Tuesday, April 17, 2007

I Never Liked Breaking News

"We got breaking news!" Lord, how I hated that phrase. As a news editor it meant the already hectic day would soon become crazy and stressful. Adrenaline pumping, the news director shouted orders at everybody as he watched the competition get their news crews their before we did. Assignment desk editors pulled their hair out trying to get the latest updates, coordinate crews, and listen to police scanners at the same time. Producers breathed heavily as they typed furiously writing copy for anchors and readjusting the newscast they spent the last 5 hours creating. And while they typed, reporters and videographers literally ran out the building to get the exclusive interview with some victim's parent or sibling that would air a few hours later. And as an editor, I waited for instruction on how the video would come in, by person or by live feed. Then once obtained it was my unenviable job of editing the raw video from the field in the matter of a few short minutes. Breaking news went--and still does--at the top of the newscast. Time was of the essence. No room for error, no time for creativity, no moment to be shocked at the blood or the bodies, just get it done as quickly as possible without missing any pertinent elements--sound, video, and graphics. No pressure!

All of that came rushing back to me yesterday as I watched CNN inform the world 32 students had been murdered on the campus of Virginia Tech University. I was eating lunch with a friend when I just happened to look at the nearby flat screen. There was no sound, but none was needed to convey the fear and devastation. Obviously to me, a quick thinking assignment editor got a crew to the scene not long after hearing a call on the police scanners. Quite often, that's truly how the news becomes the news. The video showed policemen running toward the scene with guns ready while others carried what appeared to be an injured student to safety. Without any other video to show, CNN ran the same clip over and over again changing only the graphics running underneath. Momentarily we were stunned, but hunger won out over our dismay.

On the ride home, I thought more about the incident. 32 people got out of bed, just as I had, to prepare for the rest of their day. That same 32 made it to their destination, just as I had too. But 32 people did not return home or in some cases to their dorms or offices. Thirty-two people would never been seen again alive. I could only imagine the panic and the pain their parents and friends must have been facing. So as I arrived home safe and sound, a short prayer of thanks for myself and the victims' families and friends was said. Truly, to leave home and arrive safely is indeed a blessing we too often taken for granted.

Now, Imus can rest a minute because there is a real hard news story for the networks to chase. Many a seasoned reporter, producer, and news director will use this sad time as material for their resume reels. Careers could possibly be made or lost based on the coverage of national travesties like this one at Virginia Tech. It's the nature of the news industry. For the hungry newsman or newswoman there's no story unless some suffering or death is involved. That's one of main reasons why I couldn't wait to get out. For 2 years I worked as an editor for network news.

My deepest respect and sympathy goes out to all those affected by this horrible incident. That includes those that have to report the tragedy as well. Images of death and destruction stay with you long after the newscast is over. But for many news-people today will be a "business as usual day". There will be no moments of silence, only moments of glory before live cameras. Life will go on, but I hope events like this demonstrate just how precious each day really is.

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