ASHLAND — Two decades ago, millions turned on the TV for Tom Brokaw to deliver the news, as if they were at church and he was the only preacher left on the planet.
This happened live, via a fixed TV set in a specific room of the house. No DVR, no computer in your pocket you could pull out to live stream—if you wanted TV news, you had to be there.
A lot has changed regarding network television news, but the core is still the same. When the news cameras from Cleveland came to Ashland last Tuesday regarding a trapped dog on an ice-covered pond, there was an opportunity to go behind the scenes to see how the story all got pieced together on several network newscasts.
Correspondents or reporters not behind the news desk are sent out every day to get live video and to talk to people directly involved with breaking news. Unfortunately, there are slow or dead times, but you still have to produce a story.
“I thought we’d be doing ‘weather’ all day, so it was nice to come to Ashland,” said Channel 5 reporter Homa Bash.
When there’s no real news, weather can become the main story.
Once there is an assignment, the on-air personality and a camera operator race to the scene. The key is to be first, before the other news outlets catch on.
Fox 8 reporter Peggy Gallek was first to arrive at the home of where the dog incident occurred, and quickly made contact with the homeowner via smiles, welcoming conversation and a handshake.
Her cameraman wasted no time pulling out the massive (compared to an iPhone, anyway) shoulder-resting camera and accompanying tripod. The 20 degrees and severe wind added to the urgency.
Before any filming started, Gallek and I spoke about the contrast between video news and “print” journalists.
“I started out as a reporter in Youngstown and used to make jokes about those going on camera. Then they offered me a job, and I never looked back. That’s why you never make fun of people,” Gallek said.
(She’s probably correct, but I wouldn’t know how to talk to my friends and family, otherwise.)
First, the Fox 8 duo got the required establishing shots: the pond, the dog, the homeowner. Then, the interview with a wireless mic, commenced. Next, the cameraman walked far away, and the interviewer and interviewee sauntered towards him in a rehearsed, yet natural, manner, casually speaking about what had transpired.
Followed by more dog shots for “b-roll” footage. The dog, however, wasn’t cooperating.
“I just love doing dog stories,” Fox 8 cameraman Darsi Ayres jokingly told me. “I really don’t mind, because it is what people want to see. There could be a multi-house fire, and all anyone ever asks is, Did the dog make it out?”
Gallek concluded her reporting by doing a Facebook live quick recap slash interview.
“You have to stay current with technology,” the veteran Gallek said.
Before the fumes from the Fox 8 car had dissipated from the driveway, in rolled ABC 5 (no big news van with a towering satellite for either of them—it’s minivans and crossovers for the beat reporters heading all the way down to Ashland County).
There was another introduction, and I have to admit, there was something really powerful when both reporters said their name followed by their channel’s call letters. Or maybe I just watched the movie “Anchorman” too many times in my youth.
The process was once again repeated. That’s not an indictment, just the nature of the method. Make no mistake, if you check Bash’s resume, you’ll see she is a true professional, like the rest. Undergrad degrees in Journalism and Middle East Studies and Political Science, along with a master’s in Journalism.
The homeowner was very excited with the opportunity to be showcased on TV, for a second time. Being graced with local “fame” extends to the reporters as well.
“My mom will see me on TV and tell her friends and get all excited. I’m like, mom, do you even know what I do every day, haha,” Bash said.
Bash’s cameraman (sorry to use the possessive, camera operators are people, too!), Mike Harris, was actually an Ashland High School graduate. (Represent!)
Harris’ family knew the homeowners and during the shoot he received a text alert, looked down at his phone and said, “My parents say hello.”
News dies faster than it’s born. But the beat report’s soul is eternal, and thus always ready to deliver the next newborn story.