Producer Page: September
IN THIS ISSUE...
(The following is dedicated to all who wanted the opportunity to cover the Olympics in Atlanta, but didn't get the chance.)
It all started on Friday, July 12 at 6 am. That's when our Sports Director Steve Bartelstein, photographer Brian Warner and I boarded th e Delta 757 headed for Atlanta. We all sensed it was going to be a long three and a half weeks as we left, and our fears were confirmed ab out four hours later. That's when we landed at Hartsfield International Airport in Atlanta.
We had an hour layover and a connecting flight to Charlotte. At the request of NBC Newschannel, we flew to North Carolina Friday afternoon, only to get up Saturday morning to take a four-and-a-half hour bus ride back to Atlanta. If you're asking yourself why, don't. There is no answer to that question.
We had a day to get over the bitterness of the Charlotte-to-Atlanta bus, and to acclimate ourselves to our new home for the next few weeks. I shared a room at the Fairfield Inn in Downtown Atlanta with Brian. A floor below us, Steve had his own room for most of the stay. Fortunately we weren't able to spend too much time in the room. Most of my time was spent at the Roxy Warehouse. It's an unimpressive cinder block building, transformed into an impressive broadcast center that would be the hub of Olympic Coverage for nearly every NBC affiliate in the country. Each station was given half of a six foot folding tab le to work from, though some stations sent more people and spent more money, so they had their own table. For each station, there was a Basys computer so we could keep connected with the Newschannel and the AP Wires. There was also a phone so we could keep in touch with the f olks back home back at the station and a monitor for each station to keep track of the events for which we had no access.
All in all, it wasn't a bad set-up. If you like playing the numbers games, here a few to crunch: the Roxy held about five hundred people, 16 edit bays, 13 satellite trucks, 13 stand-up locations, and one bathroom. While NBC didn't provide abundant bathrooms, there was a b ounty of food. Of course that food was just around the corner at the Salvation Army. This is the point where I must stop and tell everyone that I am serious. NBC rented the Salvation Army, at least the dining room and kitchen. Not only was I grateful for the convenience of a hot meal on a regular basis, I was also able to make good use of my time, learning the proper way to make a bed, just in case I ever need to seek shelter at the Salvation Army.
On Sunday, two days in, a meeting was held at the Roxy. It was at this point that we were given our credentials. Systematically they were passed out. The NBC Credential. The Olympic Village Credential. The two Centennial Park Credentials. We proudly wore them around our necks , initially. As time went on, we found out that these laminated cards got us nowhere. They just hung around our necks like an albatross, reminding us that NBC Sports called the shots in Atlanta, and the affiliates were nowhere in their sights.
Fortunately for us, we were able to overcome the slight obstacle of not having any access to the event we needed to turn three packages on every day for the next 21 days. The best way to describe the day-to-day regimen we endured is to compare the experience to the movie "Ground Hog Day." We woke up every morning in a hotel room and relived the previous day, getting a little smarter each day. I had a v ery set routine, complicated by the fact that I was living in an Eastern time zone, but working on Pacific time. I would wake around 9 a.m. and be on the shuttle to the Roxy by 10 a.m. I'd get there and scan the wires, figure out what station was covering what, finding out if any of our local athletes were making any appearances and checking the satellite times. By 11 a.m. I would call Bartelstein to let him know if anything had changed and to re-confirm the plan we discussed the night before. At noon, I would call the morning meeting in Portland and let the producers know what they could expect from us and most importantly, when their live windows hit. NBC had a rotation schedule for live shots. We would get a five-minute window and it would normally be five minutes later than the previous day. So as we planned what story to cover on any given day, we had to take into account just when we would hit in the show. I hated being the lead window since it takes away all of your flexibility. But worse than that would be the :20-:25 window. That's just not a good time to hit in the show, it's not in the news block and it's not in the sports block, it's just in the middle of nowhere. The few times we did end up with that window, we didn't go live. But I digress. After the morning meeting conference call, it was off to lunch. By that time Bartelstein and Brian were off. If the story was in the Olympic Ring (the mile and a half radius where most Olympics events occurred) then getting there was very easy. NBC provided shuttle vans that left on a regular basis that would drop us off at central locations. If the story was out ide the ring, than getting around was a bit more problematic. You could schedule a van to take you out of the ring, and that was good for the long trips we needed. We had a wrestler who was working out in Chattanooga, a rower who was competing in Gainsville, GA, and two on the women's soccer team in Athens, GA. Shuttles worked well for that. But for getting around the city, cabs were the way to go. On one of the first days there, we found a cab driver who would take us where we needed to go, wait for us to shoot the story and bring us back without taking advantage of our travel expense advance. We also found a few drivers that would bend the rules a bit for a few extra bucks and that helped a great deal. Once the afternoon hit, the days were fairly normal. Sometimes I would go out with the crew, but mostly I needed to stay close to the Roxy to put out fires, dub over video from the pool shooters and answer my cell phone about every fifteen minutes or so. With my laptop, I was responsible for writing all the tosses, intros, cold opens, teases and entering the supers. If there was a VO or VOSOT to be had, I would write that as well. In between that, I would become the time keeper for Bart and Brian. I would let them know when we had to feed and be live. I would then have to make sure we were at the right stand-up location.
While NBC provided producers for the live shots, I found it was best if I handled that chore. We would go live in our 5 p.m. and a special 9 p.m. show and feed back a look live package for the 11 p.m. Most nights we didn't get to feed that last package until 1:30 a.m., so we didn't get back to the hotel until 2 a.m. Then it was a fast beer, a game of pinball and off to bed.
The routine I just described was very common for most stations except for the time difference. Our big advantage over most was the number of local athletes we had to cover. More than 20 of the 11,000 athletes called Oregon home, and that was a great advantage. While most stations were figuring out how to turn another story down at Centennial Park (before the bombing) we had another medal winner who was more than willing to talk to us. In fact, our first medal winner came on the first Saturday of the games and our last came on the last Sunday of the games.
To this point, I have yet to mention the bombing at Centennial Park. While that is an entire story in itself there are a couple of points I need to mention. We were two weeks into our coverage when the bomb went off in Centennial Park. We were planning to take that Saturday off, in fact. We had just fed the extra stories that we did on Friday when someone in the Roxy said there's something going on at the Park and people were down. Newschannel immediately dispatched people down to the park. Looking at the initial live shot we saw from the park, it didn't look that bad. About 5 minutes later we changed our minds and boarded a van. We ended up working through the night, turning live packages for our Saturday morning news. Our sports director did a better job of covering this major news story than most of the news people there. The fact that we did have our sports anchor there eventually worked to our advantage, in my opinion. As things settled down in the following days, we were able to get back to covering the Olympics, leaving the news of the bombing to those back in the station. Our coverage always had the overtones of the bombing, but we didn't spend the last week staking out Richard Jewell's apartment.
Generally, covering the Olympics in Atlanta was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. And in this case once may be enough. Veterans of these kinds of events say it was one of the worst experiences of their lives, and that group includes people who covered the OJ Simpson trial. I was glad to get the chance to go and overjoyed once it ended. If you're wondering why I haven't mentioned any of the in-fighting or conflicts between myself and Bartelstein or the photographer, there is good reason. The three of us were all in this together. We all realized and appreciated each other's functions and desires and respected them. I can honestly say there was never any bickering, arguing or finger pointing. We were all professionals who had a common goal: To do the best job of covering the Olympics possible. The bottom line is we accomplished that feat, and then some.
The first fan letter of my career came from a seven year old boy I had interviewed for a story on the first day of school. "Dear Mr. Lewis," wrote Evan Washington, who was just beginning the second grade. "Someday, I might want to be a reporter like you... I want to go out and talk to people like you do. Mr. Lewis, why do you always put White people on TV? I really want to be on TV someday... but I am not White, I am Brown... My mom said I could be anything I want to be. Is that true?"
Evan's letter upset me. Here was a young African-American male from a two-parent, middle class home in a "good" neighborhood. Yet by age seven, this youngster was starting to question his potential in life because of the color of his skin. He saw few people like himself presenting the evening news, and that added to his doubts. At the time Evan wrote to me, I was working as a reporter in a minority training program at KGTV in San Diego. Now, seven years later, I'm even more convinced about the importance of bringing more people of color into our industry.
"It makes a difference on a regular basis," says Kent Harrell, assignment manager for KXAS-TV in Dallas/Ft. Worth. Harrell, a former TV news photographer, says he moved into management because he saw few minorities involved in the daily story conferences. "It's good to have people with different backgrounds, be it black, white, green, whatever, in the editorial process." Harrell, who is black, says he's been able to influence how his station covers racial issues, an on-going story in Dallas. "I'll say 'You might want to talk to this person, or you might want to include this.' That's where it comes in."
But at times, such discussions can put black journalists in an awkward position with their white colleagues. Says one black anchorman, "I don't have a lot of tolerance of their ignorance." Courtis Fuller of WLWT-TV in Cincinnati cites the death of former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall as an example of the frustration he faces. The newscast's producer wanted to bury the story on the high court's first black justice when Fuller says he told the producer, "If I have to explain to you who Thurgood Marshall is... then I've already lost the argument." By the time their discussion was over, Fuller says Marshall's death became the lead story.
"In order to be fair, we must reflect our communities," says Ken Jobe, news director at WMC-TV in Memphis. Before becoming a news director, Jobe worked as executive producer at WCPO-TV in Cincinnati and produced newscasts at WCBS-TV in New York and WSMV-TV in Nashville. While in Nashville, Jobe noticed reporters rarely called on the city's black med school, Meharry Medical College, when they needed a medical expert for a story. Instead, they went to Vanderbilt. "With all the doctors that go through Meharry, we don't reflect our community if we don't put some on the air," he says. "There was no plan to exclude Meharry. It just didn't occur to them. And they didn't have a lot of people to make it occur to them."
Jobe, who is black, says he's faced some criticism for trying to diversify the news staff he now oversees in Memphis. But he points out the minorities he's hired have just as much experience as some of the white staff members who are doing the complaining had when they joined the station.
For many minority journalists, though, the issue is not affirmative action, but fair coverage. Many of us simply believe a news organization which is racially diverse is more likely to practice better journalism than one that is not. A newsroom's racial makeup can affect what we cover, how we cover it, and where the story ends up in the newscast. And all that makes an impression on our audience, including young viewers like Evan Washington.
I am a news photographer who happens to be gay. On the whole my experience has been a positive one at both stations I've worked at.
At my last station, we had a whole gay group. At least seven gays or lesbians during my employment there. The station across town had at least one gay reporter move through during the same period.
Why was it cool for me? I guess I made it better for myself. I just did what I had to do. Most people were very supportive, the few that didn't like it kept their mouths shut. It really only came down to one sports guy that out and out gave me a problem. He said to me one day in front of five or so people, "We have a boys team and a girls team here." This was after I jokingly accused him of making nice with the producer in order to snag another 30 sec. I drew myself up to my full 6'3", invaded his personal space, just a touch, and said, cool, calm and collected, "What exactly did you mean by that?" He started to say something, then the anchor turned to him and said, "Yeah, what did you mean?" He backed down really quickly. He never bothered me after that. I've pleasantly but firmly told people that I find certain words offensive ("faggy", "that's so queer" as derisive comment) and asked them not to use them around me.
The story would have been different had I been on air. It would have meant far different issues. I'm the first one to acknowledge that.
I was concerned going to Hartford. I didn't know what to expect. There were some people there who worked in Springfield, so a full closet retreat wasn't possible ... I just gradually told people. I let them know that I had a sense of humor, but before that I showed them that I'm a damn good photographer/journalist. Nothing but supportive people, all the way from the top. I run a group for gay men considering parenting. It meets once a month, they have allowed me to adjust my schedule for that one night a month. When the local gay paper wanted to run a story on it, I told my ND that they wanted to interview me, and I was going to mention on the fact that I worked for WTIC. They gave me the thumbs up. The article has been posted in the newsroom, with wonderful response. We broke the story about the Governor refusing to sign the Gay Pride Proclamation, before the paper. And got a bite from him while the paper relied on the press secretary. On Pride, we had the most newsworthy coverage, on the angle of gay marriage, rather than pix of drag queens, like the other stations. We've covered the gay mens chorus, gay youth and gay legal issues, in addition to the usual stuff.
My only concern is that I'm the only out staff member there. I wish there were more. It just takes time. That's why I think it's important for minority journalists to join organizations such as, in my case, The National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. These groups can provide support, contacts and resources on a regional and nationwide basis.
By (Name Withheld):
I am working in my first paying job in journalism. Even though I am an intern, I consider myself a reporter and writer because that is what I do. The only difference is that I am paid minimum wage and I only work 25 hours per week. My comment is that, though a newsroom may be comfortable and non-threatening on the issue of race, minorities have a difficult time fitting into surrounding communities. I live in _____ which is 2 percent black. I have a very difficult time here. All I have is work and school. It becomes an huge factor when you have to work every weekend and your nearest relative is a thousand miles away. I realize that it is part of the job to live in a small market town and live to tell the tale, but I think minorities especially ones that are proud of their heritage and are concerned by a lack of community (because though I do speak of "minorities", I hate to be general and monolithic) have an extraordinarily difficult time and even give up on their dreams because of it. Right now I am ready to change markets. I need to feel a sense of community to keep my sanity. There are less than five black reporters in the city of _______ and I can say that most of us feel the same way.
This is just my two cents. I would like you to use some of it if you can but I would like no attribution. You can even delete the name of the city (to protect the other reporters.) I just feel that these are important issues that news directors, newsroom staff and young journalists need to know. There is no need for news directors to babysit staff, but he/she must realize that the flight of a good journalist from a station may not be just about economics or market size!
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I've been a broadcaster in the US Army for the past seven years. My question is in regard to military broadcasters transitioning into the "real" broadcast world. I have some education (AA in Radio and Television), but I have spent the past seven years doing nothing but the job. I wondered if you or any of the subscribers might be able to fill me in on how the commercial broadcast world looks at us military-type broadcasters when it comes to our finding jobs out there when we decide to leave the military. Most are like me; we spend our entire time in the service doing all things broadcast related, i.e., anchoring, reporting, shooting, producing, news directing, radio news, writing, editing, you name it. We do what we can in our spare time to finish our college degrees. However, being in the military and overseas limits us just a tad. I'd appreciate any feedback at all.
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Love the newsletter, it's great to see I wasn't the only line producer (four years, medium markets) forced to triumph over trying circumstances!
Now I work for the producer's best friend on a slow news day, the network affiliate news service. Having been on both sides of this fence now, I want to see if the experiences I had working with the network news service (I dealt with four during my tenure) compare to that of your readers. I'm not fishing for compliments, mind you, I'm just interested in the relationship between these services and their customers, the stations.
Some possible questions: Do these services give you what you need? Where could they improve? Is getting what you want difficult, or are they accommodating? What about on-the-fly breaking news? Do you get the "We're the network... you're a lowly affiliate" attitude sometimes? What do they do well? Perhaps those with multi-network experience could rate the services from top to bottom, and explain why who got what. Any great (or not-so-great) stories to share?
I'm leaving my name in this transmission, but think we'd all be better served if you were to leave it out for now, so we get some honest evaluation from the men and women in the trenches. I hope this topic is something you consider appropriate for your newsletter, because I'd love to get some of this feedback.
I just took over as morning producer at WOI-TV in Des Moines. Each winter we have at least 12 really bad winter storms where schools call off classes. We have been crawling these announcements during our news or our anchors read them off the screen..from chyron. But all this takes a lot of time we of course don't have. I'd love to know how other stations deal with snow days and what type of equipment they use to get this info on the air.