Monday, August 31, 2009

So you wanna be a network reporter....

Every time I get a new client, I always ask the "What do you want to be when you grow up?" question. Invariably, the answer is, "I want to work in a major market, or for a network."

Ah, the network. The glamour, the exposure, the fame, the money. The brass ring.

Surely the people who do this for a living have it easy, right?

Ah, grasshopper, be careful what you wish for. Because if you want to work for a network, you'd better get your track shoes on.

Having been a field producer for two networks for the last four years, I've had a chance to work with several network reporters. I, like many people, figured these people basically showed up and did a standup while everyone else did the work.

I couldn't have been more wrong.

Because there are several factors involved in network reporting that take stress and stamina to a whole different level.

It all starts with the assignment. Network reporters are just like you, as they get their stories from the desk. But unlike you, they usually head to the airport instead of a news car. (And if you've traveled by air since 9/11, you know the charm went out of air travel long ago.)

So now they're working the phones, talking to people like me who are already at the location (or on the way) and trying to figure out what's going on while sitting in an airport terminal. (And if they're not in an airport, they're in a car driving several hours.)

I remember one case in which the reporter landed at the location at 4 in the afternoon. The photog and I had logged the bites and video, and the reporter had to get to the sat truck, assess the situation, and absorb all the info being thrown at him by the crew already on the scene. The guy knocked out a great package and did a live shot for the evening news. Done? Not hardly. His day was just starting, as he had to do stuff for the West Coast, overnight, the feed, etc. So now he's out doing legwork with the rest of us. In that case, it was pouring rain, so he got soaked.

And oh yeah, he has to be back on the scene, all dressed up, at four in the morning for another live shot. Sleep? Maybe four hours after a thirty minute drive to the only hotel with available rooms.

In that case the guy wrapped up his day about nine that morning. We all went to breakfast, then he headed to the airport, off to his next assignment. At least I got to drive home and go to sleep.

On other occasions I've worked with reporters who went door to door in 100 degree heat, carried the gear like any other reporter, made a food run for the crew, pulled cables for the truck, and slept in a rental car. Reporting in itself can wear you down at times, but when you throw the daily travel factor into it, it takes fatigue to a whole new level. An assignment in a location for more than one day is welcome, as it takes the travel out of the equation.

Oh, they're on an expense account, but it's rare when the crew can actually sit down in a decent restaurant. Instead of lobster by candlelight it's often fast food by the glow of a sat truck monitor.

What's amazing to me is that these people haven't turned into monsters. They are the most professional, nice people you'll meet. I'll never forget driving home and having a household name call me and thank me for my help.

So, still wanna work for the network? Well, get your frequent flier numbers ready, sign up with every rental car company, become a member in all the hotel programs, and buy some durable luggage. Pack your bag and have it sitting by your desk. Then bury your ego and get ready to work harder than ever.

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