Daily Archives: May 22, 2008

Drive Straight Away from a Career in Television

By Race Bannon

You’ve seen those brightly painted local television live trucks. The graphics are so fantastic. And there just might be (gasp!) a news personality inside! Is that the handsome Steve Day! No, O’migosh it’s the lovely Amanda Wi! And then three seconds later. . .REALITY CHECK. Wow. I almost hit that TV truck.

Live trucks are incredibly dangerous even when parked; but they’re even more dangerous in that scenario.

The live truck’s anatomy itself is dangerous. The mast – the telescoping antennae on top of the truck – makes the truck top heavy. Additionally, the equipment-laden truck is very difficult to stop once it gets going. Read on to get the inside scoop about why you ought to stay away from TV live trucks!

The person in charge of maintaining a television station’s fleet is called the fleet manager– usually a powerless employee who must wear many hats.

Because a television station is its own corporate bureaucracy, with bottom line obsessed bean counters in far away places, the fleet manager may have to wait for written permission to purchase a part or service. Repairs that are deemed non-essential may be delayed. Need new side view mirrors? The cracked ones are still OK. You say the trucks reverse and backing up alarm is down? Forget it. Brakes? Tomorrow.

There are, however, even greater challenges for the keenest of fleet managers. Many live trucks are driven around the clock. A photographer starts a shift at 9AM and drives the live truck for eight to ten hours. Then a night crew takes over the truck. The same truck may stay in use for the overnight shift.

News crews are necessarily rough on live trucks, because news events by their nature are difficult places to negotiate. Live trucks have to be parked in tight places, wacky inclines, stony fields, curbs, crumbled concrete– treacherous places where no “normal” motorist would ever go. That means that a live truck is in continuous need of repair and alignment.

Furthermore, the news crew themselves, though innocent in my view, are also a danger. Their thankless task masters incessantly call both the photographer and the reporter on their personal and company-issued cell phones and Blackberries, mercilessly urging the crew to hurry to breaking news, reminding them that competitors are already on the air, LIVE! with the story. After one call ends, another instantly begins as yet another person in the same office, from an adjacent cubicle, barks out the same questions: “WHERE ARE YOU NOW! NO, RIGHT NOW! I WANT TO KNOW WHERE YOU ARE RIGHT NOW! WELL WHEN CAN YOU GO LIVE!?!

Never mind that these reporters and photographers just had the same conversation with three other people seated four feet apart back at the television station. In a live truck there are potentially four cellular telephone conversations going on at the same time as news crews handle their addled managers, the engineering department, those portions of John Q. Public – witnesses and survivors – directly affected by the news event, and the first responders’ public information officers, already at the news event. Let’s say it together with passion: !DISTRACTED DRIVERS!

Finally, the fair reader must know the truth about the occupants of the live truck, and about their employer. Because the aforementioned bean counters know that it is cheaper to make existing employees work overtime than it is to employ enough people to do the actual work, that news crew may be working a 14 hour, break-free day, using only coffee and cigarettes for sustenance. Be assured the driver of a local television news live truck is pulling a gruesome 50-60 hour work week, made up of a muesli of overnight shifts, doubles, split shifts, and turn-arounds. Indeed, the wretched souls who operate live trucks for local TV stations may be seeing double, and hanging on to consciousness like a loose tooth.

In summary, motorists should resist trying to get close enough to a local television live truck to recognize the people inside. The live truck anatomy is dangerous. The live truck may not be well-maintained. Of most concern is the human issue. More likely than not, the operators of these live trucks are exhausted, highly distracted drivers who are in a much different place that you could ever, or would ever, want to be.

Race Bannon is a pseudonym for a current employee of an Atlanta TV station. LAF welcomes submissions. We don’t have to publish your name, but we have to know who you are. Get our contact info from the “contact LAF” page.

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Old v. new

Today’s post yields to a Tampa-based blog called “the Feed.” It suggests that the pressure to squeeze revenue from TV stations has impacted the thinking of local TV newsrooms.  Y’think?

Old rule: news is news. New rule: news is marketing.

Old rule: news is never old New rule: news has an expiration date

Old rule: live shots compliment the story New rule: live IS the story

Old rule: weather gets the attention it deserves New rule: rain is a lead story

Old rule: Cover the issues New rule: cover the emotions

Old rule: Staff experience is valuable New rule: 1 year is experience

Old rule: Cover breaking news New rule: make up breaking news

Old rule: Build credibility and you’ll gain a bigger audience New rule: Reach more people through the Internet

Old rule: Be good storytellers New rule: more stories, less telling

Old rule: Report the facts New rule: report what people say

Old rule: Follow the news director’s lead New rule: Who’s the news director?

Old rule: Consultants suggest New rule: Consultants control

Old rule: Ratings rule New rule: Demos dominate

Old rule: Know your community New rule: know your research

Old rule: Bad staff behavior is not tolerated New rule: address your questions to our attorneys

h/t to JW!