories that would be informative, look professional and make deadline. Thirty-four items in all.

Takeaways:

  1. Never underestimate the importance of every little thing. The day you forget it is the day you'll need it.
  2. Time spent before the deadline crush saves time during the deadline crunch.

SYR -> SFO: Return to reporting

Today I flew the friendly skies from Syracuse to Newark to San Francisco. It's my annual return to KPIX, the TV station where I worked from 2002 to 2011. My former bosses have been kind enough to let me come back to work as an MMJ for two weeks. My goals:

  • learn the latest technology being used in local TV news
  • enjoy the rush of reporting on deadline (and convince myself I can still do it)
  • bring back stories and experiences to the classroom
  • see old friends and experience the beautiful city

Please come back to this page for updates as I continue to use the past as prep for the future.

On the way in to SFO - tandem landing.

On the way in to SFO - tandem landing.