Tourist season

I hear it when I’m seated at my desk.  It’s quiet, with light footsteps treading through industrial carpet; clothing shuffling; a hushed collection of people slowly approaching from behind.

“And — this is the newsroom.”

“Shhh – maybe he won’t notice us…”

The voice is almost always that of a WXIA-TV staffer, standing directly behind my head. Sometimes the voice presents the room matter-of-factly.  Sometimes there’s a hint of ginned-up wonderment.  To me, it’s “only” a TV newsroom, a place I’ve spent my professional life.  To its visitors, touring a TV station, it’s a highlight.

For any tour group entering our newsroom, my desk is pretty much the first thing they see.

“This is where our reporters and producers are getting stories together and preparing for the next newscast.” 

Often the words “hard at work” are also used during this section.  By this time, I’ve usually figured out that there are countless eyeballs behind my head.  I’ve closed Facebook and am resisting the temptation to grab my land-line phone, light a cigarette and stage-voice some sort of crackling monologue:  Gimme the mayor.  No, I need to talk to him right now.  Right now!  It’s very, very important.

It’s too bad Bill Liss’s desk isn’t at the newsroom entrance, coz they’d actually hear that.  Liss is straight out of a Damon Runyon script, minus the cigarette smoke.

Most of our reporters are already out covering stories….

This is a line that starts to disclaim the experience.  What these newsroom visitors are seeing is pretty dull.  Most of the desks are empty– except mine, front and center.  This is the point where I’ll make a decision:  Do I turn and say hello?  If my mood lends itself to being a bright and shiny representative of the 11Alive tour experience, I will do so.  (And if things aren’t going well for yours truly at that particular moment, sometimes I’ll greet the tour anyway, especially if the visitors are kids.  It can only brighten the darkness of my day.)

When I turn to say hello, the 11Alive staffer giving the tour is always visibly grateful.  She’s starting to run out of material pretty quickly.

What tour groups see:  TV’s Jaye Watson holds down the fort between my desk and the rest of the newsroom.

Though my desk is rather nightmarish to behold, I’ve posted a bunch of vintage political buttons on the board above my phone.  I’ve done this specifically to add some character to the desk, mostly for the benefit of the strangers shuffling up in groups.

From my desk, the view of the newsroom is expansive.  The newsroom has no cubicles, so I have a line-of-sight on just about everybody and everything in the room.  To the extent that there’s anything worth seeing, you can see it from my desk.

You can see, we use state of the art equipment to produce stories for TV and our web site, 11alive dot com….

This line is frequently reserved for “official” tours, when the visitor needs to be impressed.  I’ve learned to suppress any snickers; our newsroom, like many others, is famously not state-of-the-art.  Much of the gear is new, however, albeit purchased by bargain hunters who know better than to pay top dollar for overrated state-of-the-art crapola.

The tour group photographed above showed up at about 10:30am one day.  Within a few minutes, a very suppressed wave of low-grade panic crossed the newsroom; the server that plays all our on-air video and graphics had crashed.  The noon newscast was in grave danger.

The tour group had moved on to the studio at this point, which was mostly empty.  “Put ’em in the control room at noon,” I remember thinking, before the server came back to life.

Now that would have been something to see.

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About live apt fire

Doug Richards is a reporter at WXIA-TV. This is his personal blog. WXIA-TV has nothing whatsoever to do with this blog, under any circumstances, in any form. For anything written herein, Doug accepts sole credit and full blame. Follow him on Twitter: @richardsdoug. All rights reserved. Thanks for visiting.

4 thoughts on “Tourist season

  1. Jim Newman

    The lady who gave tours of WSB years ago always described our TWO helicopters….I never got to see the other one.

  2. Fred Ennis

    In the ’70s I ran a radio newsroom – 13 folks including a sports guy sports which was pretty big even for big city radio. When a tour of schoolchildren came through, I would reach into my desk, and put on a kid-sized yellow hard-hat with a rotating red beacon. I would go about the newsroom talking to reporters and newscasters about stuff as I normally did. None of the staff ever reacted to the hat, as it was an old running gag, but the schoolkids, who were mesmerized by the jocks who played the music just a few minutes earlier, were all now staring at the hat.

    The punch line was simple, we were all waiting for a kid to ask, “What’s they story about the guy with the hat?”

    These tours were always conducted by a junior staffer who knew very little about the newsroom, who would be forced to make up a story about who I was, why I was wearing the hat, and why the light was flashing. Usually someone had the presence of mind to roll a tape to catch the explanations.

    I don’t think Radio Shack sells the helmets any more, but you might be able to find one on E-bay or something like that. They’re especially effective with elementary school tours.


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