Steve Schwaid is the news director at WGCL. After an LAF commenter mentioned that he helped cover the fatal Atlanta Botanical Garden construction accident, we wanted his impressions. He agreed to answer some e-mailed questions:
–Word is that you actually showed up at the Botanical Garden accident and helped out / observed. Care to answer some on-the-record questions?
At every station I’ve worked I’ve always tried to go out in the field. First, it helps me get a little more sense of the market, an understanding of the gear and challenges our folks are dealing with. Plus, I get to hear how we manage our crews via the radio and such.
In Philly during my last year there I went out a few times and worked actual shifts pulling cables, etc. It helps me understand the dynamics of the field and reminds me of the pressures our folks are under.
I’ll always remember a situation in Tampa where the desk once said “on the map it’s only an inch away.” Yeah, and there’s a body of water called Tampa Bay covering most of that inch.
– what compelled you to go?
Our early reporter was up north. It was a few more minutes before the next reporter was due in. It sounded big and I hadn’t done a breaker in Atlanta so it just seemed to make sense. If it was a big story I figured I could help gather info as the crews set up for video and live. Honestly, it was just gut and instinct when the desk shouted at 9:06 there was a bridge collapse with at least 12 injured.
Plus, I love news. It was a chance to get out in the field on a breaker.
– did anything surprise you?
Nothing really. The professionalism among all of the market’s crews in the field was note worthy. I did think that the way the police corralled everyone into a “bull pen” but allowed the public to wander in other areas seemed a little strange. The local media seemed a touch laid back for a breaker – I’m used to NY and Philly folks who are pressing hard for new info during breaking news.
I thought the folks at the initial PIO presser were a little reserved. I felt the PIO had more info and wasn’t forthcoming.
– did you solve any problems that might have arisen?
I don’t know if I solved any problems. I helped position the live truck as one of our photogs was shooting video, It did open my eyes to ways we need to handle breaking news internally. I think that was a good thing and will make us a stronger operation.
– do you think your presence intimidated your staff?
I doubt it. I don’t think I acted as a manager. I carried the sticks, asked questions, did interviews, moved the truck, etc. The one thing I’ve learned in my career is never tell a good photog what to do on the scene. They know their stuff and they know how to do three things at once and kick butt. I watched Renee [Starzyk] and Jeff Thorn in action as well as Everett [Bevelle] and Mark Melvin, I don’t think I intimidated them but I did try to stay out of their way and be there when they needed help.
– what was your impression of the level of competition versus camaraderie among stations?
Keep in mind we were in a bull pen area so it impacted the competition for the best shot. I’m always impressed how well shooters work with each other. Part of that is because managers, producers and reporters come and go. But photogs become the fabric of the station and the market. I’ve told my team that if a photog raises a question about a story or challenges some info then stop the process and do a recheck of the facts. Photogs are rarely wrong.
– did you see any miracles? And that’s a serious question.
Miracles? I don’t think so, at least not for the time I was out there.
I know this sounds corny, but I am always amazed at how we make TV. Think about it. I can say I want something on the air and it can happen in minutes or seconds. I can call the control room and have the anchors say something or go to a certain live shot and see it happen it in seconds. Where else does that happen?
– I never once saw the news director at my Atlanta station at a field assignment. Do you recommend it? Why?
I absolutely recommend it. I think it helps ground us as NDs about what happens outside the bubble of the newsroom. Why shouldn’t an ND go out in the field? I love TV news – it’s the best job in the world. A key part of our job is managing a very complex work force – any opportunity to understand what our folks do only helps.
I think with the pressures we’re under for budgets and the changing technologies it’s really critical to go into the field, especially during breaking news. I think it gives us street cred. Plus, during budget times or the heart to heart with the GM we can cite facts and situations to talk about staffing issues.
I was also reminded of the web out there. Our Web ME called me in the midst of it all and said to send him a cell phone pic. Honestly, it wasn’t top of mind. It is now and in fact we’ve set up a process to make it easier for all of our folks to send in web pics following this.
What does surprise me is how as an industry I think we’re behind the technology curve. We all have to be able to respond faster to use the new tools and toys to make TV.