Calm Before the Storm

by - September 18, 2010

You've heard of the calm before the storm.

In this instance, let's consider my newscast as the impending storm and the time leading up to it as the calm.

You would think that the actual newscast would be a frenzy of excitement, nerves and possibly frustration. And sometimes that's true if we have live shots that fall through or the server crashes in the middle of the show. But more often than not, the show itself is calm.

You see, by the time we make it to showtime everything is set. Or as set as it's going to be. That is to say, you've got all that you're going to have and you know what you're working with. Your show is ready.

The time leading up to the show, now that's the stormy part.

Stories fall through, reporters are late getting back, computers crash. It's a rush of craziness right up until deadline. It's an atmosphere that breeds stress, loud noises and frayed nerves.

You have to survive the storm to experience the calm.

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  1. At one time or another I produced the morning newscast, the noon, the 6, the 7 and the 11. The one thing I never got used to was the inevitable last minute (sometimes last second) changes. It requires intelligence and wisdom, nerves of steel and an even temper for a producer to start scrambling as the deadline approaches - dropping readers, vo/sot's or even entire packages and retiming blocks to make room for a developing story.

    It can be even harder to fill time when one of your live remotes goes bust. It helps to have a good rapport with the sports and weather anchors who can help you adjust by stretching or abbreviating their segments.

    I was blessed to have worked with an anchorman who was a producer's dream. If you asked him to fill some time he knew enough about sports to banter intelligently with the sports guy going into the seg and coming out. Same thing when tossing to the weather guy. If the prompter crashed while he was reading news copy, this anchor could ad lib extemporaneously about any story and the viewers rarely sensed that anything was wrong.

    Live remotes became possible decaded ago during my years as a producer. If you'll pardon my rant, most of today's local television newscasts are still making far too big a deal out of their "live" capability, punching the word over and over again ad nauseam. Spot news is still being hyped and bumped to the top of most newscasts, adhering to the well established news philosophy "if it leads." Worse yet, just about every news story is now slugged "breaking news" to ramp up the excitement, urgency, fear and loathing. These concepts were all introduced by so-called "news consultants" - well meaning but misguided outsiders who were brought in to boost ratings. In ancient times before consultants came along and implimented ideas that did little more than insult the viewer's intelligence, we had a different term for "breaking news." We called it "news."

    Ashton, as somebody who's been there I applaud you for having the right stuff to ride out those storms. It isn't something that many people would be able to do! There's no greater feeling than facing a tough and challenging news day, successfully negotiating the white rapids during the cast itself, and emerging on the other side with a damn good show in the can!

  2. Honestly, I'm just in awe at this whole metaphor you've got going on here.

  3. @Shady: Thank you. I work in a mid-size market but we cover a pretty wide area of counties in three states, so things can get pretty hoppin' sometimes.

    @Christina: Sometimes I come up with good ones.

  4. Just curious, Ashton. Does your station's coverage footprint extend down to Panama City, Florida?

    Forgive me for drifting slightly off topic, but this also relates to your previous post about the stereotyping of southern women. Panama City is where the 1993 movie Ruby in Paradise was filmed. It's the story of a 20-something woman who breaks free of her life with an abusive man in Tennessee Appalachia, drives through Alabama and winds up in the panhandle beach town of Panama City where she puts down roots, starts a new life and reinvents herself. The quiet little indie film was the Grand Prize Winner for Drama at the Sundance Film Festival and Ashley Judd's acting performance is regarded by critics as the best of her career. Ruby in Paradise is my all time favorite film and as a friend I believe that you would really appreciate it!

  5. @Shady: Actually, it does. And we have a sister station that's actually in PC and we regularly swap stories/video. It's only about 2 hours from here.

    And I'll have to look up that movie!