It was a few minutes before 6 when the assignment manager yelled out “house fire!”. At the time I anchored the 10pm news and reported dayside. My story was shot and I was writing the 10pm tease that I read at the end of the 6.
The executive producer yelled for me and the chief photographer to grab the live truck and get to the house fire and try to get a shot and a report in the 6.
The fire was nearby, it only took us about 10 minutes to get there. 6:05 when we pulled up, Greg started raising the mast while I looked for the fire lieutenant to get info. But the firefighters were rolling up their hoses, one truck had already left the scene. “it was nothing” the lt. told me. “lady left something on th stove and went outside”. I asked if there was any damage or injuries, “nah, just smoked up the kitchen”.
I walked back Greg who had raised the mast and was on the radio with tech control, when I told him what happened, he started bringing the mast back down while I called the newsroom.
“It was nothing, just smoke” I told the executive producer. “Can you give me a liveshot after weather?” he asked. “Did you hear what I said, it was nothing, just some smoke”. He yelled back over the phone “DID YOU HEAR WHAT I SAID? I WANT A LIVE SHOT BEFORE WEATHER”
So I told Greg who shook his head, laughed and started raising the mast again. After weather the executive producer rolled the “Breaking News” open and the anchors read about a house fire and tossed it to me for the “latest on this breaking news”.
I told viewers exactly what the fire lieutenant told me: a report of a house fire was called in, they arrived at the scene, saw it was only smoke and had gone back to the firestation. Then, one of the anchors asked “Jamey was anyone injured?”
Maybe I shouldn’t have said what I said, maybe I shouldn’t have said it the WAY I said it, but I looked straight into the camera and said “No Jerry, no one was injured, but dinner is ruined.”
When I got back the executive producer and news director called me in and ripped me a new one. They said I should have made it sound more dramatic, make it sound like it was news even though it wasn’t. I guess that’s when I learned that the news business had changed, simply reporting what was happening wasn’t enough, you had to make the news “sound” better than it actually is.
Words like “sexy” had already broken into our morning news meetings. One manager told me “content doesn’t matter, image is everything. You have to create the image that we are reporting life and death stuff. It doesn’t really matter if it isn’t life and death stuff, we just have to create that perception.”
We had a 1 breaking news story per newscast quota to fill. One night we ran “Breaking News” with a live shot and word that city workers were hanging Christmas lights. One night we had a live shot and report of a fender bender on a non-busy street in which the reporter actually said (with a straight face) “no one was taken to the hospital but one driver was feeling a little woozy.”
And one night the executive producer, out with a photographer, reported live on a fire of an abandoned shack and the on his way back from the station stopped at a 7-11 and had another live shot reporting someone shoplifted a carton of cigarettes.
I ticked him off along with the news director one night when I yelled to the 10pm producer that we needed to get a live truck out to the nearby Wal-Mart because a buggy had hit a car.
So where are they now? The news director is still a news director in a top-100 market, the executive producer is a news director in Kansas City, and I lost my job in tv last summer.
Guess I shouldn’t have laughed about the buggy, that could have been team coverage!