I’m a relic, and it would be easy to bemoan my ancient status. The biggest problem with relics is that they / we remember the news business as it once was: An industry rolling in cash, that employed gazillions of people in reasonably well-paying and somewhat-secure jobs. Our employers spent ridiculous money to cover news and to be competitive. And if they went over budget, they’d make noises about cutting overtime and helicopter hours, then continue to spend anyway.
Those times — the eighties and early nineties, mostly — seem like the glory days of television news. At the time, they didn’t really seem particularly glorious. It just seemed like work in a career that was more interesting than not.
The video below provides an interesting snapshot of those times. It was shot in the old WXIA newsroom on August 25, 1993 — the night Fred Tokars was arrested by federal agents for hiring two men to murder his wife Sara in Cobb County. The story was huge, the culmination of a drama that had started nine months earlier when Sara Tokars was shot to death, in front of her young sons, in Cobb County. Fred Tokars was a former judge. He had emerged as a genuine embodiment of evil who cried about the loss of his “lifestyle” the only time he faced cameras in a press conference setting.
At more than nine minutes, the video is too long and a bit of editing would have helped. Yet as an unedited document, it’s still a compelling reflection of what newsrooms were like then. You see producers and assignment editors hunched over green-background computers. You see David Brooks making last-minute tape-to-tape edits. You see people dependent on land-line phones and the human voice to communicate. You see John Pruitt before he jumped ship to WSB. They all ignore the camera — they’re too busy.
The most striking thing about it: It took armies of people to put a newscast on the air in the early 90s, exemplified by images of production folks ripping ten-pack scripts to be taken to the talent, the director, the floor director, the audio tech, the ‘prompter operator, the producer, the chyron operator and whomever else.
Many of those jobs are phasing out now. In 1993, those folks were essential to getting a clean newscast on TV.