Thursday, May 28, 2009

Oh the frenzy one missed email causes

I've mentioned this before and will mention it again: we received HUNDREDS of emails DAILY from PR professionals, viewers, and Public Information Officers. To handle all of the emails we have one email address that goes to all of us on the news desk as well as all of the producers. The more eyes that can see what is sent to us, the better the chance something isn't overlooked.

This is exactly what happened today. A police department sent out additional information to a situation we'd covered today. The new information completely changed who we were covering the story. What was just going to be a mention in the newscasts, turned into a reporter package. The press release also stated the PIO would be available to do interviews at a specific time. However, this press release was only sent to my coworker on the desk, who was so overwhelmed by other desk duties, he didn't see the email until AFTER the interview availability time.

I really don't understand how things like this happen. We have made it very clear to every major PIO to always email the desk account to avoid problems such as this! All day the desk email address received the updates on this situation. How does one update only get sent to one individual email instead of the desk account? If anyone can explain, please do.

When it was realized what happened there was a frenzy of action and shouts as we tried to figure out how to still get the interview. What crew to send? How soon can we be there? What other elements do we still need to get to do a larger story now there are new developments? What changes needed to be made the to 5pm and 6pm newscasts?

My coworker called the police department since he was the one who received the press release. I called another organization looking for another interview to add to the story. My call went smoothly. My coworker on the other hand was on the phone for at least 10-minutes with the PIO explaining why we missed the email and asking for the PIO to stay afterhours to do an interview with our only available crew who was 30-minutes away from the police department. (Ugh. I admit I was glad I was not on that phone call.)

In the end the PIO agreed to stay for the interview. The PIO never could explain why the email only went to one person instead of the desk account. That's frustrating. If that email had been sent to the right email address, we wouldn't have missed the interview time, the PIO could've gone home on time, and in general we'd have avoided a headache.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

No, I don't watch TV while I'm on the news desk

I have the Nuggets playoff game on the TV to my right and I actually have the volume up just enough so I can make out what is being said, but it's no louder than any one of the 11 scanners that surround me. This is rare. I have so much else to pay attention to I rarely pay any attention to the TVs. Same goes for the producers and writers doing their job to get ready for the newscasts. Unless we're watching another station's news lead or breaking news coverage, the TVs get little attention.

Just a few minutes ago I answered the phone and was asked what song was just sung for George Straight. What? I had to tell the caller that I didn't know what he story he was asking about and I asked if he knew the date of the story that aired.

He paused, "Um, I'm talking about the show on your air right now. What song did SugarLoaf just sing for George Strait?"

"Sir, I'm sorry I didn't realize you were asking about current programming. I don't know what song was just sung."

"Don't you watch what you broadcast?" he asked.

"No, sir, I'm working and am not able to watch the TV, but I'll ask if any of my coworkers happened to hear the song." I then asked the producers if they had been watching our air. Their answer was no as well.

"Sir, I'm sorry, none of my coworkers were watching the show either. We don't know which song was just sung for George Strait."

"I don't understand how you don't know! Unbelievable you don't watch your own programming." I could hear the genuine surprise and disbelief in voice. He continued with a sigh, "Ok then, have a good night." Click.

I can't count the number of times I've had conversations like this. I don't know how many times I've had to say, "I only have access to information that ran in the local news. I don't have access to other shows, even national news that is aired."

I bet most of you aren't able to watch TV while on the job. So why would it be different for me?

In the silence

It's as silent as it ever gets in the newsroom. I only hear background noise of scanners, keyboard keys clicking and a far off television. My shift is only half over but I feel spent for a job that is relatively sedentary.

I'm spent because from the moment I walk in the door until about this time every night it's go go go time. I may walk off the desk to track down photographers, editors, engineers, producers, etc., but I'm mostly confined to the news desk where everything comes at me. Constant phone calls. Emails that don't stop. Producers, reporters, photographers and interns ask for help. I may not be physically spent, but mentally I'm done or at least I need a break to rejuvenate.

With the way schedules work on the desk I'm not usually able to take a break. If I take a break it has to be before 5 p.m. but I only come into work at 1:30 p.m. and am slammed most of the time and unable to actually get away. I even eat on the assignment desk!

Today besides the usual craziness and duties of the assignment desk I also pitched several stories that the producers actually wanted. Usually I'm good for one or two stories out of every 10 I pitch, but today I was three for three! I had to multitask to set up these stories for future newscasts at the same time as I was dealing with today's newscasts. It's what has to happen when everyone else’s business day ends at 5 p.m. I have to reach all the contacts on their time tables, not mine. This made for an extremely busy afternoon. I am thankful there was no breaking news added to the mix.

Although if there had been, I still would have made all the calls necessary and done all that was asked of me. That's what it means to be on the news desk. Everything comes through this desk, through me and my coworkers on the desk. When the desk is left out of the planning and the conversations, bad things happen. Live shots are lost. Stories are lost. Crews end up at the wrong locations. It makes me shudder to just think of this!

We yell A LOT in the newsroom. It's usually the only way to be heard over all the other noises. So when I say it's relatively quiet right now, I mean for the first time of the day I can actually hear my own thoughts and process the day and what's still to come.

As long as there's no breaking news I will be able to catch up on all the tasks I have to put off until this time of day such as filing emails, writing up news tips, emailing producers with the stories I've set up, etc. I'm thankful for this time of day.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

"Thank you, I'll pass on your comment"

In less than an hour I took three calls where with a sigh I just said, "Thank you, I'll pass on your comment."

The first was from a viewer who claimed no news media until today had EVER done a story on waterboarding and the government use of it. At first I was going to interrupt to tell him of the multitude of stories the station has aired on both the national and local levels. I couldn't because the caller was on a rant and I couldn't get a word in anywhere. At one point I wondered, "Has he taken one breath? He needs to be careful or he'll pass out."

You may ask why I didn't just hang up, and that's a good question. I have one rule I follow with phone calls: cussing at me or calling me names equals an immediate hang up. All other calls are dealt with on a day by day basis. For this call I think I was so amazed at the pace he was going, that I didn't even think about hanging up.

Finally though he started to really yell. That's when I loudly interrupted, "Thank you, I'll pass on your comment!" CLICK.

The next two calls came in back-to-back during a special town hall meeting on job searches the station was hosting and running live. The program was almost over when I received the first call. The caller demanded to know why I'D put on such job "experts" because, in his opinion, they were all "quacks" and I should be ashamed for sponsoring such a program. He paused. I think he expected me to argue or something.

Calmly I said, "Thank you, I'll pass on your comment." To this I hear with a question in his voice, "oh, Okay." Then with a stronger voice, "You do that!" CLICK.

I'd just put down the phone when it rang again. This time it was a woman complaining about one of the panelists. According to the caller the panelist only destroyed people's lives, never helps them. "She is always late to appointments and never returns emails!" she exclaimed. ""Thank you, I'll pass on your comment." CLICK

Sometimes it's just not worth arguing. It's not worth my time or energy to get worked up about the calls.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Can I handle any more news?

Today is so not yesterday. Today was busy to start because of back-to-back meetings followed by the rush to actually get caught up on everything with only an hour to go before news-time. Yesterday started off with my coworker saying, "Oh, by the way your night side photographers are screwy today" and ended with this Tweet "WMF PIO: confirms 14-yr old arrested for arson and reckless endangerment for starting the fire. Suspected of playing w/a lighter near bushes."

It was so busy that I realized around 10:30pm that I'd FORGOTTEN to eat. I remember rushing around and looking at the clock at 7:22pm and saying to myself, "oh, I gotta eat." The thought was gone in less than a heartbeat as I was off to the editing department.

Here's my timeline:

1:30pm: I walk up to the news desk. "Hi guys, anything exciting happening today? Wow, that's a busy board!" (referring to the assignment board) My coworker tells me, "No, but there's a lot of live shots. Oh, by the way your night side photographers are screwy today." He went onto explain that one of the three photographers isn't coming into work until 6:30pm, and another is scheduled to engineer the satellite truck and also shoot a 6pm live shot. That left me with one photographer to work with two reporters. But, my coworkers had decided to play musical-photographers by having a dayside photographer assigned to work with a night side reporter until 7pm. At that point the third night side photographer could switch out to work with the reporter.

Make sense?

1:35pm: With my head spinning I walk into the afternoon editorial meeting where I'm asked to Tweet the meeting on @cbs4denver. I slide into the chair and start to Tweet away.

2:27pm: I walk out of the meeting to the assignment desk.

2:28pm: My coworker shouts, "Remember the Neveah Gallegos case? The DA and DPD are going to have a press conference at 3:30pm to announce developments."

2:29pm: After the flurry of, "Oh, yes I remember that case!" The executive producer decides witch news crew she wants to cover the press conference. I page the photographer to come to the newsroom to tell him what's happening and to assign him a live truck. Then I talk to the 5pm and 6pm newscast producers about what they'd want from the news crew and the press conference in the shows.

2:52pm: I finally sit down at the assignment desk and log into the computer. (Pretty close to the exact time because I sent my first Tweet saying I was logged in at 2:53pm!) I fill out the live shot sheet for our feed room. I knew the shows were filled with live shots, but writing them all out I realize that five out of five microwave trucks, two satellite trucks and Copter4 were all going to be used for live shots! Next I start to go through the 200+ emails in my inbox and do general desk work, i.e. check on news crews, answer phones, Twitter about the press conference.

3:38pm: "CBS4 News this is Misty." "Misty, this is Sonny (DPD PIO) who's in charge of the newsroom today? Is Wieland (news director) there?" I knew by his tone something was definitely happening. I transfer the call to the news director and wait until I hear, "Misty!" I rush into the news director’s office and am asked if we have a crew at Louisiana and Mississippi because Sonny reports our crew is in the middle of a SWAT situation! I didn't know about a crew being right there, but in a flash both the executive producer and 10pm producer were in the office too. They say the reporter had just called and told them a plain clothes detective had approached them on their way to 7-11. The detective told them they needed to move to safety because they were in the line of fire!

3:44pm: PRIORITIES: move news crew to safety and move a live truck to the area to be ready to go live. The crew was going to the location of a homicide over last weekend for a follow-up story. Even though police wouldn't confirm they were looking for the suspect, they did tell they were in the area because of the investigation. Remember I said five out of six live trucks were in play for the newscasts? Well, one of those trucks was for a live shot at that 7-11, which obviously wasn't going to happen now. This was an easy solution! So we wait, keep in touch with the crew and go on with our news day.

6:14pm: I pick up the phone and before I can even say anything I hear, "The suspect is in custody! Police have the suspect! We've got it on video." "OK!" I respond as I put the reporter on hold and shout the news out to the newsroom. We were still in our 6pm newscast and wanted to get a live shot on the air, and the reporter wanted another photographer at the scene to help the crew.

6:15pm: I find out the night side photographer who wasn't coming in until 6:30pm was already at the station. I run to editing to track him down. I ask him if he's on the clock yet because I need him to cover breaking news. He leaves to go to the scene.

6:22pm: I call the live truck photographer to make sure he was knew the plan. While I'm on the phone, the reporter calls back to tell us DPD will have a press conference at 6:45pm. If we wanted them live at the scene, we'd have to find another photographer to go to DPD. The extremely over-crowded assignment board screamed "if you want more from me, you'll have to give up something first!" Just then the second night side reporter walks into the newsroom. This crew is mostly done shooting their story, but the reporter has sent the photographer to shoot some more video for the story. I immediately call the photographer and tell him he needs to turn around to go to DPD to shoot the news conference. "I know you're on your way to shoot more video, but we have breaking news; I have no choice; I need you to go to DPD!"

6:31pm: I hang up the phone just to answer another line. The caller is a media representative for the Democratic party. The state legislative season has officially ended and the Dems announce they will have a press conference on the west steps of the Capitol at 6:45pm. With a sigh I reply, "Ok. Thank you. Bye." I stand up and shout over the newsdesk, "The legislative season has ended. Dems are having a press conference at 6:45pm. If we want to cover this, I need HELP!" To this the executive producer replies, "The Capitol news crew just finished their live shot. Call them and move them to the press conference!"

6:34pm: I call the photographer at the Capitol tearing down the live shot. When he answers I find out there'd been a problem with the live shot and they weren't live at all. I didn't even know this had happened because I was so focused on everything else. I tell the frustrated photographer that I have no other choice, but he needs to move to cover the press conference.

6:40pm: The reporter is on the air with a live report from the scene of the suspect arrest.

6:50pm: The Capitol reporter calls to tell me the Dems aren't anywhere near being ready for a press conference. "It's going to be way after 7pm!" He tells me. "Okay, you're off in 10-minutes, I'll have another photographer there by 7pm," I reply.

6:51pm: I call the photographer in the satellite truck. "Where are you and how much time will it take for you to get to the Capitol?" He tells me he's about 10-minutes away. "Good, go straight to the Capitol to shoot a press conference with the Dems talking about the legislative session."

7pm: I hear from the satellite photographer. He's at the Capitol in time.

For the next hour I work with a reporter and an editor on getting documents scanned for a story. I take a breath and start to work on everything I'd let slip by me. I go through emails. I make final corrections to a blog post for PRSA Colorado on how CBS 4 News uses Twitter.

Shortly after 8pm: I hear West Metro Fire being called to a townhome fire. As I'm focusing on the fire call, I hear from a photographer that there's a problem with Avid in editing and he can't load any of the 7-11 suspect video. "What are we going to do about the live shot? I can't even load the video!" He says to me. "The reporter has to be live, if the editors have to help edit the story, they will!" I respond.

8:11pm: My attention snaps back to the scanner when I hear, "a suspect is in custody" come over the speaker. At this I shout, "We have to go to this fire. A suspect is in custody, which means this is an arson fire and several townhomes are damaged!" The producer asks, "What will it take to get there?" I tell him, "I send the photographer in the satellite truck, but that means the other two photographers are now responsible for their own edits and will have to engineer and shoot the reporter live shots with out any help. There's been a problem with Avid, editing will have to help if you want both reporters to be live." I tell the satellite photographer to go to the fire as I step off the desk to go to editing. The two editors tell me they can help on both reporter stories if needed to get the live shots.

8:30pm: It finally seems like we have a handle on everything. I spend the rest of the night monitoring the fire, keeping the photographer at the fire updated, and making sure the other crews are good.

9:52pm: A news crew trying to establish a live shot outside of DPD calls. "I'm sending the reporter back to the station! We can't get the shot in!" He tells me.

9:59pm: The reporter rushes into the newsroom and onto the newsroom camera to go live in less than four-minutes.

The newscast happens.

It's finally over.

Could I have handled more news? Yes, but something else would have had to be given up to make it happen!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Lesson of the day - communicate

Today was a comedy of errors on the assignment desk. We didn't miss any breaking news or mess up any big news stories, but it did cause a headache! In less than an hour we found out that an event wasn't shot as planned and found out the photographer in the satellite truck for a reporter's live shot at 6pm was at point A, which was miles away from reporter, who was in the actual location point B!

The event we missed was for a short story, a vo/sot, for the 5pm newscast. The photographer received the page during the morning to do A, B and C, with C being shoot a 3pm event. The photographer apparantly got wrapped up in assignment A but we never heard from the photographer. We found out the event wasn't covered shortly after 4pm when we finally talked to the photographer. Two arguments can be made: it was the photographer's responsibility to check in with the assignment desk or the assignment desk should have followed up with the photographer to make sure the plan actually worked. Both arguments are right and because we didn't communicate with each other, we lost this story.

About 45-minutes later we get calls from the reporter who was scheduled to be live in the 6pm newscast and a call from the photographer operating the live satellite truck and shooting the live shot. The calls were frantic and confused! They were in two locations, and at that time of day, they were at least 50-minutes a part! Next there's confusion and a bit of shouting in the newsroom as we figure out what exactly happened. Finally it was determined the reporter had been on two stories that day and the desk had sent the photographer to the first story location, not the second story location, which was the live shot location.

The information clarifying the live shot location was in the computer the whole time. I come into work in the afternoon so I wasn't aware of the morning conversation. I was told the information was in the computer. Then I asked my coworker if he knew about the live shot location. His response was yes. I took that to mean he knew the information in the computer, but really it was the information from the morning he knew. Confusing, right? All of this lead to the miscommunication.

We sent a photographer from the station to help make the live shot happen. The live shot went on as planned. DEEP CLEANSING BREATH!

Lesson of the day - communicate. Check-in and clarify all!